Today, Sir Richard Branson and members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy release an animation: The Opioid Crisis in the United States.
In the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic (May 2019 to May 2020), more than 81,000 Americans died of a drug-related overdose. Most overdose deaths were reported between March and May 2020, highlighting the social and economic vulnerability of people who use drugs who face legal and financial hurdles to access treatment while facing criminal threats and social stigma.
In October 2017, the Global Commission published a position paper The Opioid Crisis in North America to provide its analysis and recommendations to mitigate the-then explosion of deaths related to synthetic drugs. Almost four years later, deaths related to fentanyl-type synthetic opioids and to stimulants (cocaine and methamphetamine) are on the rise, while harm reduction and treatment services remain limited and costly for people who need them. The repressive system against people who struggle with a medical condition continues to create a cascade of health, social, and economic consequences, such as the lucrative illegal market itself.
Solutions exist. The Global Commission calls urgently on the upscaling of 1) the availability of a large spectrum of treatment options that includes opioid agonist therapies such as methadone and buprenorphine maintenance; 2) non-divertible harm reduction services, such as syringe service programs, overdose reversal medicines, drug checking or supervised consumption centers; 3) decriminalization of drug use and possession to end stigma, fear and discrimination reinforced through the “war on drugs” against people who use drugs.
As the animation highlights, it is time to accept and implement long-lasting, sustainable and pragmatic responses to problematic drug use.