Pubdate: Tue, 23 Feb 2016
Source: Day, The (New London,CT)
Copyright: 2016 The Day Publishing Co.


No one of these steps will solve the crisis, but collectively they 
can achieve progress. This will take time. Drug addiction will never 
go away, but as a community and as a nation, we can do much better.

In recent weeks our community has had an extraordinary discussion 
about the heroin crisis that confronts it. That discussion has 
included families touched by the disease of addiction, law 
enforcement, educators, the medical and substance abuse and treatment 
community, and elected leaders. The conversation has provided some 
consensus, if not universal agreement, on a way forward. Addressing 
the problem will take time and persistence will be paramount.

Most difficult, yet most critical, is access to treatment. Now 
familiar are stories from medical professionals and families of 
addicts willing to confront their addiction but unable to find a 
program in a timely fashion. Those familiar with the process have 
testified that programs are too brief to move many addicts past their 
addictions, with "sober houses" often clustered in urban settings 
where access to dealers invites relapses.

The legislature must re-evaluate how the state addresses addiction. 
As noted in this space before, the need for better and more treatment 
options must compete with other societal needs at a time of 
diminished state resources. Yet, in addition to the human toll, there 
is a high cost of not adequately treating addiction - for hospitals, 
for law enforcement and the courts, for state intervention in 
dysfunctional families, and in lost productivity.

Police across our region are stepping up enforcement to try to 
disrupt the heroin supply. There have been several arrests of alleged 
dealers. Yet there are serious questions about the effectiveness of 
enforcement. Certainly no one can call the war on drugs a success.

In a Feb. 21 guest commentary, former New London Mayor Daryl Finizio 
pointed out that in April 2013 federal, state and local law 
enforcement agencies announced 100 arrests in the largest drug 
crackdown in state history. Yet less than three years later, the 
heroin situation locally appears worse than ever.

Finizio called in the commentary for decriminalization of all 
narcotics. This is too radical a step, but we agree the greater 
emphasis should be on prevention and treatment, particularly when it 
comes to the user. Though the reality is that drug money means new 
dealers will always arrive to replace any arrested, police still must 
make it a point to disrupt distribution networks. Reduced 
availability, even for a time, will prevent some from starting and 
perhaps drive others into treatment.

As for prevention, experts report how critical it is that any 
exposure to addictive substances by teens, be it alcohol or drugs, be 
taken seriously and not dismissed as a rite of passage. The teenage 
brain is not fully developed and exposure at a young age can quickly 
lead to abusive and addictive behavior. Trying to keep young people 
from experimenting is critical, dealing with the situation 
aggressively when they do perhaps more so.

In that regard, it is important to recognize and address the mixed 
messages sent by our society to our young people. The United States 
is one of only a couple of countries, the other New Zealand, which 
allows direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. While 
each commercial pitches a specific drug, the overall and relentless 
message is that taking a drug can solve our problems.

No wonder, then, that a survey of high school students in Ledyard 
found that teenagers identified drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, as 
dangerous, but did not consider prescription pills as being harmful. 
As society has learned, use and abuse of opioid painkillers has 
become a major gateway to heroin addiction.

The American Medical Association in November called for a ban on 
commercials peddling prescription drugs. These slickly marketed 
commercials fatten the coffers of Big Pharma, but they may be doing 
more harm than good. Yet even starting a discussion on the AMA 
proposal will be difficult given the power the pharmaceutical 
industry wields in Washington.

Many doctors are recognizing the need to be cautious in the 
prescribing of opioid painkillers. Prescription drug registries, 
which became state law in 2008, are making it easier for physicians 
and pharmacies to identify abusers who "doctor shop" to get 
prescriptions from multiple doctors.

No one of these steps will solve the crisis, but collectively they 
can achieve progress. This will take time. Drug addiction will never 
go away, but as a community and as a nation, we can do much better.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom