What Can Be Done About the Opioid Crisis?

Editor’s Note: In this future perspective, students discuss efforts to curb illicit drug use. Next week we will ask, “This year there has been a surge in border crossings at the US-Mexico border. What should be done to stem the tide of displaced people and families on the border? Should asylum seekers be detained? Should the US increase border security?” Students should click here to submit their opinions of less than 250 words before June 7th. The best answers will be published that night.

Permit the legal production, sale, and use of drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, and watch as new, regulated entrants plummet drug cartels’ skyrocketing profits, loosen their monopolistic control over drug sales, and drug trafficking operations obsolete.

The war on drugs is a war on the very logic of economics itself. Where there is robust untapped demand, some for-profit entrepreneurs will step up to seize the opportunity. These business principles do not concern themselves with whether goods or services are ethical or whether entrepreneurs are well-meaning individuals acting within the law. Did the ban teach us nothing? The government can hunt down supplies, seize vast amounts of illegal goods, spend billions running human trafficking networks, and even, every now and then, bring down a large crime family. But demand remains, so supply always finds its way back into the market.

A war on drugs will always lose as long as a group of entrepreneurs sees fit to supply consumers, and there always will be. The US doesn’t have the guts to enforce drug laws, and regulators aren’t our moral overlords. Leave the issue of drug use to individuals, their families and their churches. It’s time to decriminalize the use of all drugs.

—Greg Plathe, King’s College London, Global Finance and Banking

Declare a second war on drugs

America did not lose the war on drugs. We retreated, leaving our cities, communities, families and communities defenseless.

In our modern political climate, it’s fashionable to say “banning drugs doesn’t work” or “the war on drugs has failed”. On the contrary, the war has not only drastically reduced the number of people using drugs, it has also firmly inculcated in Americans that using drugs is wrong.

Since the United States’ massive rollback on drug control and the implementation of other crime-fighting policies, drug use has fueled violence in cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, destroyed the integrity of rural towns, and destabilized the livelihoods of families and communities everywhere.

Should America accept the position that reduces all political decisions, and therefore drug use, to personal choices and individual autonomy? Or should the political community have the power to regulate and punish drug use for the common good and community thriving?

The answer is simple: ban drugs. It’s time to declare war on drugs.

—William Benson, Catholic University of America, Politics

Offer help instead of justice

What is the purpose of drug prohibition? Is it specifically to prevent their use, or to prevent the negative effects associated with drug use? U.S. drug policy points to the former, with drug overdoses — legal or illegal — increasing from 1999 to 2022. In contrast, Europe has very different policies. In general Europe understands that addiction is a disease and not a crime. Study after study has shown that the legality of drugs has a marginal impact on their use.

Drug criminalization has disproportionately imprisoned black people, increased the market value of substances, and created opportunities for other crimes. All of this without doing anything to prevent the real problem: stopping drug use. Making drugs illegal only makes things worse.

The war on drugs should be considered a failure and the US should pursue a decriminalization and recovery approach. We should see people who suffer from substance abuse as victims in need of support, not as criminals. The logistics of legalizing and offering help are difficult, but certainly possible.

—Sebastian Barney, University of Utah, Engineering

Fentanyl is a weapon of mass destruction

The US didn’t lose the war on drugs, but it did lose the messaging campaign warning today’s youth about the toxicity of opioids. The synthetic opioid fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine and is killing an alarming number of young people. Young adults rarely use heroin, meth, or cocaine. These drugs aren’t the sort of thing that the “just say no” drug campaign of the 1980s could address. Young adults typically take popular prescription pills like Adderall, Xanax and Oxycontin, counterfeits of which may contain unknown amounts of fentanyl, which is lethal at two milligrams. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the synthetic opioid is even being introduced into marijuana, with young adults often not knowing what they’re taking.

In my home state of California, drug education is not mandatory in schools. The Education Code requires classes on alcohol and drugs, but the wording is vague and does not include specific drug issues. America needs a nationwide awareness campaign, starting with middle schools, to change the narrative from a “gateway drug” focus to “a pill can kill.”

Fentanyl overdoses are now the leading cause of death in America between the ages of 18 and 45. According to the Homeland Security Department, a weapon of mass destruction can be defined as something “chemical” that is “designed to harm large numbers of people.” The US should designate fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic.

How many deaths are needed before action is taken?

—Ashley Carnahan, University of Southern California, Journalism

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Alley Einstein

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