The following editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:
The monument to America’s War on Drugs is a gravestone – millions of them, actually, spread across the land.
The war was long about drugs like marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. But it has grown to embrace prescription drugs, too, the opioids that are sometimes too casually prescribed to mute real or imagined pain and too often leading to addiction as the user finds the craving for them irresistible.
Addicts will try desperately to keep renewing their painkiller prescriptions, and when that fails, they turn to street drugs, like the flood of cheaper heroin that continues to flow into our communities.
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The casualties of addiction are growing. And for reasons not fully clear, North Carolina is being hit especially hard. Some of our counties, especially in the mountains and foothills, have overdose death rates among the worst in the nation. State health officials say overdoses now kill more North Carolinians than car crashes or guns.
How bad is it? At Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, which performs autopsies for the western part of the state, pathologists attributed six deaths to heroin overdoses in 2010. Four years later, the number jumped to 52. There could have been as many as 70 last year. Figures haven’t been compiled yet.
The War on Drugs is a colossal, trillion-dollar debacle that has failed at its most basic two missions: interrupting the supply and demand for illegal drugs. Despite massive efforts, both have grown.
It’s time to walk away from our failures and chart a new course. We need to begin more effective preventive efforts that will spot those who are vulnerable to addiction and better protect them. Doctors need better training in prescribing painkillers and in identifying addiction. And more first responders need to be equipped with overdose-reversing drugs like naloxone.
At the very least, it’s time to reverse decades-long course and decriminalize drug addiction. Addicts suffer from a severe, often life-threatening illness. Treatment, not incarceration, is the remedy. Drug courts are a good step in that direction, but we need a broader institutional response.
Drugs are killing too many of our best and brightest, most often while they still are young. Prohibition has failed with drugs, as it did with alcohol. We need a new model that emphasizes education, intervention and rehabilitation, not incarceration.
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