The New York Times is reporting that over 100,000 Americans died of drug overdose in the year ending April 2021– the first year of the pandemic. This is a huge increase over 2019, when 70,630 people died from overdoses.
Driving this dramatic increase is the addition of fentanyl to street drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Fentanyl is a powerful, synthetic opioid that is manufactured cheaply and smuggled into the U.S. through Mexico. Because it is cheap and potent, dealers add it to other drugs to increase their effects (and reduce product cost). But according to the DEA, illicit fentanyl is inconsistent in strength. So the dealers don’t know whether they’ve added too much. And the user is often unaware that there’s fentanyl in it at all!
All of this, of course, is the result of an unregulated market. Because drugs are illegal, there is no quality control. Our national policy considers drug use a crime, so let the buyer beware.
The obvious corollary is that addiction itself is illegal, even though it is classed as a disease. Can you imagine making it illegal to have diabetes? So when addicts get caught, we ship them off to incarceration where they rarely get help. Instead, they get felonies on their record that prevent them from getting a decent job or place to live.
These are our children, our brothers and sisters who are dying. There’s got to be a better way.
And there is. Criminalization is a failure. But there are examples of successful decriminalization, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere.