America’s Reactionary Responses to the Opioid Crisis Will Cause More Harm!

Drug users who overdose on narcotics would face jail time and mandatory treatment for substance abuse under new legal action proposed Monday by County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus.

Lazarus asked the county legal team, police and sheriff’s office to determine what laws need to be passed to mandate a 72-hour holding period in jail, citing the growing number of heroin use and repeat overdoses emergency officials are experiencing.

detox
                                                     Deadly Responses to the Opioid Epidemic!
I have been thinking about this all day today.  There is so much wrong with this proposed solution I am having trouble even imagining what people are thinking.
I am the executive director of a national drug user union with 4 official chapters located across the US.  We are proud to report that USU has founded the first official southern drug user union in the US.  I am a firm believer that drug user unions MUST be formed and supported if we are going to actually end the drug war and squash this reactionary insanity that is based on faulty logic and moralistic models of addiction.  User unions are essential because they are made up of former and active drug users who are committed to helping develop policies and programs for people like their selves who have struggled.  They not only provide insight into the why’s , when’s, and how’s, they provide active  and former users an opportunity to become part of the solution which is empowering beyond words.  I bring all this up because I think the development of user unions across the US, with a special emphasis on the south is necessary if we are going to slow these deadly trends.  The south has been very slow adopting harm reduction programs, like syringe exchange and drug use moderation.  Scientific evidence supports harm reduction, and even still the south refuses to implement these strategies. Our officials (who clearly do not have medical or public health backgrounds) would rather try programs like Mr. Lazarus suggested (jailing overdose victims for 3 days (which is the amount of days it takes to detox from opiates).  Scientific evidence has made very clear that fear based health programs and punishment have little to no affect on drug addiction and substance use disorders.  Maia Szalavitz reminds us that addiction is defined as using drugs despite negative consequences therefore continuing to punish people that use drugs has little affect on whether we recover.  If we continue to punish drug users and harm them we will further alienate, stigmatize and break them down we wind up with people who feel hopeless and disconnected from the world.  NO ONE will feel safe going to the hospital, for fear they will be arrested for having drugs in their systems.
 To say that we are going to lock drug users who overdose in jail accomplishes a few things right out the gate: 1) You further criminalize drug use and alienate drug users even more by making not only drug use illegal but criminalizing and punishing the physical manifestations of drug use.  Now for the first time this would mean that if someone overdoses on opiates and winds up in the hospital there is legal grounds or a legal precident set for punishing the overdose itself.   If a person uses too many drugs and begins to throw up uncontrollably, their friends may say hey you better not go to the hospital you know you can be punished for overdosing who knows what happens for just having a bad reaction?  What about abscesses or infections are there punishments for those too?
There are countries where it is illegal to have drugs in your body or bloodstream ….but hopefully this is not the direction we are moving towards.
Allowing policies like this undermine Good Samaritan Laws which have been passed all over the country to encourage drug users to call 911 in overdose situations by granting immunity to people who call 911 in overdose situations.  For the first time ever we would be punishing users (not for using drugs) but for “dying” essentially or requiring medical attention.
This type of legislation will absolutely result in more deaths.  People will not call 911 and when people get out of jail they will have lowered tolerances and be sick and willing to do anything they must to feel better.  This is a perfect storm….Overdose deaths will increase for sure.  Jail is not made to be a medical facility equipped to deal with detoxing tons of opioid addicted residents
I find it problematic that we are detoxing people all over the country in jails and as a result we are hearing about people dying in the most horrific conditions.
Last i checked the people who work in detention centers are not exactly qualified to be running medical detox units.   I know that this is something they do occasionally and not particularly well.
I have detoxed from methadone, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and xanax in county jail.  Let me give you a picture of what this looked like for me.  I came in terribly afraid knowing what I was going to be facing.  I tried to eat my last meal as I became weaker and weaker the fear ran all over me like impending doom.  I paced around the unit with sweat pouring from all over.  One of the women came a whispered to me that I did not smell very good and asked i I wanted to borrow some deodorant.   I thought to myself you have no idea bitch…things are about to get much worse… I tried to explain that I was about to be very sick.  I asked for a nurse and they told me I would have to put in a request, but you had to have 10$, which I did not have.  I guess they figured it out later because I did eventually see a nurse with no money.  The women on the unit suggested I take a mat over on the floor instead of being in a bed near anyone.  I took their suggestion more out of fear than anything else.  The bathrooms are open to the entire unit. OMG- how could this be.  I was soon going to be throwing up and having massive diarrhea in front of 60 plus women.  This was the most humiliating moment of my life…… I also experience a strange and awful side effect of opioid withdrawal which is spontaneous orgasms…over and over and over.  For those of you who laugh and say nice, I will have you know this was one of the most difficult things for me to deal with.  I was too embarrassed to talk about it -and it made me feel like some sort of gross disgusting person.  I must say this was the thing I was most worried about, it was overwhelming.  Before jail I had never talked about this before, but I was afraid not to ask about it now that I was in jail.  I managed to tell the nurse, I don’t know how I got this out of my mouth.  I was whispering embarrassed and sick and when I told the nurse she looked at me like I was fucking crazy.  I was moved to single cell confinement (Solitary) to finish my time there.  I went through days of not being able to eat, drink, throwing up having diarrhea and have spontaneous orgasms.  I was prescribed Thorazine for the orgasms …I am unsure whether it was useful but it did help me sleep.   I was finally bonded out.  I was so weak I could barely walk.  It had been about 4 days.  The second the fresh air hit my face I was on my way to getting dope so that I could end the hell I had been living.  When I got the drugs I was not thinking about being safe or tolerance change.  I was thinking FUCK I need feel better.  I feel certain this is how people are going to feel after they spend 3 days in jail after overdosing.  They will not even think about how or why they were in jail in the first place because sickness supersedes everything else.
Below are the job qualifications for a correctional officer I don’t really think they are the people that know what to do with spontaneous orgasms and deathly sick detoxing drug users who are scared and in pain. The mission of medical care industry is to diagnose patients, comfort the sick and dying, and cure illness when at all possible; the goal of jail is to confine and punish.  This punitive form of social control called jail, does not resemble the supportive therapeutic milieus required for treating people diagnosed with mental illness.
Anyways back to my original worry.  The perfect storm brewing…..We have epidemic levels of overdose death, record numbers of people of all ages, races, nationalities using opioids either illegally or through prescription drugs.  As a person with a master’s degree in public health and a lifetime of using drugs and working with people that use drugs I believe I have a decent idea of what works and what does not.  Tough Love is never the answer.  Punishing, humiliating, alienation push drug users further and further away from society.  They keep us disconnected, alienated and sick.  Connection and Love is the beginning of the answer that we must demand.  If you are a former or active drug user call URBAN SURVIVORS’ UNION and we will help you begin a drug user union in your area.  If you are one of our community champions then contact us and ask how you can be most useful.  Please help stop this kind of ignorance and harm to people who have been stigmatized and harmed for so long.
Quick Facts: Correctional Officers and Bailiffs
2015 Median Pay $40,580 per year
$19.51 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 474,800
Job Outlook, 2014-24 4% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 17,900
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