The opioid crisis takes far too many lives. Two-thirds of the drug overdose deaths in America are because of opioids. The number of opioid overdose deaths in 2016 was approximately 43,000. Swift and effective actions are necessary to stop this epidemic from spreading.
There are some pieces of good news such as Congress and the President allocating $3.3 billion to address the problem. However, the money is only helpful if it funds the right methods.
Criminal punishment is insufficient
Many people, including politicians and community leaders, advocate for stronger criminal penalties for those who struggle with addiction to opioids. While the criminal justice system can play an important role in this situation, it cannot resolve the problem on its own. In fact, some criminal punishments can be ineffective and counterproductive. It may be time to shift the focus away from harsh mandatory minimum sentences.
Evidence-based treatments need more funding and attention
There are many strategies that can treat opioid addicts and resolve the epidemic. According to the CEO of the American Psychological Association, here are some areas the country should focus on instead of incarceration:
- Increasing the number of substance use and mental health treatment providers
- Improving the effectiveness of health care providers through training and education
- Raising awareness of pain management services and nonpharmacological treatment for those with chronic pain and/or mental health disorders
- Increasing and improving recovery support services, such as education, housing and job training for people struggling with opioid addictions
- Providing a variety of services for opioid addicts, such as counseling, psychotherapy, medications and psychosocial interventions
- Investing in research to determine how a psychosocial approach can address opioid addiction and chronic pain
- Advising courts to get people into treatment instead of jail
Addiction is an illness, not a crime. If the country wants to stop the opioid epidemic, people must treat addicts as individuals who need help rather than criminals who need punishment.