Treat drug epidemic like a public health crisis, not a criminal witch-hunt

I’m not much of a column writer, but when something piques my interests I like to sound off on a topic, so here it goes. Love him or hate him the President of the United States issued his final State of Union Address this past week. I found the most interesting part to be that he called for help in solving the heroin and prescription pain killer epidemic. Rarely does a President mention something people often try to sweep under the rug as part of their speech to address the entire nation. I think it’s time that we as a country start treating heroin and pain killer abuse as a public health crisis and get the problem under control.

The last major public health crisis that comes to mind for me was in the 1980s when HIV/AIDS swept through the nation. Initially those who contracted the disease were treated poorly, called derogatory names, and treated as if they were the victim of their own action and not face it as a public health issue. Then it all changed when the virus spread to people not associated with the derogatory name and into communities where it had not been a problem before and we did something about it. We treated it like a public health crisis and have help curb the spread of HIV/AIDS and helped those who live with the disease live longer, normal lives. Three pills a day is all it takes now to help someone with HIV/AIDS live a normal life. I think it’s fine time to do the same for those who struggle with addiction.

Looking at this county alone, I would venture to say 80 to 90 percent of all crimes are a result directly or indirectly from drug use. People end up behind bars for possession of substances, possession needles, having chemicals to manufacture meth or everything in between. Then we have another large population of those behind bars who are in jail for property crimes and theft. Each and every week I read through the indictments from the Grand Jury and get sick to my stomach at the number of people with multiple thefts and burglaries followed by a final count of an indictment that includes trafficking in heroin or possession of chemicals for assembly/manufacturing of drugs.

I don’t think the answer is to lock nonviolent people in cages with violent criminals and hope they come out ‘cured’ of their drug use. That seems a bit ridiculous. Jails are overcrowded with petty drug criminals and it leaves little to no room for violent offenders. I am a firm believe that no one starts using drugs because they say to themselves, “Hey, I’d like to shoot some heroin.” Drugs are an effect not a cause. I think expanding care for mental health and wellness is a start. I think ending the stigma attacked with mental health and wellness is a better start than even expanding the care.

We have a public health crisis, not a drug problem. Until we as a group of people address like one, we will continue to pour money into fighting something not worth fighting. It doesn’t matter how many users, abusers, and traffickers we take off the streets because a new person with the same of better product is ready to step in and take their spot.

Let us start fighting the problem at the core through health and wellness and not through county jails and prisons.

Brian Durham Durham

By Brian Durham