Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. It is indeed a somber observation, and Lord knows that doubling down on the national mood during a pandemic isn’t the stuff of an exciting Zoom meeting, but it is a poignant day of observance for anyone who has been directly or indirectly affected by drug overdose. In a very real sense, that means all of us. If you haven’t been personally affected, or at least don’t know anyone who has suffered that loss, then I haven’t met you.
I’m writing this from my home in California, land of those who would consider themselves pioneers in the liberalization of drug laws, and the wellspring of the concept of “victimless crime”. A lot of folks were surprised when the efforts to approve “medicinal cannabis” didn’t lead to California being the first to legalize “recreational cannabis”, but the regulatory roads proved bumpy and the appearance of “farmacy” dispensaries was met with neighborhood resistance. We even passed a voter proposition reducing penalties and sentences, targeted at “victimless crimes”.
I am among those who admit that the “War on Drugs” has been a failure. Prohibitions and enhanced incarcerations have not resulted in significant harm reduction from substance abuse, in fact, the annual 72,000 deaths of our fellow citizens killed by drug overdose remain on an upward trajectory. Those numbers don't begin to touch the millions struggling with substance use disorder on a daily basis. So what are some answers? How do we bring this disease down from its epidemic proportions? Covid -19 isn’t the only thing that matters.
Treatment, counseling, hospitalization and incarcerations are all widely employed but, for the most part, are expensive, stressful and produce a low success rate.
Early Childhood Prevention is the most profound and cost-effective solution, but draws relatively little attention. Imagine the real and social cost savings if our overdose numbers were cut in half, or even more. Imagine a generation of children growing up without significant substance dependence. How much happier and productive would we all be?
Every intoxicating substance has the potential to be addictive. No, drug use doesn’t guarantee dependence nor moving on to harder drugs. Everyone walks before they can run. It starts somewhere, usually during youth, during the brain’s formative stages. This pandemic is 100% preventable. That’s on all of us.
By the way, in case you’re in the camp of thinking that drug crimes are non- violent, I’ll leave you with this thought: Hold a sobbing parent who has lost their child to addiction. Step back, look them in the eye and tell them that drug proliferation is a non-violent crime. I certainly can’t.
Join us. Join those who have lost a loved one, but are still in the fight for the rest of us. Their courage and resolve should humble us all.
Randy Rowse is a husband, father, businessman, ex-city council member, sailor and writer living in Santa Barbara, California.