USA Today Opinion: To fight opioid epidemic, treat drug use with compassion, not judgment

…We often hear that we know what we should do regarding the opioid epidemic; we simply aren’t doing it. But we’re only sometimes right about this, and it’s often much harder than we think.

For instance: If you’ve been reading the news for the past five years, you might think that doctors are the problem, and that they simply need to stop prescribing so many pills. But this response is too ham-fisted, and risks harming pain patients. It also won’t solve the drug overdose epidemic, which has transitioned to a crisis driven largely by heroin and illicit fentanyl.

It’s also regularly said that we need to massively scale up addiction treatment. True enough, as only about 10% of those with substance use disorder get specialty treatment. But it also hides some nuance, as the fact remains that not everyone with an addiction is ready to seek treatment.

Thus, policy that focuses only on the supply of opioids and on capacity for treatment leaves out something important: Some people are and will become addicted despite their best efforts, and they are at risk of dying until we can help them recover. This means we need more. We need to keep people struggling with an addiction alive until they are willing to enter recovery. We need harm reduction…

Too many of us working in public health or drug policy dismiss arguments against harm reduction as unscientific and not worth considering.

We think that if we quote these claims from the literature loud enough and often enough, we’ll win the debate through sheer volume. And this is a mistake. Because the objection isn’t, generally, about evidence; it’s about ethics. Opponents of harm reduction think we shouldn’t “help people to do drugs,” whether doing so saves lives or not. We need to have the discussion clearly in the moral realm.

By Travis Reider. From USA Today.

Read the full article here.

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