Stopping overdoses means having an open, educated, honest discussion about drugs and how to use them safely. This horrifies many people who seem to think that the only thing one can say about crack or meth or heroin is “EVIL SUPERDRUG! Never, ever touch it!”
The people receptive to this scaremongering are not the users. This message doesn’t address people who have used, or are currently using, or will use in the future. Most accidental overdoses are caused by people improperly mixing drugs or combining them with alcohol–or by contamination of the black market supply line. Drug users need to know what’s safe to use, and in what doses, and what’s in them, and what the effects will be.
This conversation can’t happen in a prohibition/law enforcement context, where both demand and supply of recreational drugs is criminalized at all levels of government. Even in the progressive “education+treatment” paradigm, this conversation is hampered by the willful, ignorant demonization of all drugs by people all over the political spectrum.*
Even many opponents of prohibition feel the need (possibly for valid strategic reasons) to hedge their calls for legalization by saying “[X drug] is terrible, m’kay, never use it.” But while this might help them politically, it doesn’t help a 28-year-old 175 lb. smoker who might actually need to know what two Xanax, four shots of Smirnoff, a Vicodin and an Ambien two hours apart are doing to him.
But this is the person both drug warriors and reformers are supposed to be trying to help. Locking him up, ostracizing him, and shutting down the conversation won’t help him, or the next person who OD’s. And while the entire acceptable range of conversation about drugs is “not even once,” people will continue to die–not because some superdrug is killing them, but because ignorance is.
One reality people need to come to grips with is that prohibition has failed. That is clear. The lives lost and dollars spent on the drug war have accomplished only to increase potency, impurity, and violence associated with drugs. Reforms are on the horizon, at least for some.
The next inconvenient truth: this will increase drug use. Whatever replaces the current insane regime of lengthy prison sentences, financial penalties, and militarized enforcement, it will reduce the cost of using drugs. Basic economics tells us that reducing the price will increase quantity demanded. When Portugal decriminalized all drugs, drugs use did indeed increase, even while addiction rates fell.
The simple fact is, even under our cruel and byzantine prohibition regime, some people use. As penalties are reduced or removed, more people will use and users will use more. This won’t change just by broadcasting more disingenuous public service announcements or by lying to scare children in public school health classes.
People want to get high. They like how it makes them feel. Some people, a small minority, become addicted. Some use dirty needles. Some use impure drugs. Some mix their poison with alcohol (a deadly legal intoxicant) or their prescriptions. Some will overdose (interestingly, not usually the regular users, whose bodies have acquired a tolerance), and some will die.
The solution to this is not telling people to “just say no.” They’ve already said yes. Some people use drugs. Deal with it. For the overwhelmingly majority, it’s not the end of the world. The answer is to encourage a responsible, adult conversation about what’s safe and what’s risky, and allow people to make informed personal choices. Ignorance never helped anybody, and today it’s hurting far too many.
* Think of the wonderfully modern and enlightened viewpoint our political leaders are starting to come around to about pot: that marijuana “offenders” should be placed in treatment, instead of jail. Wrap your head around the conceit and stupidity of this idea: that a drug that half the adult population (including our last three presidents) admit to having used requires a legally mandated recovery program. Did Barack Obama, George Bush, and Bill Clinton need to be in therapy because they smoked pot? What about the other 100 million prior “offenders”? The condescension is simply staggering.