This week the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit was held in Atlanta, Georgia. The event hosted lawmakers, law enforcement and addiction experts. Naturally, the topic of discussion was what should be done to combat the American opioid epidemic. The President attended the event as well, and spoke about his administration’s plans to tackle a crisis that is stealing the lives of more than 70 people every day.
It appears that his plans hinge on the idea that addiction is not a criminal problem, but rather a public health issue, The Washington Post reports. The shift comes as more and more lawmakers no longer view addiction as something that doesn’t affect predominantly white communities. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the vast majority of people arrested for drug related offenses were minorities. This was a byproduct of unjust mandatory minimum sentences in areas of the country where blacks and Hispanics were disenfranchised.
The prescription opioid and heroin epidemic has brought about a reversal in how Americans look at addiction. The public health crisis we face has touched people from all walks of life: rich or poor, white or black – we are all eligible for addiction. The shift in both political and public opinion give us a perfect opportunity to push for treatment over incarceration.
“The only way that we reduce demand is if we’re providing treatment and thinking about this as a public health problem and not just a criminal problem,” Obama said. “We have to be honest about this,” he said. “Part of what has made it previously difficult to emphasize treatment over the criminal justice system has to do with the fact that the populations affected in the past were viewed as or stereotypically identified as poor, minority.”
The White House plan includes a number of different elements, for example:
- Improving access to drug treatment.
- Creating an inter-agency task force to implement and enforce health parity protections.
- Changing buprenorphine prescribing laws.
- Investing in community policing to address heroin.
- Implementing clean needle programs.