Clearly, drug addiction is an issue that can deeply affect an entire country. As we speak, the Opioid Crisis is ripping through the United States, but the United States is far from the only country that’s been hit. Russia and much of Europe, Brazil, and Canada are also struggling to save people from overdoses and death, resulting in quick and thorough legislation in response to an epidemic. The Opioid Crisis, though, is far from the only drug crisis claiming lives. Alcohol continues to kill over 85,000 people each year, meth overdoses killed over 10,000 people in 2017 alone, and even more – close to 14,000 – died of a cocaine overdose.
Startling as these numbers are, there is very little that can be done on a micro-, person-to-person basis. People living with addiction to drugs and alcohol can be volatile, and without a trained professional, it can be difficult or dangerous to start a conversation with a loved one about their use of drugs and alcohol. Individuals or even small organizations simply don’t have the necessary bandwidth to lead the change that will save the lives of people living with addiction. As is the case in every national emergency, the government must step in to provide resources, including leadership. While some countries have taken radical approaches that are cruel, other countries have chosen to invest in compassionate means of resolving their societal issues with drug abuse.
Countries leading the way in the struggle against drugs have several things in common, among them, an outright decriminalization of certain, or all drugs, decreased penalties, opportunities for rehab, and access harm-reducing methods of consuming drugs. The manner in which the government chooses to deal with addiction matters very much, as the lives of thousands of people are at risk. Without organizing, though, there’s no way for the government to tackle the problem at hand.
Borders and Courtrooms
Border Patrol and local police forces are the first line of defense against drug trafficking. At the border, drug dealers use a variety of methods to smuggle the drugs. This usually involves secret compartments hidden in the bodies of the cars, as well as tactics to derail police sniffer dogs. Truckloads of drugs also come into the country hidden in food and non-perishable items, which is often where dogs are easily able to find them. Drugs that make it past the border to be dealt locally are usually prepared before transit. Increasingly, though, there are more and more raw materials for the purpose of creating drugs once in the United States, rather than sending the ready-to-use drugs. Border patrol in San Diego recently seized almost two tons of meth on its way to Australia for distribution. Large busts like this are rare, but a victory for law enforcement when they do happen – amounts that are a fraction of the size of the bust in San Diego are enough to overdose and kill hundreds of people.
Drug addiction is such a widespread problem, and takes such a toll on the user, it is possible that a person living with addiction to drugs and alcohol won’t face criminal charges in the traditional way – there is simply not enough resources to fairly and efficiently prosecute every single drug offense. This pattern of prosecuting every drug offense is hardly new, but ramped up significantly during the 1980s and early 90s because of the Crack Epidemic, which triggered the worst parts of the still-ongoing War on Drugs. Finding a way to manage prosecution for the high number of drug offenders wasn’t the only problem – by the end of the 1980s, it was clear that prosecution and jail terms were doing nothing to keep people from going right back to using dangerous drugs within hours of their release from prison. To try to combat this problem, the court systems in several cities established new dockets, solely for people living with addiction to drugs and alcohol, and non-violent crimes committed as a result of their use. Instead of automatically sending offenders to prison, people facing drug charges could be recommended for drug court, which requires the offender commit to treatment, and attend frequent tests and check-ins. A sobriety goal is set for every individual, which much be met, or the patient may have to face legal repercussions. The system is flawed, as some courts refuse to allow patients to utilize some necessary medicinal therapies.
Well-trained police officers are a necessity like never before. The Opioid Crisis, in particular, has police officers in a tough position: the increasing number of overdoses means an increasing number of deaths, some of them happening when police arrive on the scene, but don’t have the means to stop the effects of the overdose. This, though, is changing: in 2017, the Surgeon General recommended that police departments across the nation train their officers to carry and administer Narcan, the branded version of the drug naloxone. The drug is able to halt an overdose, sometimes causing the body to go into withdrawal. Withdrawal, depending on the drug, can be as dangerous as an overdose. Narcan offers people who’ve suffered an overdose a few more precious minutes for paramedics to arrive. So far, at least 400 people in Arizona alone have been rescued by Narcan.
Though they already do so much for the community, the changing of the times is asking not necessarily for more, but for something different: instead of police officers treating everyone caught using drugs as a criminal, they have the option of recommending them to drug court. Drug courts are treatment programs aimed at the total rehabilitation of a person living with addiction, and their success rates are very good – up to eighty percent remain drug- and arrest-free after two years. Having this option gives police officers a chance to work from a position of compassion, which may offer police officers a touch of relief from the stress of their daily lives. From the top to the bottom, it is essential that federal and local governments support and provide for as many anti-addiction programs as possible. A focus on healing nearly always yields the best results.
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