Treating Deadly Overdoses As Murders

A new task force designed to combat the Fentanyl crisis in San Francisco will empower law enforcement to investigate fatal drug overdoses as homicides. The announcement of the task force, made on Friday by California’s Governor Gavin Newsom, will allow prosecutors to charge Fentanyl dealers with murder.

“The Opioid crisis has claimed too many, and fentanyl traffickers must be held accountable, including, as appropriate, for murder.” Said Gov. Newsom in a press conference Friday. “Working together, we will continue providing treatment and resources to help those struggling with substance use and secure justice for families who have lost loved ones.”

The new task force will include personnel from the city police department and district attorney’s office, as well as the California Highway Patrol and the California National Guard. According to the governor’s office, the task force will treat Opioid deaths in San Francisco similar to homicide cases, using standard procedures to document deaths, gather evidence, determine who and where are the suppliers of Fentanyl, and hold those drug traffickers accountable.

While the Opioid epidemic remains the highest priority for nearly all California lawmakers, not everyone is on board with the change.

Will Treating Fentanyl Dealers As Murderers Work?

While many people view punishments, or threats of punishments, like the death penalty, as an effective deterrent for crime, this is simply not the case. According to data collected by the United States Department of Justice, there is “no proof that the death penalty deters criminals.” The data even suggests that sending an individual to prison, particularly for long sentences, is “highly unlikely to deter future crime.”

Tracy McCray, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said the Opioid crisis “has steadily squeezed the life out of our city” and is not a new problem. McCray noted that law enforcement officers are currently unable to promptly address all 911 calls or conduct thorough investigations of every crime “because we are down 600 officers from where the Department and voters say we should be, and based on SFPD’s data, next year we will be down 700 officers. That is the crisis that needs to be addressed immediately and aggressively.”

Mano Raju, San Francisco’s public defender, called the task force “another step in the wrong direction toward the continued revival of the failed War on Drugs in San Francisco.”

His office urged leaders to “prioritize evidence-based public health strategies rather than throwing more public resources at a punitive approach that has failed time and time again.”

The Consequences Of Harsh Crackdowns On Substance Abuse

In the last year, California has spent nearly $1 billion statewide in efforts to crack down on the Opioid crisis and assist those struggling with substance abuse. According to the County of Los Angeles Public Health, 19.5% of the state’s budget was allocated to addiction and substance use. However, of this funding, only 2¢ per $1 is put toward prevention and treatment, while 98¢ per $1 is spent on consequences.

Harsh crackdowns on substance abuse have not only failed largely as a preventative strategy, but they have also led to an overwhelming amount of incarcerations in the U.S. – a disproportionate amount of which are people of color. Currently, the U.S. is the world’s leading jailer, housing nearly 20% of the world’s prison population. Of those nearly 2 million incarcerated individuals, 20% are nonviolent drug-related offenses.

For those struggling with mental health issues, addiction, or both, incarceration can all too often be fatal. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, “jails often put people with mental health problems in solitary confinement, provide limited access to counseling, and leave them unmonitored due to constant staffing shortages.” As a result, suicide is the leading cause of death in local jails, with death rates far exceeding those found in the general U.S. population.

What has proven to be a successful preventative measure in the fight against Opioid overdoses are harm reduction tactics.

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Why Harm Reduction Works

Harm reduction services are evidence-based measures that have been shown to save lives. These measures are vital in fighting the Opioid epidemic, as only a small portion of those with an addiction receive treatment. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), “only around one out of ten people with a substance use disorder (SUD) have received treatment.”

Of those who do not receive treatment, nearly all stated they didn’t think they needed treatment. Harm reduction organizations fill this gap by providing services that people who use drugs feel they do need, such as drug testing kits, safe injection sites, needle disposal sites, Narcan, and other services or supplies that mitigate the potential dangers of substance use.

Studies show that harm reduction sites not only help prevent overdoses but also the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS. Additionally, studies show that people who utilize harm reduction sites, particularly safe injection centers, are 30 times more likely to enter addiction treatment. Overdose prevention sites are so effective; in fact, there has not been a single overdose death recorded at any of the nearly 200 overdose prevention centers (OTCs) worldwide.

Addiction is a disease and one that carries an immense amount of stigma in society. While harm reduction programs have proven time and again to be an effective way of preventing accidental deaths and the spread of diseases, nearly every state in the country has legislation that criminalizes the possession of materials like Fentanyl testing strips, Narcan, or other harm reduction materials.

The Real Solution: Treatment

While harm reduction is an effective way to prevent the spread of disease, accidental overdoses, and death, the real solution to ending the Opioid epidemic is treatment. Of those who have a SUD and do not receive treatment, nearly all stated they believed they didn’t need it. Providing access to harm reduction products or services can help those who feel they don’t need help understand more about addiction treatment.

Treatment, specifically inpatient treatment, remains an effective way of both preventing overdose and successfully ending substance use disorders.

For those who may not feel as though they need treatment, learning about inpatient treatment at locations like safe injection sites or clean needle exchanges can be the first step they need to start their recovery journey. At these locations, trained medical professionals, mental health experts, and substance use specialists can educate drug users on the importance of treatment and how they can get started.

Together, harm reduction and addiction treatment can help put an end to the Opioid epidemic and provide those who still use drugs, whether by choice or who are unable to stop, with safe environments to do so – without the risk of fatal overdoses.

Find Help Today

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction and are looking for help, don’t wait to get the help you deserve. To learn more about the addiction treatment process, contact a treatment provider today for free. The Opioid epidemic continues to claim lives across the country every day, don’t wait until it’s too late. Reach out today to start your recovery journey.

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Zachary Pottle

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  • Zachary Pottle earned his B.A. in Professional Writing from Saint Leo University. His passion for writing has led him to a career in journalism, where he specializes in writing about stories in the pain management and healthcare industry. His main goal as a writer is to bring readers accurate, trustworthy content that serve as useful resources for bettering their lives or the lives of those around them.

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