The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Drug User Decriminalization
Author Note: When choosing photos for this confession, most were likely to be stock images, but accurately represent the life and death of a drug user or drug abuser. As the content and images were intended to help you understand the pain of a drug user, drug abuser, or the loss of one, this content has been rated for a mature audience only.
I write this confession in defense of all drug users and drug abusers against being called a criminal and treated like one. I myself, am not a prescription drug or illicit drug user, or abuser, for that matter. Though I admit, I do religiously take various multi-vitamins and an Apple Cider Vinegar pill that has not been and probably never will be approved by the FDA, which may technically qualify me as a [legal] “drug user”. But I know, or actually for a better term, I have known many people – who are now deceased due to their unfortunate habit. Good friends that I have lost. They were here and now they are gone. Never to answer a phone call or a text, never to send a text or a phone call, never to do anything on this Earth again. Their spark, their fire, their warmth, is gone forever. For most of the people I knew, they never made it beyond 30 years old. In fact, 28 and younger was about their ages. Too many gone, never forgotten.
Once friends that I loved and cared for and now I must walk this Earth without them, knowing that the only thing I have left of them are a few photographs, maybe the ability to see their unattended Facebook profile, and whatever experiences we had together in memory. This is all many of us have and we simply live and accept the fact that this is supposed to be a part of our lives. I wish we did not have to accept it, and I wish we could hold those responsible for permitting access to whatever the drug of choice was.
We could have, we would have, we should have. What if questions run rampant through our minds. More and more people all over the United States are now becoming affected by losing at least one loved one due to opiate drugs. The problem is not only rampant in the United States, but Europe is also experiencing a major surge in opium-related deaths. Heroin, alone, an opiate, accounts for at least 200,000 drug-deaths a year. This drug epidemic is also spreading to countries all over the world. The world itself, has a huge drug problem, both legal and illicit.
The unfortunate thing is that while we wish to wage war on illicit drugs and attack the people who use them, the war on drugs is being fought the wrong way. The war on drugs is a war on the hopeless and the lost. It is a war that cannot be fought by throwing the population into prison and deeming them criminals for life. Every drug user becomes a criminal rather than a lost soul looking for the help it needs. A drug user to society has become less than a human being. To people who learn about other people who die from a drug overdose, thoughts usually go something like this: He/she was a drug user and that makes them a bad person.
The truth is that these people are not bad. In fact, they are the sweetest of people you could have ever met, at least, when they are sober and clean. These people are our sons, our daughters, our brothers, our sister, our mothers, our fathers, our cousins, our uncles, and our aunts. Our parents and our children are not bad people, but they happened to have become addicted to a drug, either because it made them feel good or it made them feel like they could escape to a reality that was not their current one.
Finding ways to cope with depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, or any other disorder and using drugs to do it does not make anyone a criminal. It should not make them a criminal. They did what they thought was the right thing: they trusted a doctor or the healthcare system, and in turn, it killed them. Who is liable for that? They thought taking this pill or that pill was going to help them, but all it did was provide temporary relief from their pain, and an eventual addiction that would kill them. Very, very few in the healthcare system and the government are prosecuted or even held responsible for such events, and thus, very few are responsible or liable for the deaths of our loved ones.
In fact, the blame is solely put on our loved ones, as if they committed suicide purposely, or they became “criminal drug addicts” because they chose that life. There is a huge difference between an accidental drug overdose and suicide, yet very often, they are attributed to being correlated, as if “the system” works to ensure that insurance companies won’t get stuck with that bill, because after all, most life insurance companies will not cover “suicide”. Deep down, I know no one really chooses that life or wants it, but the desire to have relief from the pain is sometimes greater than life itself. And for some of you reading this, you know all too well, that in the end, after it all happened, there was nothing that any of us could have really done to stop the inevitable, and now you, me, we all must accept what happened as our reality.
If you don’t know what opiates are, in legal prescription drug form, this is the list:
- codeine (only available in generic form)
- fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora)
- hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER)
- hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Vicodin)
- hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)
- meperidine (Demerol)
- methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
- morphine (Astramorph, Avinza, Kadian, MS Contin, Ora-Morph SR)
- oxycodone (OxyContin, Oxecta, Roxicodone)
- oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet, Endocet, Roxicet)
- oxycodone and naloxone (Targiniq ER)
In their non-legal illicit form, it might be known as heroin and can be done by snorting, smoking, or injecting. It just needs to eventually get into the bloodstream, which usually happens very quickly, and once there, it is responsible for controlling dopamine levels, which aids in executive functions, motor control, motivation, arousal, reinforcement, and reward, as well as lower-level functions including lactation, sexual gratification, and nausea. For many users, the reward is great, but the reward seems to be less and less every time, and therefore, in order to achieve a greater reward, more must be taken, as the body tends to get use to it, and a same dosage to the last time seems dull, forcing its users to increase their dosage.
