Reposted from Liberty Scout
Lawmakers around the nation continue to pound the drum to do something about opioid addiction. In Pennsylvania several new laws were enacted that focused on restricting doctors’ freedom to prescribe prescription pain killers. New drug bills in 2017 propose mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses and taxing legal opioids to pay for drug related law enforcement costs. These laws increase the size and power of government at the expense of individual liberty, increased taxes, and increased drug prices. But will any of them actually help reduce addiction?
My name is Giovanni Martello and I am a recovered heroin addict. I know just how difficult addiction is first hand. Addicts are not bad people but sometimes the addiction will drive them to do bad things. I never robbed a liquor store, but I do know that when you’ve been addicted to a drug for 5 years and you have no money your brain will start to scream some truly irrational things at you once the pain starts getting real. Desperation builds and builds and the next thing you know you are stealing to pay for your daily doses. You are what people consider a worthless pile of refuse. I did not start from a prescription and move to heroin. I was in a situation that resulted in me trying it just a few months out of high school. However, I know many people who did start by taking pills. Most of these people did not actually have a prescription – the person who did would sell some of theirs to make ends meet. I am fortunate that I did not end up doing something for which I had to pay for the rest of my life. I was happy to say goodbye once and for all to that drug in April of 2006 and have not gone back to it. That experience taught me just how faulty the current drug war is, and what it takes to actually help addicts. But first let’s discuss what won’t help.
Leave Doctors Alone
Prosecuting doctors for over-prescribing will only make the addiction problem worse. What happens when Doctors know that the FBI and DEA are watching what they are doing and require paperwork to be filed for all prescription opioids written for pain? Good doctors become fearful of prescribing opioids (the best painkillers on the market) to actual suffering patients. Your local doctor has probably heard of another local doctor or colleague that is being investigated by the FBI. The doctor will become exceedingly fearful that he might accidentally cross a line. This is absurd. Your doctor should be able to honestly and caringly prescribe his/her patient whatever they need to feel better. That’s why we go to the doctor isn’t it? We go when we need to feel better.
The repercussions of policies like this is that good people who need their pain meds to live a normal life are being turned down, dosage lowered, or medications switched due to the doctor wanting to save their skin. Reduced supply of legal opioids will drive people to black market heroin. In essence many of these new laws will create the very people that they claim they are trying to help! People who are physically dependent on legal opioids to live a normal life should be allowed to do so. There is no crime there, but just like any heroin addict, when you take away their supply, they get desperate. Desperation is the most powerful kind of fear. Rationality goes out the window and people earn their name as the “most dangerous animals on earth”. Anytime you hear about some “junkie” knocking over a liquor store in your city’s worst neighborhood people are quick to write them off as just another pile of human refuse. It’s so easy to judge having never lived in their shoes.
End The Failed Drug War
The other way not to help addicts is to continue expanding the violent war on drugs. The government is totally fine with their continued shock and awe violence tactics in cities and towns across America which is akin to playing whack-a-mole with a toothpick in an ant colony. All the while they continue prosecuting the end users to get their testimony against a drug dealer who will be replaced in nanoseconds by another one nearby. What has this accomplished? Nothing but ruined lives of good people who were likely very desperate and got caught.
The Hard Truth About Helping Addicts
“So what is it, Giovanni?? What is the way to help addicts??”
I’m so glad you asked! The only way to help an addict recover is by keeping them alive long enough until they are ready to change. There are statistics that say an average person will cease heroin use after roughly 7 years. Unfortunately many addicts don’t make it through due to the recent increase in fentanyl laced product being churned out carelessly by black market manufacturers. A death for them is good business because it sends a message that their brand is “strong”. Strong like a bullet in the head, maybe. The users hurt by the stuff can’t sue or complain to police because the product is illegal. We cannot arrest our way out of an addiction problem. We must provide a safer legal alternative to the black market. The black market has no mechanism to ensure safety. When was the last time you heard of someone getting “a bad pill” from their doctor? We have huge pharmaceutical companies with quality assurance and regulations making sure that every pill that is shipped out is pure. Say what you want about the pharmaceutical companies, but at least they are consistent and their products are a thousand times safer than a street drug due to the fact that you actually know what’s in it and the exact dosage.
Look To Portugal
If we really want to help addicts we should look at what Portugal is doing with their decriminalization efforts. They are still prosecuting importers and large scale drug dealers, but the end users are not targeted any longer. They have turned funding from increased law enforcement to state run workers who roam the streets and local hot spots providing free counseling and clean supplies. Some of you will say “I bet everyone will do heroin when it’s legal!” but the contrary actually happens. Portugal has seen decreases in usage as, get this…, more addicts are no longer afraid of prosecution and come forward to speak with these workers, their loved ones, and friends about their addiction. This comes as a realization that the laws are what drives stigma which keeps good people addicted to a drug scared and hidden in dark corners where actual criminals rule the world. If you want to see a good person fail, put them around a ton of awful people and make sure they can’t get away from them. Sooner or later they will adapt and integrate into that society.
What Can I Do?
If anyone reads this far and wonders “What can I do? The problem is just so big…” the first thing you can do is be open to letting your friends and loved ones in trouble talk to you about their problem. They may not, but knowing you are there to help them should they need it could save their life. There is a difference between offering help and enabling so I urge you to read more on that subject. The only reason I am alive today is because my parents gave me so many chances. Eventually I was more afraid of using again or dying on the street than thinking about how to live my life without something I’d used every day for years. I needed to be ready to let that drug, the most awful “love of my life” go, and that could not be forced.
Remember, the only way an addict will recover is when he makes the choice himself. The only time an addict will make the choice to recover is when the pain of using outweighs the pain of having to go without.
Please have compassion for the addicts out there as many are good people who are weighed down by an evil oppressive force. I know this because I was once a good-for-nothing, but since dropping that habit in 2006 I have accomplished more than you could know. If even one person stops typing and erases their message “Good for nothing junkie, they deserved to die!” in a local news article comment section online, I will have done my job. Focus on the person, their mental health, and eliminating their fear in order to break down their wall and let them allow themselves the help they need.
Giovanni D. Martello