Editor’s note: Another Viewpoint is a column The [Ohio] News-Herald makes available so all sides of an issue may be aired. Judge Diane V. Grendell serves on the Ohio 11th District Court of Appeals.
The heroin and fentanyl epidemic continues to grow in Northeast Ohio. The number of opiate drug deaths exceeds traffic-related fatalities. Much is said about drug treatment, but little is said about keeping heroin out of our communities.
As a registered nurse, I appreciate the well-intended efforts to save addicts’ lives by expanding access to Narcan, the opioid overdose reversal drug, but the expanded availability of Narcan does not stop addicts from using heroin or fentanyl.
In fact, giving Narcan to heroin addicts invites more and potentially more harmful heroin/fentanyl use. Emboldened by access to Narcan, heroin addicts continue to take heroin, often in more lethal doses. Some heroin addicts participate in “Lazarus parties” — group heroin use where an addict takes a serious dose of heroin and is subsequently saved (resurrected) with Narcan by another addict.
Providing Narcan to heroin/fentanyl addicts may seem humane, but it is not preventing heroin use or addressing the growing heroin epidemic. In reality, it is only serving to encourage more heroin abuse. There were reports that heroin dealers are now selling Narcan to heroin addicts along with heroin.
Giving Narcan to addicts is like giving fire extinguishers to pyromaniacs. The only thing assured is more criminal activity.
Certainly, more and better drug intervention treatment is needed to help heroin addicts overcome their drug addiction. But, again, such treatment addresses the drug epidemic from the back end. What about stopping the easy flow of heroin into Northeast Ohio?
What is not being discussed is what is really needed — stopping the easy access to heroin and fentanyl in Northeast Ohio. The best and most effective way to prevent heroin and fentanyl addiction is to eliminate easy access to those illegal drugs. Unfortunately, when asked, local drug addicts readily say that there is easy local access to heroin and multiple readily accessible drug dealers.
Yet, the state of Ohio has placed its primary attention on post-addiction efforts such as Narcan and treatment, instead of drug prevention.
If heroin and fentanyl were less easy to obtain, there would be less need for Narcan or treatment.
If we, as a community, really want to address the current heroin/fentanyl problem, we should demand that federal, state and local governments and law enforcement agencies take the actions needed to stop the flow of heroin and fentanyl into our communities. Ohio will not continue to be the “overdose capital of the United States” if heroin and fentanyl are not readily available in Ohio. While getting these drugs out of our communities may not be easy or cheap, bringing a real end to the heroin epidemic would be well worth it both in the lives saved and reduced taxpayer-funded social services costs.
It’s time to attack the heroin/fentanyl epidemic head-on. It is time to fight with every tool available to keep heroin out of our communities. An ounce of prevention certainly is worth a pound of cure.