Heroin is one of the most hated drugs on the face of the planet, many of us have lost friends, loved ones and family members to heroin addiction, and it leads us to the conclusion that “something must be done” to stop it. Sadly, this “something” usually comes in the form of fines, arrests, prison time and other hardcore police state tactics. However, these tactics have proven that they do not work because it has been a serious issue for over 50 years and things have only gotten worse. The drugs have gotten dirtier and more dangerous, and the black market has gotten more violent, as the prison time associated with these drugs has continued to climb.
Heroin addiction is a serious problem, but as counter-intuitive as it sounds, the best way to prevent heroin overdoses is to actually legalize it. Certain areas of the world, like Portugal, where all drugs have been made legal there are far fewer overdoses than there are in prohibition countries. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that drug overdoses are extremely rare in Portugal, and they have some of the lowest rates of addiction in the world.
People have the impression that under drug legalization, things would just be out of control and drug addicts would be addicts everywhere, but this is not what actually happens when drugs are legalized. Currently, under the state of prohibition that most of the world experiences, the treatment, and help that addicts receive is severely limited, mostly to punishments and highly regulated inpatient and outpatient programs. In an environment of prohibition, the strategy is punishment instead of harm reduction, which is actually a much more humane, realistic and effective way of handling serious social problems like heroin addiction. Examples of harm reduction tactics would be needle exchange programs, drug testing kits at raves, or supervised safe houses, just to name a few. Teaching condom use for sexual education, instead of abstinence is another example of how harm prevention is applied to other social issues.
As the war on marijuana dies down, police are seeking to turn their attention on heroin so they can still continue to generate income off of helpless drug users. Although, many community workers and addictions counselors are starting to realize that police state tactics are not the solution.
In Seattle, for example, addiction counselors are hoping to open up injection safe houses, where high-risk intravenous drug addicts can use under the supervision of trained professionals.
Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, a drug-abuse researcher at the University of Washington, told Seattle Weekly that, “The evidence base is very clear, that [safe drug sites] have very good health outcomes and do not have a big downside.”
Surprisingly, the advice of health officials has been taken seriously by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray who said in a recent statement that he thinks this idea could save lives.
“In the late ’80s/early ’90s, when needle exchange was considered a very controversial idea, handing out needles to people so they could inject seemed wrong to so many people at the time. But it saved lives, I absolutely would be very interested in exploring it,” he said.
The argument against harm reduction policies like injection sites and needle sharing programs is that it encourages and condones drug use, and is not “hard enough” on drug users, however, many professionals disagree.
“It’s really a front door in,” he says, “and it’s not all by itself . . . if that’s what that person needs today is a [safe drug site], awesome. But if we’re making a relationship and a connection, and then the fourth or fifth time they come back, they’re interested in getting [connected to services], then you’re set up for that,” Dr. Banta-Green said.
Legal experts have cautioned that local police must be on board with the program, or else they could use these safe havens as targets for drug raids.
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John Vibes is an author and researcher who organizes a number of large events including the Free Your Mind Conference. He also has a publishing company where he offers a censorship free platform for both fiction and non-fiction writers. You can contact him and stay connected to his work at his Facebook page. You can purchase his books, or get your own book published at his website www.JohnVibes.com.