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No wonder Trump declared the Opioid Crisis a national emergency. The United States' drug problem has been getting exponentially worse, and the bodies keep piling up. But to solve this complex issue all the money invested in criminalizing illegal drug use needs to be redirected to policies that are updated, allow for pharmacies to potentially sell illegal drugs, allow decriminalization of illegal drug use, fund intensive drug studies and fund D.A.T. institutions (drug-assisted therapy). This is because the government has invested over 200 billion dollars from 2008 to 2016, and over 30 billion dollars this year alone toward the War on Drugs.
Which has had little success. With this redirection of funding crime will go down, public health will improve, drug-related deaths will go down, pharmacies will be capable of selling addictive drugs with reduced negative consequences, etc.
The assistant for domestic affairs under the administration of Richard M. Nixon said, "We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.
We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did." Nixon was the president to declare War on Drugs and start America's history of failed drug policies all because of his flawed intentions. Prior to Nixon's policies, only large crime syndicates or pharmacies with access to rare chemicals could manufacture drugs.
Now it has become easier to produce more drugs with store bought chemicals and on smaller scales. As consequence "...every year the U.S. law enforcement makes more than 1.5 million drug arrests.", states Drug Policy Alliance. That's more arrests than all violent crimes combined, including violent crimes that had drugs play a role. The majority of those arrests are for possession rather than sale, with 86% of drug arrests from possession and 14% of the arrests from sale or production. This has led the US to have the highest population of people in prison in the world. Overall criminalizing illegal drug use has led to death, crime, disease, crowded prisons, cheaper drugs, etc. The solution is to redirect the money from criminalizing illegal drug use to decriminalize illegal drug use and towards D.A.T. (drug-assisted therapy) institutions. These changes may sound extreme, but are needed to fix the drug problem. Other countries have already made similar changes and have had numerous benefits. Portugal is one of the most popular examples. In 2001 Portugal decriminalized all drugs. When someone was in possession of a drug they received a fine and the situation was treated as a health issue instead of a crime. This caused HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, and other diseases to drop in diagnosis. At the drug treatment centres they observed that even though more people came in seeking treatment the number of cases still decreased. HIV went from about 1,000 cases to about 60 cases over 11 years. AIDS went from about 600 cases to about 40 cases during the same time period. This is the result of people sharing fewer needles from drug use and more people coming to treatment centres. 10 years after they decriminalized drug use, participation in treatment centers went up about 60% in Portugal. Portugal also became 2nd lowest in the EU for overdose deaths. Their deaths from overdose are now 82% lower than the European Union's average. In Portugal, drug use among youth (age group most prone to use) and the rest of the population has been decreasing steadily. The number of people arrested and sent to court for drug offenses also decreased by 40% after the policy was modified. The number of people who went to prison for crimes they committed under the influence of drugs also decreased by 48% almost halving the amount. Overall, the policy update reduced the prison population allowing police forces to focus on other more important crimes. Another country that implemented drug reforms was Switzerland. Switzerland instituted the HAT (heroin-assisted therapy) program which allowed heroin addicts to receive prescribed heroin in a controlled setting. It has shown similar benefits with its patients. About 80% of the patients stopped selling heroin and about 60% of the patients had a reduction in crime. Rates of HIV and other diseases decreased and heroin addicts decreased at a steady rate. If the United States were to institute similar policies and institutions as Portugal and Switzerland, we could be expecting lower crime rates, lower drug-related deaths, decreased amounts of infectious diseases, decreased drug use, fewer incarcerations, etc. William Patey, former UK ambassador to Afghanistan, states it best, "Prohibition has failed and we still have a massive drug problem in this country. Drugs are still flowing from Afghanistan, we are criminalizing a generation and young people are filling our prisons. By legalization and regulation, you take control of the drug trade out of the hands of criminals and gangs and put it in the hands of doctors and nurses."
For these reforms to be effective illegal drugs need to be legal for pharmacies to potentially sell, and the money from criminalizing illegal drug use needs to be redirected to intensive long term studies and these policy reforms. This is because a lack of policy modification has already led to the Opioid Crisis and making more illegal drugs legal will lead to more crises unless we prevent them. One of the influences that played into the Opioid Crisis development was pharmacies gave "gifts" to doctors to encourage them to prescribe specific drugs. Naively the doctors prescribed more opioids to more people regardless of whether they needed them. The new policy in place to combat this is to make it illegal to bribe doctors and rewards will be given to those who expose doctors. This will create the incentive to either not accept bribes or possibly turn them in. The other policy is created to expand doctors' education on drugs and to require they give an explanation of the drug's pros, cons, how it was conducted in studies, and whether the patient needs the prescription. Another component that led to the Crisis may have been drug-related advertisements. These advertisements can convince the consumer that they have a medical condition or that they need medication. This can lead to an unnecessary diagnosis and/or inappropriate treatment for a diagnosis. Which can cause harm to the consumer and/or more unneeded healthcare costs. Which is why one policy change is to outlaw drug advertisements like the rest of the world. This will decrease faulty based prescriptions or diagnosis. Another key factor that led to the Opioid Crisis was that pharmacies weren't publishing all their studies. They selectively published the ones that looked best and were more likely to lead to a sale. That's why we are redirecting some of the funding towards larger, longer, and more extensive research. This will allow doctors and patients to have more accurate data when deciding they need a prescription. Also, much of this new research will be on drugs that have little to no research. Which is usually the drugs that used to be illegal. An example of this is, many psychedelic drugs look very promising with the little research we have on them. Making them legal will open them up to better and more studies on how applicable they are to becoming used to treat a variety of diseases like PTSD and Depression. These drugs are also not considered to be addictive with little to no deaths directly associated with their use. It's not just psychedelics though. More research on all drugs will make them more applicable for treating a variety of ailments.
Regardless, many have argued on the contrary. That if the drugs are still regulated through pharmacies then black markets will continue to exist and adapt to political shifts. Yet, this ignores DAT institution's effectiveness. DAT institutions form a new incentive for addicts to receive drugs in a controlled setting. This disregards dealers and manufactures in the black market. This is due to how much easier it will become to receive drugs on the surface market. And even if they did continue to develop, they would never develop into anything large scale or threatening. This is from law enforcement's ability to now focus on crimes like manufacturing and selling since they no longer criminalize possession. Which took up the majority of their time and effort. Many also predicted that Portugal's more lenient laws would lead to increased crime rate. This was emphasized by the statistic that robberies and thefts increased in Portugal 3 years after the policy reform. Though many have attributed this to the time gap being filled. Which was formed when the police had more time to tackle and report smaller crimes after making the policy revision to decriminalize drug use. It's also anticipated that even with bribery becoming illegal, pharmacies will continue to bribe with more secrecy. This is true, but it's presumed that with these advancements in policy it would be on a much smaller scale. This is because doctors have the incentive for reward and they're less likely to consider a pharmacies offer if they understand the nature of the drugs they're prescribing.
The new understanding of the situation should hopefully lead you to make the change. The change that is needed, is for you to stop viewing drugs as something that can be stopped, and instead, view it as something that can be prevented and treated. The funding needs to go toward helping drug users and not pushing them into prisons to be forgotten. Investments need to go toward preventing pharmacies from spreading disease. These changes in policy won't create a perfect world. But they just might create a world a little less crime and disease.
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