The war on drugs has been a highly contentious topic in politics over the past century, but it once again has been at the forefront of news outlets due to the ongoing opioid crisis. And the major debate I would like to comment on in this two-part story is my stance on safe injection sites, which carries high tension on both sides over the proper way to handle this obstacle. It is a controversial topic, but one that is littered with misunderstanding and fear. So, today let us first look more deeply at the underlying history of this crisis and try to gain some greater insight into the lives of drug users.

For those unaware, a safe injection site is a facility where drug users can feel confident and comfortable to safely use drugs to appease the unfortunate addiction plaguing them. These facilities are safe because they are supervised by trained medical staff who can monitor the patients and ensure overdoses do not occur, and if they do, they are prepared to help instantly and prevent cardiac arrest. Without these facilities, numerous drug users risk accidental overdosing and death. In short, these facilities exist to save lives. However, critics of these facilities centre around why we should be helping drug users in the first place, often arguing ‘these people made their bad choices, so why should we help them’. The reason we should help them is because the origins of their drug addiction may not even be their fault. 

The public tends to focus on the current state of a drug user, and thus ignoring the backstory on how the addiction started. This prejudiced approach just further increases the divide in understanding and compassion, which breeds judgement and fear. For example, heroin was a drug for pain treatment as early as 1874 “when it was synthesized from morphine and subsequently marketed as a medication” according to a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine publication in 2017. Heroin is now illegal in Canada, but its effects remain the same.

A study referenced in the 2017 publication noted that the majority of heroin users in the last several decades have been Caucasian “men and women in their late 20s outside of large urban areas”, and that these people were introduced to the drug through prescription drug usage. The reason these people turned to heroin was because of the lower cost and easier access. These users are not necessarily addicted by their own volition, but by the over-prescription of opioids during medical treatment. Since heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain on the street, it might contain more harmful chemicals and ingredients, thus making them more unsafe. The 2017 publication also notes this quality often is linked to greater withdrawal symptoms when users attempt to quit. Additionally, according to The Mayo Clinic, fentanyl is laced with contaminants or more powerful opioids, thus causing significant death due to the high potency. But the public is often not aware of this historical information and thus, treat drug users as lesser humans or even subhuman. In other words, public education on the history of drugs such as heroin can go miles in improving the general public’s disdain for drug users. 

This topic is too complicated to cover in just one post, so tune in next Thursday for the conclusion of this topic, including the effects that the pharmaceutical industry has had on this crisis and what more can our society do to affect real change in the war on drugs.

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