Narcan is a brand name for the drug Naloxone, and is most commonly used to revive people who overdose on opioids like heroin. As The Times-Gazette reported last week, the Highland County Health Department is giving away Narcan to members of the public who attend training events.
“Highland County and all of Appalachian Ohio are losing entire generations to drug abuse. Drug overdoses now outnumber vehicle deaths in Ohio,” said Jared Warner, the local health commissioner. “This is a major problem for our community, and people we know are dying because of it.”
He’s right. Jared is a good guy who believes the Narcan giveaways are a positive thing to do.
But over the years, our government’s “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy – the condom giveaways, the free needle exchanges for IV drug users, and now the free Narcan kits – have not led to victory on any front. They are indeed motivated by a consistent and arguably noble incentive by the various government agencies behind them – to save lives or slow the spread of disease. Officials from such agencies will come to any debate on the subject armed with various studies and statistics showing their success rates.
But suppose they are right – which is not a given, because various studies you can find for yourself contain contradictory results in all cases – but suppose we stipulate that providing condoms, needles and now Narcan kits save lives. Does that prove “success” as opposed to other routes our government could have taken that might have saved even more lives, or that might have actually made a dent in the proliferation of such behavior?
No one disagrees today that the heroin, meth and overall illegal drug problem here and across much of the U.S. have grown to epidemic proportions. The only disagreement is over whether “epidemic” is a strong enough word. It is not. It is also not particularly accurate. “Plague” is probably the better word. “Terrorism” is really not too strong.
The world reacted with shock recently when images from Syria emerged showing children, including infants, dying from the chemical weapons attack unleashed by dictator Bashar al-Assad. What is happening here is no less of a chemical weapon attack in the form of heroin and other drugs killing our next generation.
Earlier this month, in nearby Portsmouth, Ohio, an 18-month-old child was hospitalized after what was described as an “accidental” overdose on heroin. The baby’s parents are charged with child endangering. You no doubt read about the mother who passed heroin to her incarcerated son at the London Correctional Institute via an open-mouth kiss. You probably heard about the seven inmates in Fayette County who overdosed on one recent day. You saw where Paint Creek EMTs responded in March to 45 overdose calls, compared to 12 in March 2016.
Portsmouth has long been ground zero in this region for heroin and other opioid terrorism. When I worked for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, I met many times with anti-drug groups and health department officials there. They were begging for help. They described people literally being chased down on the sidewalks by drug pushers trying to hook new victims. There is a war going on there, but it’s not being fought like a war. It’s being approached like a typical government initiative.
It is far beyond that, and it is here now in Highland County. It is not just on our doorstep. It crossed the doorstep, and it’s in our house. All the government programs, all the well-meaning efforts supported by government leaders of both parties, did not work. It is time to declare them failed.
In Portsmouth, many officials with whom I met did not think it was unreasonable to send in the National Guard to police the streets and round up the pushers, the terrorists.
I am not from the school of thought that says we should just let drug abusers die. I agree with those who remind us, “What if it was your child?” There is no limit to how often I would want a child of mine rescued from a drug overdose, whether it was the second or third overdose, or the 19th or 20th. But drug abusers don’t make it to the 19th or 20th time. They die before that.
I have no problem with emergency medical responders or law enforcement officials keeping Narcan on hand and administering it whenever they have a chance to save a life. I have no issue with the general public being able to purchase Narcan under a controlled and monitored system.
But the free distribution of Narcan by a government agency – no matter how many warnings or anti-drug encouragements come with it – sends this message more loudly than any other: “We know you are going to be using heroin, so when you do, here’s a free rescue kit.” It’s like a parent telling is son not to exceed the speed limit, but installing a radar detector for him so he can avoid the cops when he does.
We fight drugs on the fringes with typical government thinking instead of attacking it for the terrorist assault that it is. The drug crisis is not a problem to be fought with government programs. It’s a literal war that needs to be fought like a war. As drastic as that sounds, it is simply the truth. We have long talked about our “war on drugs,” but we didn’t fight it like a war. So now it is more than a war. It is an ongoing terrorist attack.
Since 911, we have defined terrorists as “enemy combatants,” which allows us to arrest and detain terrorists in more aggressive ways than if they were mere criminals subject to all our constitutional protections. It’s time that we began treating drug pushers the same way. They are enemy combatants spreading terrorism and killing children and young people through chemical attacks. We need to respond accordingly, or we will continue losing the war until we all end up surrendering.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.