Harm Reduction As Policy

Here we go again!  Another article in the Kentucky Enquirer deploring the number of heroin overdose deaths in Northern Kentucky, ’Overdose Deaths Soaring in NKY‘ 29 November 2012.  This one focuses on the number of deaths, approaching 200 for the year, compared with 151 in 2010 and 135 in 2011.  I guess the number high enough to get peoples attention seems to be between 150 and 200.  County Corner David Suetholtz said, “It’s a combination of medications, however over the last six months deaths from heroin have jumped dramatically.”

Humm?  Wonder what happened in the last six months that would cause a rise in black market heroin sales?  How ‘bout Kentucky’s implementation of stricter controls and reporting requirements for prescription drugs which has resulted in the closing of fly by night pain clinics?  A classic squeeze of the sausage, clamp down on one end and it bulges out on the other.  Clamp down on prescription pain killers and you get an increase in heroin use.

Sadly the article compared these tragic heroin deaths to the 34 deaths from traffic accidents last year.  The problem with this comparison is that drivers, unlike drug users, have had fifty years of seatbelts, airbags, safety studies, regulations and harm reduction policies.  Can you imagine if instead of prohibition and the damage to the family and society that comes with it we had instead, harm reduction as the underlying policy we use for drug abuse and addiction?  Truth is, our efforts to control drug use and abuse will never get any better under the current policy.

Prohibition as policy started with the Harrison Act in 1914, 98 years ago.  Ninety eight years and the percentage of the population addicted to drugs is the same as it was in 1914.

Had harm reduction been the policy lo these last 98 years we might not be decrying the death rate from heroin as we are now.  Yes, we might even have seen a decline in drug use and abuse as they have in Portugal rather than what we have and will continue to have, a never ending chase after the current bulge in the drug war sausage!

The time has come for us to recognize the complete lack of effectiveness of our current policy for handling drugs and drug abuse.  Time to scrap the 19th century policy of prohibition for a 21st century policy that has proven effective.  Time to adopt harm reduction as basic drug policy.

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