Our Restrictive Prescription Drug Policies are Leading to More Overdoses (and Cartel Violence)
When I heard the news about the death of local lawyer and philanthropist, David Aylor, I suspected there was some type of drugs involved. When the toxicity report came back, they found several drugs in his system, including two benzos (Xanax and Klonopin), alcohol, and fentanyl. I did not know Aylor personally, and it could have been the mere mixture of anti-anxiety meds and alcohol that led to his death. However, the fentanyl in his system gave me a greater pause. I am not sure of this fentanyl was knowingly consumed by Aylor, but for so many around the country it is consumed accidentally and leads to death.
Fentanyl is often cut with other drugs-leading to more people accidentally consuming them, especially as more people are now getting their prescription medicines from drug dealers. This is as a result of tighter restrictions on prescription drugs-not only of opioids, but of things like stimulants and anti-anxiety medicines. In theory, this all sounds great. Any of these controlled substances can be addicting, so the argument is that the government should step in and highly regulate them. It seems like an issue that the right and left actually agreed upon. The right has its history of supporting the war on drugs and the left is suspicious of big pharma. It was the perfect storm tom make the prescription drugs more restrictive. In theory, addiction and overdoses would go down. The problem was that the opposite occurred, and overdoses skyrocketed even more. The people who are dependent on many of these medications or even legitimately needed them temporarily are turning to the streets because they are becoming so restricted by doctors.
This is tragic on a number of levels. First of all, this encourages organized crime. I work extensively at the US Mexican border with asylum seekers who are constantly under in danger from the cartel. Every time we become more restrictive in our drug policy, it gives more power to the cartels and puts it in their hands (very similar to what happens when we make restrictive immigration policies). Though some politicians have an absurd fantasy that we are going to stop this trade by “stomping out” the cartel, the reality is that we are never going to reduce it until we reduce the demand.
Of course, the other issue is that these street drugs are especially dangerous and is one of the reasons why overdoses have gone up. You would have thought we would have learned something from our history. Prohibition doesn’t actually work and almost always makes things worse. I was talking to a doctor recently about this, and he said that so many of the young doctors have been taught over and over again the danger of these substances, so they do not prescribe them even when they are needed. There is also just a general fear that something could happen, and they would be held responsible. We need to get out of that mindset because our restrictions on controlled substances has also led to many deaths. This does not mean that there should not be regulations, but we really need to think of our new form of prohibition. It did not work with alcohol in the 1920s, and it is not working now.