Drug overdoses are now one of the leading causes of death in the United States and are contributing to decline in life expectancy. The opioid epidemic has cost an estimated $1 trillion since 2001. And yet, to date, there has been no comprehensive response to the crisis.
The United States needs to embrace the policies that have helped reverse heroin epidemics in the past, especially opioid substitution therapy (instead of the current focus on immediate abstinence) and what are called harm-reduction services (needle and syringe programs, drug checking, wide availability of overdose reversal medication, and safe-injection facilities). Decriminalization also has been linked to better health outcomes, allowing people in need to access, without fear of harsh punishment, these various life-saving services.