Obama’s Heroin Response Strategy: When You Don’t Go Far Enough, You Throw Good Money after Bad

The good news is that the Obama administration is making at least some effort to address the horrific accidental death rate from heroin and prescription opioid overdose. This effort brings attention to a scourge that is killing thousands upon thousands of Americans each year. Yet the efforts, to be politically prudent, fail to address and fully fund the critical interventions necessary to end the opioid overdose epidemic.

What Obama’s Heroin Response Strategy does is provide resources to fifteen of the hardest hit states in this epidemic. Half of the resources go toward analyzing drug use trends and ostensibly helping addicts and half go toward crime fighting and putting dealers in jail. The first half of the program is a good idea that doesn’t go far enough to be effective and the latter is an amping up of the War on Drugs that is a total waste of money. Because the effort to assist addicts doesn’t go far enough, and the charge to arrest heroin dealers is the same-old-same-old, the entire project is doomed to failure.

Instead of what’s being proposed, here’s a counter proposal to consider.

  1. Naloxone Access – Spend the entire wad of cash proposed to provide all first responders (not only police) with training and access to Naloxone. Provide this training to first responders in every state. Provide Naloxone to municipalities so they’ll have access to it. For those who are not familiar with the drug, Naloxone is an easy to administer medication that can in essence stop or reverse opioid overdose. When followed up immediately with emergency medical care, this drug saves lives. Help nonprofit health and community organizations train both addicts and their loved ones in the use of this life-saving medication. Make it available through every harm reduction program in the nation.


  1. Forget the War on Drugs – Yes, there are people out there who still believe that we need to be “hard on drugs.” Well, the evidence shows them to be fools and we should stop pandering to them. Look at the Portugal Experiment. After decriminalizing possession in small amounts, Portugal placed the entire emphasis of its drug policy on providing treatment for those who want it. Instead of running off to chase drug cartels, they help addicts find the care they need. The federal government needs to put some teeth behind the Mental Health Parity Act so that addicts who want help can find treatment without a long wait. People die waiting for treatment. There are millions more people in need of treatment than there are treatment beds available. A push needs to be made to create beds in quality treatment programs for addicts. Naloxone will save a life, but after that, if there’s no quality, ongoing addiction treatment, there will be an inevitable relapse.


  1. Support the Private Sector – There are nonprofit and for-profit treatment centers all over the country that would gladly expand their services if insurance didn’t fight and drag its heels paying for treatment. Government subsidies for programs like Medicaid don’t cover anything near the cost of treatment even in a nonprofit center and no business can run at a deficit for long. Look at ways to cover treatment costs, because with treatment, addicts can become productive, tax-paying members of society. Providing addiction treatment is not just about getting an individual better, but helping them become working, giving members of the community.


  1. Look at the Core Causes of Addiction – Grinding, generational poverty is one cause of addiction. When you have neighborhoods that are hopeless, you have children who seek relief in drugs. We need jobs and community-building. We need activities for young people to be involved in. And if we don’t focus on the core causes of addiction, if we ignore these issues, science is finding that there are epigenetic changes that take place that further ingrain the cycle of addiction. …so in the long term, you have environment and genetics working together to create despair.


Come on, Mr. President. We can do better.