| 03.20.2018

Legal drug dealing – The U.S. should rethink how it handles drug abusers


Ever since President Nixon declared a war on drugs in the 1970s, the United States has struggled to reduce drug abuse across the nation.

From harsh drug policies to treatment programs, the U.S. has been working on this issue tirelessly. The use of heroin in particular has been on the rise since the early 2000s. The number of heroin overdose deaths increased nearly five times from 2001 to 2014, with 10,574 people dying from an overdose.

Jessica Gee Argonaut

Jessica Gee

The state of Idaho does not record heroin-related deaths, and victims” death certificates often only put “overdose” as the determined cause. Despite the lack of data, which is a whole other issue to worry about, the Department of Health and Welfare said drug-related deaths are still increasing in Idaho.

So what has the United States been doing wrong to lead to these massive numbers?

There are many reasons why the levels of heroin use keep increasing, but cutting these numbers down may require the country to think outside the box.

Switzerland has taken an interesting and controversial route in treating citizens who abuse heroin. In 1994 the Swiss government developed a harm-reduction program, where addicts could obtain a prescription for heroin. This was an alternative to imprisoning heroin users and still allowed them to pursue a career.

The program has thus far been successful in lowering heroin-related crimes and the spread of diseases, such as HIV. The shocking part about the program is that there were no overdose deaths at these injection clinics, according to a report in 2010.

The idea behind this program is that when illegally taking drugs is no longer an addict”s first priority, they can lead a normal life and contribute to society.

Critics of this program argue this just enables drug abusers and allows them to destroy their health.

Though complete abstinence from any drugs would be ideal, sometimes working with addicts rather than against them is the best approach.

According to Swiss doctor André Seidenberg, who treats drug addicts for a living, quitting heroin cold turkey is much different than other drugs.

“The death rate is three to four times higher for abstinent patients, compared to those prescribed heroin or methadone,” Seidenberg said. “Repeated attempts to come off the drugs can trigger psychological difficulties that can then lead to self-harm.”

The U.S. is far from creating these supervised injection clinics on a federal level, but it is definitely something lawmakers should evaluate considering the success of the Swiss programs.

In fact, Svante Myrick, mayor of Ithaca, New York, proposed the United States” first injection clinic in February. This shows that people in the U.S. are moving toward different and innovative approaches to the nation”s drug problem, which is exciting to see.

Myrick compared this seemingly “outrageous” approach of injection clinics to the idea of providing teenagers with sexual education in the 1970s, which seemed horrendous at the time. The outcomes are quite different in these two examples, but it is a similar concept.

A major takeaway from these techniques is that focusing on the stability and treatment of an addict can often be more beneficial than punishing them with jail time.

President Obama worded it well during a statement at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in March.

“The most important thing we can do is to reduce demand for drugs,” Obama said. “And the only way that we reduce demand is if we”re providing treatment and thinking about this as a public health problem and not just a criminal problem.”

Jessica Gee  can be reached at  arg-opinion@uidaho.edu  or on Twitter @JessicaC_Gee

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