When talking about heroin and opioid-use in the U.S., we are no longer saying it is merely a “problem.” Rather, it is an epidemic. With NBC News having ongoing reporting under the masthead of “America’s Heroin Epidemic” and HealthDay reporting that in the past ten years, heroin use has increased by fivefold, it is safe to say that as a society, we have very big problem on our hands.
But what should be done to address this problem? Is continuing to arrest addicts really getting anyone the help they need? How do we treat drug addiction as a society?
Treating addiction like a disease
In the in-depth piece, “Moving the Needle: How far should we go to save lives in the heroin crisis,” drug use is talked about from an addiction standpoint, as opposed to a criminal one. The video and article give us a small glimpse into the world of addiction, even going as far as to share the personal stories of people who were once addicts, but have since turned their lives around.
Instead of focusing on arrest records and calls for stricter drug laws, the talk is surrounding making addiction safer so that people stay alive, therefore giving them the chance to possibly one day turn their lives around.
Staying alive to get help
Maryland is one state that is turning attention to harm reduction. There is a current push underway to get needle exchange programs up and running in six counties in the state. Right now, the only program is in Baltimore City.
The idea is that people are going to use drugs, but by at least making sure they are using clean needles, you reduce the chance of spreading infectious diseases. For the addicts, this also increases the possibility of staying alive another day, another day, which could be the day someone decides to get sober.
In addition to clean needles, these programs may also offer counseling, disease testing and referrals to treatment facilities. Again, all built-in support for people who want to get help for addiction, but don’t even know where to start.
Lastly, some of these programs may even have the life-saving drug naloxone, which can be injected and save someone’s life from an opioid overdose.
Treating addicts like people, not criminals
Unfortunately, the court systems do not always view addiction from the standpoint of treating the disease. Rather, repeat drug offenders often face steep legal consequences instead of receiving the help that they truly need. These people end up with fines and a criminal record, only making it harder and harder to get their lives back on the right track. For now – not only is there the addiction piece – but even if they do get sober, they have to enter society with a criminal record, which can greatly impact everything from housing to employment.
The hope is that local authorities continue to look at the big picture, finding ways to solve the heroin epidemic in a way that treats the underlying issue of addiction.