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Today was one of those days where there were constant irritations and unnecessary drama, superimposed on some seasonal allergies, and no allergy medication. The bright spot was a conversation I had by phone with a man who is running for State Senate. In any conversation with a politician, I expect to be asked to support. When I have the means to, and when the ideology aligns with the positions that are important to me, I do what I can do. He got my number from another candidate I supported enthusiastically in the past, and I was honored he still remembered me.
In discussing the issues affecting Oklahoma that this candidate supported, I felt that he would make a great addition to the state legislature. When I asked him about Drug Policy in particular, he indicated that was not one of the issues he had planned to champion. I used this as a way to introduce to him the issues and problems concerning Drug Policy in Oklahoma. My feeling is that it is just as important as other issues candidates mount on their campaign platforms, whether they realize it or not. Polling aside, it is an issue that could be a “winner” for the astute politician, because the policies we have in Oklahoma, some of the them, are wrong. Dead wrong, And actually harmful.
He was a great listener
I used this opportunity to educate him about the misguided policy that has actually increased the overdose death rates in Oklahoma. A simple policy submitted with the participation of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics a few years ago, placed restrictions on the sale of Sudafed (pseudoephedrine), an over-the-counter allergy medicine, which can be used to synthesize the street-drug Methamphetamine. The spirit of this action was probably well-meaning. More accurately, the proposal was self-serving for the agency who wants to create the perception to the public that it is actually working to fix a problem. It makes sense that the agency in charge of controlling the proliferation of this dangerous substance would propose a reasonable solution to address problem of abuse and overdose deaths due to Methamphetamine. And on the surface, the proposal seems reasonable. Anyone who is informed about the nature of illicit drugs and the behaviors of addicts and sellers could have told you that not only was this policy change NOT REASONABLE, but it would prove deadly.
Approximately one year after the Oklahoma legislature passed into law restrictions on Sudafed, a change occurred in the data. Alarmingly, the number of deaths due to Methamphetamine overdose increased , instead of decreased. The translation: A policy designed to save lives resulted in more people dying.
There has been no effort by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics to undo the damage that they caused.
Why did the number of deaths increase?
You can figure out the answer if you really think about it. WHen you restrict the ability to obtain the materials to create the illicit drug, then you are no longer able to make the illicit drug. The people you intended to distribute this drug to, will seek another source. If the Meth lab production goes down, the consumers will seek the next best thing. The”Mexican Ice”, which happens to be a dirtier, more dangerous version of Methamphetamine. Restricting the supply of Meth through this legislation, did not impact the demand for methamphetamine by its users. They took their chances with the street. And they died.
As I explained to the Future legislator, you will not solve the War on drugs with band-aids. In this case, you strengthened the enemy you were fighting with a faulty war plan. In this case, doing nothing was better that doing something that made it worse and cost lives.
The logical approach to solving the “War on Drugs” which includes other battles like the “War on Prescription Pain Medication Abuse”, you have to focus on all of the combatants in the war. In this case, they did not account for the behavior of an addicted person in a situation where their access to a drug has been restricted. Perhaps, rehab, and detox protocols would lead to a more reliable decrease in abuse and overdose deaths. It will not work on everyone. It certainly can not work if it is never tried.
The environment of bad ideas has had the additional unintended consequence of making it harder for people with legitimate needs for pain management to receive it because of the fear of being perceived as participating in a criminal activity. This suffering and fear is why a policy change is needed most.
On reflection, I think the candidate understood this, and seem to agree that there is something to this issue. Although not a pain patient himself, he does have family members who have experienced a similar stigma, although it wasn’t about pain medications.
After our conversation, I think I have a better idea on how I need to approach this process. Education. Advocacy. And to keep talking about it….