Opioid addiction has reached into every community, every socioeconomic group, and innumerable families. Fatal opioid overdoses took more than 42,000 lives in 2016, a staggering number that grows faster than coroners can count the victims. Once the final figures are calculated for 2017, national and local body counts are expected to surge even higher.
That is why it is imperative for people in Pennsylvania, where 3,900 died of an opioid overdose in 2016, to keep talking, and to keep coming up with ideas, big and small, to solve this problem. There isn’t just one answer because there isn’t just one cause or one effect.
Small ideas can be effective. Friends of Casey Fay Berrian, who died of an overdose, established a GoFundMe page to cover her Feb. 4 memorial service in Philadelphia and pledged excess funds to purchase Naloxone, the drug used to revive addicts who have overdosed
On a far larger scale, Gov. Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, legislators, Mayor Kenney, and District Attorney Larry Krasner are focusing on rehabilitating drug abusers, stopping the free flow of prescription opioids, and arresting drug dealers.
Last month, Philadelphia officials announced support for an outside group to open a safe injection site where people addicted to opioids can use clean needles in the presence of workers who can revive them if they overdose and funnel them into treatment programs if they want help.
In Canada, such centers have saved lives. In Philadelphia, this idea hasn’t been fully aired out. For example, we wonder if those using drugs other than heroin will be turned away.
So far, not everyone is on board with the idea of such sites; Kensington residents are mounting opposition because they don’t want a site near their homes.
Others are critical of the injection sites because they represent a far more forgiving attitude than the one exhibited during the 1980s crack epidemic, when black and brown people addicted to that form of cocaine were treated like criminals instead of victims with substance abuse disorders.
Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who has questioned the sites, has recommended a list of alternative solutions to the drug crisis, some of which reflect ideas advanced by the state and a mayoral task force. They include monitoring doctors who overly prescribe opioids, expunging some drug convictions, and shoring up quality treatment facilities. Bass, Krasner, and Kenney have called for all communities to be treated fairly.
The opioid crisis didn’t happen overnight and it’s not going to be solved in a day. It’s going to be solved by scores of good ideas coming from the grassroots to the highest levels of government.
Not all ideas will gain full support. Injection sites, while they can save lives, are hard to accept for many. And they certainly aren’t a solution that will address the root causes of addiction. But a problem as complex as this will require lots of ideas: big ideas, like effective treatment, and small ideas, like generating donations to buy Naloxone. The point is, the conversations should encourage all ideas.
The opioid crisis has broken families and hearts. It shouldn’t break our ability to talk to each other to find the right combination of solutions.