Opioids: Treating an Illness, Ending a War
The Sentencing Project
Dec 13, 2017

A new report by The Sentencing Project, Opioids: Treating an Illness, Ending a War by Nazgol Ghandnoosh and Casey Anderson, affirms the need for a public health response to the current drug crisis and underscores that the War on Drugs did not play a major role in ebbing past cycles of drug use.

While the association of this drug crisis with whites has promoted more empathetic responses, the pace of the overall response has been slow. Critical components of the solution—such as Medicaid expansion and improved access to medication-assisted treatment—face resistance, and there are growing efforts to increase punitive responses.

Policymakers should draw on the evidence base supporting a public health approach to halt the opioid crisis, including:

  • End Overprescribing of Opioids: Reverse the historically unprecedented and internationally anomalous rate at which U.S. physicians are prescribing opioids.
  • Expand Access to Treatment for Drug Use Disorders: Close the treatment gap for both the general and incarcerated populations, and ensure investment in effective forms of treatment.
  • Reduce Overdose Deaths: Increase access to naloxone and implement supervised injection sites and syringe service programs.

Given the preponderance of evidence establishing that incarceration for drug use and sales is not an effective remedy for substance use disorder, The Sentencing Project recommends that policymakers:

End the War on Drugs:

  • Significantly reduce the number of people incarcerated for possessing or selling drugs of all types.
  • Address the harms caused by the more punitive response to past drug crises and by ongoing enforcement.

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