Constituent policy

Politicians fail to back better drug policy – The Daily Utah Chronicle

Since 1999, the rate of drug overdoses in the United States has quadruple. Close to a million died of it and the trend accelerated. Recent data shows a staggering 31% increase in overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020, and another 15% increase from 2020 to 2021. These statistics aren’t just numbers – they represent real people with families and communities struggling with the devastation of overdoses.

Evidence-based policies exist to address the increasing number of drug-related deaths. These policies include expanding access to drug treatment, harm reduction measures, and funding the distribution of Naloxone. Utah lawmakers must take immediate action to implement such policies to save lives.

Applicable policies

Harm reduction is one of the most effective tools we have. Provide clean needles and supervised drug injection sites, decriminalize drugs, legalize medical marijuana and ensuring access to uncontaminated narcotics have all been shown to reduce mortality. These policies recognize that it is impossible to eliminate drug use, but attempt to keep drug users safe and alive.

Vancouver has operated a supervised drug injection site since 2003. They provide clean needles, counseling and a healthcare worker who watches for signs of overdose. The deaths were down 35% near the site from 2017, despite a increase in most other parts of Canada. New York City has opened a few supervised sites, but very few places in the United States are adopting them despite evidence that they help drug addicts and reduce crime.

Naloxone is a drug that can reverse the effects of opioid overdoses if given quickly enough. Harnessing its potential is another key action governments can take to save lives. States with naloxone programs saw an average 14% decrease in opioid-related deaths. Ohio, Delaware and Iowa have made Naxalone free to residents, and several other states have made it available in public libraries or created directories of places that offer it.

The Utah state legislature has authorized pharmacies to prescribe naloxone, but it has not been proactive in expanding access to the drug and educating the public about its life-saving potential. Family, friends, and bystanders are often the ones to reverse naloxone overdoses, and kits can be purchased at pharmacies in Utah.

Politicians must also take action to help people with access to addiction and mental illness treatment services, who are currently coming far to respond to demand. People in crisis are often unable to find adequate treatment, and those without support networks can fall through the cracks. Government funding for drug treatment programs would help reach those with lower socioeconomic status and hopefully improve overall outcomes.

Our state crisis

Utah is by no means immune to the national epidemic of opioids, methamphetamine and other substances. Average 475 people die here every year from an opioid overdose. This outbreak is fueled by an ongoing pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, which have put pressure on Utahns already struggling with addictions and mental illness. The other driving force behind this tragedy is the overwhelming flood of synthetic opioids – primarily fentanyl – hitting the illicit drug supply. The national fentanyl-related death rate has increased by a factor of 18 since 2013, and fentanyl itself has been calculated be the leading cause of death among people aged 18 to 45.

The Utah legislature has options, and it can set aside health care funding and create guidelines for providers who directly address addiction and mental health. Vermont has seen improvements recently due to its star addiction treatment model, which treats addiction as a chronic disease and creates a network of clinics in different regions to improve patient follow-up. Utah could save many lives by taking a similar approach.

For the communities currently devastated by fentanyl, we need to complement better health care with risk reduction measures. These measures would save thousands of lives and have the added benefits of reducing homelessness, reducing crime, and mitigating the economic cost of drugs on our state. The Utah legislature can pass programs that set up supervised injection sites in urban areas and dedicated treatment clinics in rural areas. It can fund needle exchange programs and prioritize rehabilitation over criminalization. He can arm citizens with naloxone and knowledge on how to recognize and reverse an overdose. And we must act now.

Lack of support

Despite the obvious urgency of this issue, both major political parties tend to drag their feet on good drug policy. Republicans almost always oppose them on the basis of senseless moral panic and an overemphasis on law and order, and Democrats sometimes do not support these policies for political reasons or for fear of backlash. .

Utah’s dominant GOP has failed to prevent meaningful overdoses, with our leaders typically justifying inaction with a general opposition to any government intervention of any kind. Republican leaders in several West Virginia counties recently closed needle-exchange programs aimed at preventing HIV infections, citing fears that such programs encourage addiction. And Governor Gavin Newsom of California, a Democrat, recently vetoed a bill that would have created supervised injection sites across the state, openly prioritizing his presidential aspirations over the welfare of his constituents.

We’ve known for decades that this country’s handling of drug policy is wrong, but public opinion has changed. A smart drug policy would both popularize and stem the tide of tragedy, and the cost of inaction is far too high.

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