The opioid crisis vs. crack, heroin— why aren’t they treated equally? (Ulish Carter's Column Nov. 1, 2017)

ULISH CARTER

On Thursday, Oct. 26, the president declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency—a move that allows the federal government to move more quickly while allowing states more flexibility in expanding the use of telemedicine treatment. He did it with full support by the Democrats, Republicans, and governors throughout the country.
This brings about the questions. “Are the thousands of people arrested and jailed for use or sell of cocaine, heroin, or crack-cocaine going to be released now that drug addiction is a disease?”
Yes, that is what it is being called—a disease—now that White middle-income Americans are dying.
Many states, including Pennsylvania, have already started addressing opioid addiction as a disease, which means…users are supposed to be treated as patients with a disease instead of criminals to be jailed? Maybe? No clarity has been made yet.
“Addressing it will require all of our effort, and it will require us to confront the crisis in all of its real complexity,” President Trump said. “As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from the scourge.”
Some numbers by the CDC show that 64,000 people died from overdoses last year, which averaged out to be about 100 per day.
Looking at our history there has always been a drug crisis in this country of one kind or another, but not to this degree with deaths being so high, especially White middle-income deaths. Before it was mostly Blacks, Latinos and low-income Whites.
It got so bad that in 1971 President Richard Nixon declared the first War on Drugs which led to millions, mostly users, being jailed for use or selling drugs. But it did little to easing the demand and sale of drugs to the point that in 1995 President Clinton and the Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, the House and Senate passed even more laws which led to packed jails, yet the demand and use of drugs continued to climb.
Looking at the history of drug crisis in America—the first crisis came after the Civil War when painkillers were in short supply, soldiers and others became addicted to morphine after using it to take away the pain from wounds of war.
In the late 1900s heroin was created to cure the morphine addictions.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s cocaine was used for various cures including morphine addiction. It led to President William Taft calling it the worst drug crisis this country has ever known in 1910.
Most drug epidemics over the past two centuries were sparked by pharmaceutical companies and physicians pushing products that gradually proved to be addictive and dangerous, said the CDC in an Associated Press story by Mike Stobbe. In the 1800s the drug was often opium, usually sold as a liquid in products like laudanum, and given to patients for pain or trouble sleeping.
Heroin faded in the late 1960s and early 1970s with crack replacing it as the drug of choice. Now the drug of choice has moved back to heroin.
The history of drug addiction appears to be linked to pain relief. But is it really an addiction or disease? Having suffered through serious pain myself and knowing people who are living with it now, most people would do just about anything to get rid of the pain. So sometimes the continued use of the drugs is not because they are addicted but because nothing else relieves the pain.
Americans consume more illegal drugs than any other country, yet they have a record number of people in jails and prisons on drug-related charges and nothing is changing. So, it’s time to look at the entire drug problem in this country, not just the opioid crisis.
Yes, I know there is a record number of White middle-income Americans dying but there’s an extremely high number of Blacks and Latinos dying from drug-related reasons, including gunshot wounds from selling it on the streets.
Why is there such a demand in this country? I understand the need for relieving pain but that is not the only reason, unless we include the pain of a life of poverty with no way out, and stop blaming outside countries like Mexico, we are not going to put a dent in the drug problem.
The best way to solve the problem is to legalize drugs—that way the government has more control of them both as they are manufactured as well as distributed.
Everyone in jail for use of an illegal drug should be released immediately, and the laws reviewed as to how much time sellers receive, if any. However, if they are legalized, which most were at one time, there would be far less violence on the streets because these drugs would be sold at Rite Aid, CVS, Giant Eagle, Target, Walmart and other drug stores.
Why should an adult 21 and up be told he/she can’t use drugs if he/she chooses it to relieve pain, or for the pleasure of the HIGH it’s going to give them. As long as the risks are explained to them like cigarettes.
(Ulish Carter is the former managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
 
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