The Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading proponent of drug policy reform, is releasing a plan to address increasing rates of opioid use and overdose (now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States). The plan marks a radical departure from the punitive responses that characterize much of U.S. drug policy and instead focuses on scientifically proven harm reduction and public health interventions that can improve treatment outcomes and reduce the negative consequences of opioid misuse, such as transmission of infectious diseases and overdose.
“In the face of the current opioid epidemic, including the rise of fentanyl, now is not the time to double down on the failed policies of criminalization of drugs, but rather to dramatically ramp up the most evidence-based and promising approaches for treatment and prevention such as those outlined in the Drug Policy Alliance’s opioid response plan,” said Dr. Josiah Rich, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 7, 2016
As both seasoned and newly elected officials grapple with how to address the growing concern with opioids in their respective backyards, the Drug Policy Alliance’s plan offers specific policy proposals that, if implemented, will increase access to effective treatment, expand harm reduction services, prevent further opioid misuse, reduce the role of criminalization and lessen incarceration, and decrease racial disparities. Some of the more than twenty innovative and cutting-edge recommendations in the plan include:
- Establish Safe Drug Consumption Services: Safe Drug Consumption Services, also known as supervised injection facilities (SIFs), are controlled health care settings where people can consume drugs under clinical supervision and receive health care, counseling, and referrals to health and social services. SIFs have been rigorously studied and found to reduce the spread of infectious disease, overdose deaths, and improperly discarded injection equipment, and to increase public order, access to drug treatment and other services, and to save taxpayer money.
- Research Heroin Assisted Treatment: Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT) is a form of medical care that involves the carefully regulated and controlled administration of pharmaceutical-grade heroin to people who have failed other drug treatments. Research has shown that HAT can reduce drug use, overdose deaths, infectious disease, and crime, while saving money and promoting social integration.
- Implement Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion: Law enforcement officials frequently act as the first point of contact for drug-related offenses, but criminalization generally results in more harm than good. Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a pre-arrest or pre-booking diversion program that has been piloted and evaluated in Seattle, Washington. Instead of arresting and booking people for certain petty offenses, including low-level drug possession and sales, law enforcement immediately directs them to housing, treatment, and other services.
“Opioid misuse and overdose are complex issues that require a multifaceted, comprehensive approach,” said Lindsay LaSalle, Senior Staff Attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance. “In taking some or all or the steps delineated in the plan, local, state, and federal policymakers can act to ensure healthier, safer populations while avoiding failed strategies that drive people away from care and treatment, exacerbate racial disparities, and waste scarce public resources.”
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While the Drug Policy Alliance has been advocating for advancement of these interventions for decades, the plan’s release acknowledges the potential willingness of elected officials to engage in harm reduction and public health approaches to drug use in ways before unimagined. Indeed, Nevada and Maryland have previously introduced legislation to create HAT pilot projects and Maryland, California, and a number of municipalities including Ithaca and New York City, New York and Seattle, Washington have considered implementation of SIFs.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 4, 2016
“To save lives today, it’s imperative cities act now on this plan’s recommendations to implement public health innovations in their own communities and that federal government follow suit and lift barriers to get people the help they need,” said City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick. “It’s time to put health and people first.”
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Nevada State Senator Tick Segerblom agrees: “The Drug Policy Alliance’s plan maps out a vision for ushering in a new era of drug policy in the United States. Elected officials must embrace evidence-based solutions to the growing opioid epidemic if we are to start making a dent and protecting the people we serve. The old solutions have failed.”
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