Attorney General Jeff Sessions' plan to combat America's opioid epidemic is basically a nationwide prescription for heroin. Rather than fixing America's opioid problem, his flawed solution will likely fuel a health crisis that is already producing record-breaking death tolls.
Sessions' plan involves creating a task force called the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit - a team of 12 lawyers that will work with the FBI and DEA to crack down on doctors and pharmacists who profit off the opioid epidemic by writing illegal prescriptions.
"If you are a doctor illegally prescribing opioids for profit or a pharmacist letting these pills walk out the door… we are coming after you," Sessions said yesterday while unveiling his plan at the Columbus Police Academy in Ohio.
Sessions believes that unleashing a dozen attorneys on crooked pill pushers will curb the opioid epidemic, which killed over 33,000 Americans in 2015 alone. But attacking the supply of medications like fentanyl and oxycodone will likely fuel heroin abuse in America.
Those pills are a gateway to heroin. Nearly 80 percent or 4-out-of-5 heroin addicts abused prescription pills before turning to smack, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And 94 percent of heroin addicts said they picked up the habit because pills were "far more expensive and harder to obtain," according to a 2014 study published by JAMA Psychiatry. That means cutting crooked doctors and pharmacists out of the market for illegal prescriptions will probably make more addicts turn to heroin as an alternative to cope with their drug dependence.
Sessions' policy is like substituting strychnine with arsenic. But don't expect the attorney general to shed any tears for Americans suffering from addiction. Sessions has made it clear that the Trump administration will take an aggressively uncompassionate approach to addicts. "We must create a culture that’s hostile to drug abuse," Sessions said yesterday.
But that stance will only make matters worse since social isolation fuels addiction. When we stigmatize and shun addicts, we essentially abandon them to their addiction by leaving them with nowhere else to turn to for comfort and support than the drugs they abuse. Making society more hostile to drug abuse is basically issuing a death sentence for people struggling with addiction.
A more effective and compassionate solution to the opioid epidemic would be to find a way to wean people off addiction while also developing an alternative to the prescription pills that often lead to abuse. Marijuana could be that solution since recent studies suggest it is both highly effective as an alternative painkiller and as a treatment for opioid addiction. Plus unlike with opioids, nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose.
But try telling all that to Jeff Sessions. America's top law enforcer is also an outspoken sceptic of medical marijuana. “I’ve heard people say we could solve our heroin problem with marijuana,” Sessions scoffed last March. “How stupid is that? Give me a break!”
And he has suggested that cannabis is actually responsible for the opioid epidemic. "In recent years some of the government officials in our country I think have mistakenly sent mixed messages about the harmfulness of drugs," he said yesterday - perhaps in reference to the Obama administration's decision not to crack down on states that have defied federal cannabis prohibition by legalizing marijuana for medical and/or recreational use.
So it's hard to imagine that the Trump administration will solve the opioid epidemic while scapegoating a potential solution as the problem. Sessions is basically blaming diabetes on insulin.