Heroin and heroism

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/09/10/heroin-and-heroism/


“And all the politicians makin’ crazy sounds

And everybody puttin’ everybody else down

And all the dead bodies piled up in mounds”

— “Heroin” by The Velvet Underground

In March 2014, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick laudably declared a public health emergency, citing an “opiate epidemic” in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But Patrick’s declaration was like sipping soup with a fork. It was ineffective.

Thus far, all efforts to counter the massive and growing heroin problem have largely failed, as cold needles continue to puncture warm veins at a raging pace amidst a morbid delirium.

Two recent statistics illuminate the stark consequences of addiction:

Last year alone over 1,700 babies in Massachusetts were born into the world with a new man-made, modern-day scourge: “neonatal abstinence syndrome,” whereby fetuses exposed to drugs in utero exhibit symptoms of withdrawal after birth. Also in Massachusetts, and just as disturbing, 1,256 people were fatally poisoned as a result of opioid abuse (for every fatal overdose, it is believed that there are 47 non-fatal overdoses). What kind of civil society allows this to happen?

Despite greater government involvement (such as education, prevention, incarceration and treatment; see “The Failure of the War on Drugs,” a sobering 2009 report by the Massachusetts Bar Association) the crisis continues to grow (from 1999 to 2013 drug overdose deaths in the state have increased by 47 percent).

It is time to question the seriousness and wisdom of elected officials. It is time for new urgent priorities. And new ideas.

Consider Patrick’s announcement last year that he would commit over $50 million for climate change mitigation while pledging a mere $20 million for treatment and recovery services for the actual epidemic he rightly declared.

This year, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker commissioned an Opioid Working Group. Among the group’s 65 recommendations are the addition of only 100 new addiction treatment beds and better education for treatment professionals.

Just last week, all six New England governors called upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require pharmaceutical companies to use more “restrictive” labeling on opioid painkillers – as prescription pain medication abuse has been found to be a gateway to heroin usage. In a country where warnings must be placed on containers of hot coffee, what addict is apt to read labels?

According to Gatehouse News, the federal government is now disbursing $13.4 million to High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (including New England) for a broad range of activities, including $2.5 million to fund a Heroin Response Strategy (HRS). The Director of National Drug Control Policy says the HRS demonstrates a strong commitment to address such matters.

Really? These numbers are simply rounding errors in a $3.8 trillion federal budget.

It is time for government to throw more than the usual temporary lifelines.

Today, opiate addiction, from Ware to Wareham and beyond, may be the most consequential public policy predicament of all. This is because addiction – more than global warming or unfunded pensions – immediately impacts so many other issues:

Immigration (drug cartel distribution, open borders, sanctuary cities); economics (lost productivity); medicine (unnecessary scrips for potent medications); employment (leaves of absence); public sector financing (allocating scarce dollars for treatment); the culture (celebrities glamorizing recreational use of so-called gateway drugs); policing (fighting criminal activity); the law (do non-violent offenders deserve significant incarceration or rehabilitation?); and welfare (addressing unacceptable behaviors in families).

In 1971 (seven years after Lou Reed’s shattering ode to “Heroin”) President Richard Nixon nationalized the discussion by declaring a “War on Drugs.” To date, $1 trillion have been spent waging America’s truly longest and costliest war. But the endeavor has not been bold or particularly innovative or efficacious; just expensive. And victory – if there is one — remains elusive.

Wars are largely defined by heroes and villains. There are plenty of villains to be found in this carnage — dealers who promote “free heroin Sundays” to young people and sinister souls who lace the drug with an even more powerful opiate, fentanyl.

But where are the heroes? Can anyone in the public sector fill that role?

James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and a former columnist with The Cape Cod Times.

Also from James P. Freeman:

Blue state gone purple: Is Massachusetts liberalism in decline?

Cape Cod needs third bridge, but who will pay?