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Arizona May Have Gotten More Aggressive on Opioids, but It's Still Not Working

December 24, 2018 in Economics

By Jeffrey A. Singer

Jeffrey A. Singer

Despite a concerted effort by state and federal authorities to
curtail doctors from prescribing opioids to their patients in pain,
the overdose rate continues to climb year after year.

The latest numbers for 2017 were recently reported by the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they don’t look
good. Deaths from all drug overdoses rose another 9 percent since
2016. And deaths from all opioids rose another 11 percent.

The breakdown of the opioid overdose numbers is
revealing. In 2017, fentanyl caused 40 percent of opioid overdose
deaths, up from 30 percent the previous year.

The opioid crisis is
actually a prohibition crisis.

Fentanyl or heroin comprised 75 percent of opioid overdose
deaths in 2017, up from 68 percent in 2016. Meanwhile, overdoses
from prescription opioids like hydrocodone or oxycodone dropped 9
percent in 2017.

This Crisis Was Never about Doctors

While more and more patients are seeing their pain go under-treated — or
getting cut off from their pain medication and sometimes growing desperate — overdoses
continue to mount. And Arizona has not been immune to this
phenomenon.

In 2017, Arizona ranked 30th in the nation in opioid overdoses,
with a rate of 13.2 per 100,000 population, and 29 percent of those
overdoses were attributed to fentanyl alone. Yet Arizona
policymakers continue to double down on the same failing approach
to the overdose crisis.

This is because the opioid overdose crisis has
never really been primarily about doctors prescribing opioids

to their patients in pain. It has always been fundamentally about
non-medical users accessing drugs in the black market fueled by
drug prohibition.

As prescription opioids diverted to the black market have gotten
harder to come by, the efficient black market has responded by
filling the void with cheaper and more dangerous heroin and
fentanyl.

The opioid crisis is actually a prohibition crisis. Until
policymakers in Arizona and across the U.S. come to that
realization, the deaths will continue to mount.

War on Drugs? We Need a New Strategy

The focus needs to shift from that of a “war on drugs” to a “war
on drug-related deaths.” This means the strategy needs to change to
one known as harm reduction.

Harm reduction seeks to reduce the harms the black market
already inflicts on non-medical users and to focus strictly on the
goal of reducing the spread of disease and death from drug use.

Harm reduction strategies have been in use since the 1980s, and
they have a proven record of success in reducing deaths, substance
abuse and the spread of disease. They have a track record that
prohibition can never match.

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Source: OP-EDS

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