Republicans are making a new record for the number of overdose deaths from drugs in 2021. If they win control of Congress, they will threaten to undermine public health efforts as well as inflame the failed war.
Provisional dataThe Centers for Disease Control released this week a report showing that 107,000 people overdosed in 2021. This is a 15 percent increase over 2020. Over 1 million people have died from drug overdoses in the last 20 years. Recent years have seen an increase in overdose deaths in Black and Native American communities. Experts say this is due to the racism of police and deep health care disparities.
There are many factors that contribute to the overdose crisis. These include racism in the medical system, pandemic isolating, and an illicit drug supply which has become more toxic as police tighten their crackdown on prescription and opioid drugs. Republicans use the overdose crisis to attack Democrats, immigrants and progressive reformers in an attempt to fill the media with tough-on crime rhetoric ahead of the midterms.
“After 50 years of a failed war on drugs and well over a trillion dollars spent on the criminalization of people who use and sell drugs, and this is where it’s gotten us,” said Jules Netherland, the director of research and academic engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance, in an interview with Truthout.
The GOP’s approach is outlined in a memo to President Joe Biden released this week by the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus of conservative lawmakers that bills itself as a “leading influencer on the Right.” The memo parrots the same “law and order” rhetoric deployed by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans since the 2016 presidential race and the uprisings for racial justice in 2020. It also accuses “the Left” of a “pro-criminal agenda” and pledges to expand the power of law enforcement while undermining reforms aimed at reducing mass incarceration and racist police violence.
Experts say the GOP’s plan to empower police — who vastly increase the risk of overdose through arrest and incarceration, and are almost never held accountable for harming people who use drugs — would make the overdose crisis much more deadly.
“Clearly, drug criminalization is a failed approach, and to see the GOP doubling down on something we know doesn’t work… it feels irresponsible and frankly tragic given the enormous loss of life,” Netherland said.
Released by Chairman Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, the RSC memo rehashes the same talking points about “crime,” drugs and immigration the GOP has hurled at Democrats for months now. For example, the memo conflates Biden and the Democrats with calls to “defund the police” and the Black Lives Matter movement. Biden and most Democrats support the Black Lives Matter movement, in reality. Continue readingPolice officers are eligible for funding
The memo smears a handful of progressive prosecutors and milquetoast efforts to reduce mass incarceration as the “Left’s pro-criminal agenda.” (“Child porn” is mentioned no less than four times in the six-page memo, reflecting an apparent obsessionIt is a far right Republican favorite. a nod to dangerous QAnonConspiracy theories are troubling, especially in light of extremely homophobicGOP attacks on LGBTQ people, and multiple sexual abuse scandals swirling around their own party members.)
The RSC memo is propaganda-oriented, but it also gives a glimpse at the legislation Republicans would pass if in control of Congress 2022 and the White House 2024. Republican are pushing for codification of qualified immunity. This shields police from civil responsibility if they violate constitutional rights while on the job. A police reform bill that would have codified qualified immunity was stalled by bipartisan debate after the police-perpetrated police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other Black people rocked America in 2020.
The RSC memo threatens to withhold federal funding from states where prosecutors decline to prosecute “certain charges,” or where public safety funding is allegedly “subsidizing” programs that promote the so-called “pro-criminal agenda.” Notably, the memo does not define “certain charges” or provide any examples of “pro-criminal” programs. Past statements similar rhetoricIt is possible to suggest they may go afterIt is possible to possess drugs in certain jurisdictions, and there are harm reduction services like the overdose prevention center where people can use drugs with medical supervision.
A few reformist prosecutors from mainly liberal cities have pledged to not prosecute minor offenses such as vagrancy or petty shoplifting. Some cities, and more recently the Biden administration, have also invested in programs that provide services for people experiencing homelessness and drug addiction, or mental illness. Rather than using tax dollars to arrest people and lock them up, Multiple polls have shown that the majority of Americans support these programs. support a public health approachTo drugs and believe that drug wars have failed.
Republicans have reacted by using misinformationracist dog whistles to target harm reduction services like syringe exchanging programs and overdose prevention center that have been shown not to cause overdose deaths or spread of disease. Right-wing lawmakers have profited from misinformation about harm reduction since the 1980s when activists and public health workers started distributing clean syringes in the AIDS crisis. Harm reduction efforts are still being blocked by conservatives and law enforcement.
Daliah Heller, vice president of drug use initiatives at Vital Strategies, a group that promotes harm reduction, said harm reduction services are available in “some locations and a majority of states,” but emergency investment at all levels of government is urgently needed to combat the overdose crisis.
“Far too few people have access to any of the five key interventions we know will reduce overdose deaths: naloxone, drug checking resources, medications for opioid use disorder, safer drug use supplies, and overdose prevention centers,” Heller said in a statement this week.
New York City has two overdose prevention centers that have prevented dozens overdoses since last year. The Trump administration obstructed Safehouse’s plans for Philadelphia as an overdose prevention centre. Republicans have also blocked it. pushedNew York facilities will be shut down. Safehouse announced this week that it expects an “eventual settlement” with Biden’s Justice Department, a signal that the Biden administration may reverse federal opposition to overdose prevention centers.
“It’s not time for more political rhetoric, it’s a time to take action,” Netherland said.
Heller, Netherland, and a chorus expertsIt is important to decriminalize drug use in order to contain the overdose crisis. Arresting and incarcerating people suffering from addiction greatly increases the risk for fatal overdose. The number of people who overdose in jails and prisons has skyrocketed. 600 percentFrom 2001 to 2018. Drug overdose is now the most common cause of death among people recently released from prisons, and the third leading cause of death within the nation’s local jails, accordingTo the Vera Institute of Justice. Drug policing can also reinforce stigma in the medical system, and discourage providers from properly treating addiction and pain, especially among Black and Brown people.
Also, drug policing and stigma deter people from seeking harm reduction and overdose prevention services — or even calling for help during a potentially fatal overdose. Despite “Good Samaritan” laws in most states that protect people from prosecution for reporting an overdose, a 2020 studyIt was found that more than one third of police reports made an arrest in responding to an overdose. Studies show that “Good Samaritan” laws save lives, but awareness of the laws vary widely among police and the public.
Republicans are now exploiting panic over fentanyl analogues and other potent opioids. These drugs are fueling the crisis and poisoning the illicit drug supply. According to the House Republicans’ memo, lawmakers should consider imposing harsher penalties on those who possess fentanyl. This could include life imprisonment. People would be less likely to call 911 in an overdose if they knew that they could spend a lifetime behind bars. While penalties for fentanyl overdose have been increased in several states, the number of overdose deaths is on the rise.
“Relying on law enforcement and the criminal legal system can create real problems, because people are going to be reluctant to call for help in cases of an overdose, and frankly police aren’t trained to respond to problematic drug use,” Netherland said.
The president is attempting to embrace harm reduction despite right-wing backlash. He is also doubling down on anti-trafficking and drug policing efforts at the root of the drug trade. While both Biden and Republicans are careful to say that they are targeting drug cartels rather than their “victims,” in real life, people living with addiction are also selling drugs to survive the socioeconomic conditionsThey fuel the overdose crisis.
“The prohibition and criminalization of fentanyl and its analogs have done nothing to curb the overdose problem — in fact, drug prohibition created this toxic drug supply,” Netherland said. “We know communities of color are overpoliced in this country, and this is where we see the highest rates of overdose deaths, and they are also the communities we have invested the least in terms of public health and social services.”