The biggest issue and cause of [fatal] overdoses is that users might tend to actually seek help, get the help from addiction centers, get clean for a few weeks, but end up relapsing, and once they return back to the drug, they believe their system needs more than their very first dose and that their system can handle it because that is what gave them the high last time. What they do not realize is that their system is no longer use to those high doses anymore. Once exposed to the high dose, which the system is not used to, overdose, possibly fatal may occur. The concern is the lack of knowledge that this could happen.
Regardless of who you are or how many drugs you have taken, or how much you think you can handle it, your heart can only take so much. When it comes to processing drugs, the heart must pump blood to every area, but to put the effects of drugs on the heart, can be extremely fatal. Jokingly, the only one who may have ever surpassed his drug addictions and abuse and is beyond human, is the awesome Ozzy Osbourne. Seek to be creative like Ozzy but don’t think you can be Ozzy Osbourne. There can be only one. No one else is immune to the effects of a drug overdose.
The friends I knew were very strong people. They did not have any illnesses that would have made them weak. In fact, they were functioning members of society, college graduates, and went to work everyday. Yet in the end, it was their hearts that gave out, and that is usually the cause of death. On any death certificate, the coroner usually links three contributing factors to death.
In the case of drugs, it would likely be listed as opioid intoxication (heroine or prescription drug) which caused cardiac arrest which caused an overworked heart to stop or lack of oxygen to the brain resulting in death. No matter what age, 18-22-25-27-30-33-34-38-40-46-50 (random ages), or older. Not a single living human being is immune to the possible death that drugs can cause. Take a look at this list of deaths from drug overdose and intoxication.
Opiates may seem like a godsend to numb us from our bodily pain, but often end up numbing us from everything, sometimes permanently.
Legal drug dealers Doctors used to give them out whenever someone coughed, but they are now slightly under pressure to limit the amount they can give to each patient. However, this also created a demand for the black market, in which most of these prescription drugs can be found, or heroin, can be sought, which are all part of the same family and gives those feelings of a euphoric high.
Chances are, if you are reading this, you have lost someone. If you have not, than I hope you are just reading this for information. Otherwise, I pray for you and your family and friends to get the help you or they need. Life is too precious and we only get one life to live. It would be awesome if we could all come back, but once your heart stops or your brain stops, so do you. We could get into the soul, but your life, as you, will never be again. There is no coming back from death. Once it has you, that is it. The very concept of an afterlife seems to calm our human minds, but the simple answer is this: We do not know. This debate, however, is for another confession. However, my condolences to those of you who have lost someone due to the “drug addiction opiate epidemic.” I am as hurt as you and I may not have lost a child or a parent due to this illness, but I lost friends, one of whom was my best friend since childhood, and that pain is excruciating. It never goes away and it is deep within my heart, just as I know it is deep within yours; it is a void that can never be filled, and a broken heart that can never be mended, as death breaks all of our hearts, no matter how much time passes.
Since 2001, after our invasion of Afghanistan, who is notoriously known for their massive opiate fields and high opium production, we have seen an extremely dangerous epidemic in the United States, in which our friends and families are dying. Our war on drugs is nonexistent and an illusion, for the prescription drug companies have won and are a part of our everyday lives. The government and those in power who have all their deals made love the war on drugs because they are profiting on drug addiction and drug abuse in every way: from the drug addict to the incarceration period, to the healthcare spent on reviving a drug addict, to their death. There is, however, no profit in drug addiction programs, so they are not usually funded a whole lot by the government.
If the government actually cared about us, they would decriminalize drug users and have government-funded addiction centers that help people deal with this epidemic. Of course, there has always been drug overdoses, from barbiturates and amphetamines, to cocaine and heroin and ecstasy, and many other hard drugs. The United States’ invasion of countries only seems to bring in more drugs and kill more people, not just in war and across the oceans, but in our very homes. The motivation for greed and the probable correlation in which the profit of pharmaceutical companies skyrockets, CEOs got richer, salaries of doctors rose, while the death toll of people due to opiates also rose. Where is the news story on that and why isn’t more being done?
Families and friends struggle everyday. Many of our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our dads, and our moms are legally obtaining prescription drugs, and becoming addicted, favoring the “new bottle” over everything else. If it is heroin, than always looking for the next fix. They are not thinking about their loved ones, only becoming obsessively selfish to look for the rewards from doing it. The sad reality is is that this reward is greater than the precious gift bestowed upon us called life and living. The truth for us all: We are all going to be dead way longer than we are going to be alive, so we need to enjoy every moment we are on here to experience the people who are in our lives.
