Beating the Opioid Epidemic

Beating the Opioid Epidemic

Making speeches is the easy part.

The opioid epidemic provides stunning statistics to jar any audience:

The promises to follow are easy. We’re going to ensure that every first responder can reverse an overdose. We’re going to get tough on drug dealers. We’re going to beat this epidemic.

Except . . . the last promise won’t be kept just by fulfilling the first two.

The power of Naloxone to save the lives of overdose victims is almost miraculous. The relative ease of its administration makes the first promise realizable.

But if we rely on the right person with the right dose arriving at the right time every time, we are certain to be staggered by the increasing cost and disappointed by the results. Lives still will be lost at a cost we will find unacceptable.

We’ve got to stop the flow of the drugs themselves.

What decades of drug wars have taught us, however, is that drug markets are like other markets. Where there is demand, entrepreneurs will provide supply. Bust some drug dealers and supply decreases, forcing prices higher, attracting new entrepreneurs to enter the market or to create parallel markets with new products to meet the same demand. It has been argued that today’s heroin and fentanyl epidemic is the unanticipated byproduct of Florida’s aggressive assault on opioid prescription “pill mills.” The vacuum created by tougher regulations on pills has been filled by needles.

To really shut down the market, we need to tackle the demand.

One cannot help the addict who does not acknowledge the addiction or does not wish to change. That’s a common and largely true observation. It is also true that the addict, in most cases, cannot break the addiction alone. It takes friends and family who will confront the addiction, rather than enable it. It takes counselors, mentors and fellow recovering addicts to hold the addict accountable, celebrate small victories, talk them away from the needle. It takes resources to support therapy and medication when warranted (as it often is).

And it takes even more from the community. It takes employers willing to give the recovering addict a second chance, religious communities willing to embrace rather than shun the “fallen,” families and neighbors and friends to speak blunt truths and to love and befriend anyway, to maintain the necessary emotional distance not to get caught in the addict’s spiral while not distancing themselves from the addict’s need for people who care.

Drug addiction, whether to opioids or alcohol or any other potent chemical, affects us all. The ripple effects, emotional, social and economic, have become a tidal bore rushing through the corridors of our cities. It will take more than promises, more than healing drugs and tough prosecutors, to beat it.

It will take us.


Join us for The Opioid Epidemic: Your City’s Role workshop at the Florida League of Cities Annual Conference, Thursday, August 17, 3:15 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. at the World Center Marriott – Orlando. The conference will be held August 17-19. If you are not registered and would like to attend, register here.