With authorities now confirming that legendary Prince died of an apparent opioid overdose, it would seem that we are at a real crossroads in this country. Do we keep ignoring that we have an epidemic on our hands, or do we acknowledge it? As a related question, does the opioid crisis finally put the insipid War on Drugs into a perspective we can use to dismantle the damn thing?
I have a feeling that we’re not going to like how society answers these questions, at least for the time being.
Prince’s death is illustrative not just in that it proves we do have a problem with not drugs, and specifically prescription painkillers, in this country, but also that its a problem that effects people all over the socioeconomic spectrum. It’s not just poor people abusing drugs. It’s not just middle class moms or teenagers. It’s everyone. And it’s not just going to go away.
We can’t just ignore this problem and have it fix itself like the gun violence epidemic did.
In January of just this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report on drug and opioid overdoses, and indeed we’re at truly epidemic levels, literally.
Per the CDC:
The United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose (poisoning) deaths. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (opioid pain relievers and heroin). (source)
One thing seems certain — we’re not going to get out of this crisis by not spending some money on treatment, period. You can bitch and moan about helping “junkies” all you want, but those junkies are your mom, your friends, your kids’ teachers, you name it. This epidemic impacts us all. And I for one would like to not burn down our government in place of leveraging it to help people in need.
The CDC’s report also indicated that in 2014 there was a hell of a spike in the number of opioid related drug overdoses.
In 2014, 61% (28,647, data not shown) of drug overdose deaths involved some type of opioid, including heroin. The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids increased significantly from 2000 to 2014, increasing 14% from 2013 (7.9 per 100,000) to 2014 (9.0) (Figure 1). (source)
Prince’s death should show us how useless the War on Drugs is. We have an absolute shit ton of people serving time for drug offenses. And even with all those drug offenders locked-up, we have gotten ourselves a full-blown drug abuse crisis.
Clearly what we have been doing for years isn’t working, and it’s time to try something new.
Other countries have managed to move away from focusing on criminalizing drug abuse to focus on rehabilitation and treatment. It sort of makes sense, provided you’re not a puritanical douchebag, that we’d stop pretending that people don’t have valid reasons for taking drugs, and that those reasons can lead to a dependency, which then lead to abuse. Does that make them criminal? Of course it doesn’t, but the rhetoric of anti-drug warriors would have you believe it does.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s own publication, their 2015 budget was about $2.88 billion. I like to remind people, whenever I discuss it, that the DEA was founded on an executive order by Richard Nixon, you know, one of the biggest assholes to occupy the Oval Office, so um, do we have to keep his agency going, or can we chalk it up to the same dalliance into stupidity that got Nixon elected in the first place?
Undoubtedly some of that money is being spend to help curtain violent criminal activity related to drug trafficking. But, what if we stopped treating drug trafficking like a crime, and regulated it? Wouldn’t that help to curb the violence that’s necessary since the underground drug trade doesn’t come with law officers to keep the peace?
There’s one thought for you, but maybe the idea of being more loosey-goosey with drug laws doesn’t do it for you. Couldn’t we, though, take some of that money we give them and redirect it toward treatment and rehab instead of jail time? How much money do we spend putting drug related offenders on trial and then their subsequent appeals and incarceration? All of this is money — resources — that can be allocated so much more intelligently. We already put murderers in jail, and the same goes for people who commit acts of violence that don’t kill. So why can’t we simply punish those crimes and then reform the drug trade so we can, oh, I don’t know, tax it and use the revenue to pay for rehab and treatment?
Fucking nuts, I know.
I don’t have any answers, by the way. I’m not a pharmacologist. I’m not a social scientist. I’m not a policy maker. I’m a comedian. I am also an American citizen, but more importantly a human being. It’s terrible that Prince died like this, but the much bigger travesty is that he’s nowhere near the only one.