North Carolina has become part of a new and disturbing nationwide trend – increased heroin usage and overdose.
In 2012, 147 people died of heroin usage, a dramatic increase from the average of approximately 50 people per year in the early 2000s, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Obviously any amount of life lost to drugs is tragic, but these numbers give us an opportunity to reflect on the misguided drug policies we have been using for decades.
To respond to the problem of drug use, our government has chosen an aggressive strategy, a theme that is embodied in the term we use to describe the policy: the War on Drugs.
In pursuit of that policy, governments at all levels have gone about banning drugs, arresting users and suppliers, and even intervening in foreign countries. The legislature in North Carolina enhanced the statewide prescription drug abuse reporting system to include increased penalties, according to the News & Observer.
All of this has produced little positive effect. A September 2013 report by British Medical Journal concluded that “expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing.”
This crackdown on prescription drugs seems to have had the unintended effect of having users who have trouble obtaining prescription drugs move on to heroin, which is cheaper, according to the News & Observer.
The fact that drugs are still so widely available after so many years of anti-drug policy suggests a problem with the system. This aggressive approach does not work, and we should move away from it.
Drug use should be treated as a problem that is dealt with medically, and drug users who do not harm others should not be considered criminals.
We have not progressed down this path the way we should, but there are some encouraging signs.
To his credit, Gov. Pat McCrory did sign a law offering limited immunity to those who seek help for others who have overdosed. Additionally, citizens may now use the drug Naloxone, which can help revive those who overdose, according to the News & Observer.
This is a small step, but it is the type of thing we should see more.
We have tried harsh punishment and cracking down for a while now. It is time to move forward to a saner, more humane drug policy that seeks to treat those with drug problems and removes the harsh legal sanctions against nonviolent users.
Kevin Griffin, a sophomore journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.