Aside from not always wanting to get the help, not believing there is a problem, the fact that drug users are labeled criminals is another reason for the increasing number of deaths. Decriminalizing all drug users and approaching them as having an illness is the only way out in order to save more lives. Many people do not want the label of criminal or they do not want to spend the time in jail for something they may not even had control over. Remember, sometimes those addiction to opiates started because a doctor wrote a prescription to help deal with the pain.
Tell me about the time you received education about what opiates do to your brain, or of how many people they have killed since their sudden increase in usage among the population since our invasion of Afghanistan in 2003. Teaching people how to use opiates and preventing abuse should have always been the priority of a doctor and prescription drug companies, but unfortunately, there was too much money to be made from prescribing them, and from keeping the American population largely uneducated and unaware.
Governments and police departments need to decriminalize all drug users unless there is violence involved. The fact that a drug addict cannot turn to a police officer and ask for help in dealing with a drug addiction, but must fear that by doing so, they will be arrested is beyond me. Police officers are usually who we think of when we need help. Why are they not the people we think of when we need help to deal with our own drug addictions? The drug abuser did nothing wrong in harming society. They did not murder someone. They did not burglarize people. They did not do anything but take a drug, which is perfectly legal, or otherwise, used illegally, if we consider heroin. Unfortunately, asking for help, especially from a police officer, is the last thing on the minds of drug users and drug abusers.
The families of drug users need to turn somewhere for help and many, who are not equipped to deal with a drug abuser, are left in the dark to watch their loved ones deteriorate and face near-death experiences and death itself, because they cannot turn to the law or their own government for help. If they do turn anywhere, including hospitals, they now risk their loved one becoming charged with a criminal activity. By decriminalizing drug users and offering more help and better assistance, without fear of prosecution for drug use, we are offering society a way out, not just to save money, but to save lives.
A Way Out, based in Lake County, Illinois, is the best way and the only way out, and allows all drug users to seek help to deal with their drug addiction. These people are not prosecuted for turning to law enforcement for help. Police departments involved no longer see these people as criminals, but as people looking for help, and gladly assist in helping them. Police departments probably spend more money and time dealing with the death of a drug user than actually helping one, not as a criminal, but as a member of society seeking to be functional again, and looking for help. This type of policy needs to be adapted across the United States by all police departments. By decriminalizing drug users, we have hope to save our loved ones and those who are addicted to some type of drug. The concept of “A Way Out” is wonderful to help people on their path to getting help.
If you are a lawmaker or if you are in law enforcement and can affect policy changes, please consider adopting the “one way out” policy and helping people who are addicted to drugs. You can start by not calling them criminals. We do not call alcoholics, coffee drinkers, or tobacco smokers criminals, do we? Why should we label people who got addicted to opiates or other drugs as criminals? Sure, those drugs are illegal, but many of these people are not criminals. Is a person who is in a rush to get somewhere and goes over the speed limit a criminal? Absolutely not. The person may have broken the law, but they are not deemed a criminal of society. The range is all over, from poor to middle class to wealthy, there is no discrimination in who drugs affect or who uses drugs. Death certainly does not discriminate. All of us are dying the same way when opiates are involved. These people became as addicted as you would a video game, trying to find things that made them feel good, or trying to escape some nightmarish situation by using drugs.
Are these really the people we need to call criminals? I hope not. How many lives could we save by calling addicts just what they are? A person who is addicted to a drug. Prison is not the answer for these people. They need not be locked in a cage with four walls and violent criminals around them. They need a professional medical center that can help them deal with their addiction and prevent them from having to become a drug abuser again by educating them and giving them a support group for people like them.
The United States has a major opiate drug problem and we have a huge issue with our own doctors becoming like drug dealers instead of healthcare providers. We have a huge issue with society seeing drug users as criminals. We have a huge issue with law enforcement being unapproachable for people who need their help. We have a huge issue when people cannot even turn to a hospital, because the hospital must report drug use to law enforcement. We have a huge issue when our government knows about the problem but is doing nothing about it.
If we are to label anyone a criminal, it is not those who are addicted to the drugs, but those who are responsible for providing access to those drugs, and that goes all the way to the top, to the ones who gave the orders to acquire those drugs and set them loose in our countries. Stop labeling drug users as criminals and get them the help they seek! Go ahead and contact “A Way Out” and see if the program is working for them and helping to save lives.
Drug Addiction programs do exist and are there to help you. If you are in need of help, advice, guidance, or treatment, search the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrative (SAMHSA) website or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and speak with a professional about your situation.
This confession is not sponsored by any of the organizations listed on this page.