Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that is being used to cut illegal drugs, reducing costs for suppliers. Due to its strength and the poor quality control of street drugs and dosing practices among their users, it has lead to a massive increase in overdose deaths. The following graph from the BC Coroner’s Service show overdoses with and without fentanyl. The number of overdose deaths in 2016 that did not involve the drug increased moderately from 2011 (roughly 20%), but with fentanyl related overdose deaths included, the death rate jumped to more than 3 times its 2011 level.
Unsurprisingly, there have been calls for the government to step in to “solve” the problem. In Vancouver, emergency responders, often firefighters, are being taxed to the limit, putting others at risk, to deal with the victims. Worse, there are a silent majority who are not using drugs in public, but quietly die alone in their homes.
Some of the actions being taken include providing supervised injection sites and equipping emergency responders and others with naloxone kits used to treat those who have overdosed. Some are pushing for prescription of heroine to addicts.
Groups like the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition are trying to claim that the problem is partially due to overprescription of opioid painkillers. However, while a small number of deaths are likely due to misuse of prescription painkillers, the vast bulk of the increase is due to fentanyl in street drugs. I find this muddying of the waters by to be dangerous. Making the claim that a grandmother is just as likely to die of an overdose as a street drug user is so obviously ludicrous that it makes people discount the rest of your argument.
The idea of prescribing heroine is sound. Drug use is a victimless crime, in the sense that only the user is harmed. By decriminalizing all drugs and carefully regulating them, as we are in the process of doing to marijuana, we can take their production out of the hands of criminals, who are unmotivated to make them safe to use. The money being wasted on incarcerating drug users could be turned better things, like improving emergency response and rehabilitation.
The benefits of decriminalization are many:
- Reduction in overdose deaths with controlled doses of pure drugs
- Reduced criminal activity by gangs as one of their revenue sources is removed
- Reduced prison populations
- Reduced stigma for drug users
- Increased capacity for police and emergency responders
- Reduced taxes or increase services in other areas
What are the negative outcomes of decriminalizing drugs?
- Likely some increase in drug use
- Likely leading to some increase in property crimes by addicts
I think the increase in property crime would be easily offset by the elimination of drug crimes.