Many of us are focusing on the opioid crisis, but we may be missing the boat on one of the most important components of the fight: education.
There are several levels of the problem. First are street-level dealers. Try them for attempted murder, convict them, and throw away the key.
Ferret out the doctors who prescribe whatever the addict wants, without regard to whether the dose is appropriate or needed. Hopefully, there are not too many of those.
Then let's turn our attention to the judges. Police arrest a pusher so a judge can slap the perpetrator on the wrist so the police can make another arrest next week. And while we're at it, abolish concurrent sentences, which only mean that the second offense is free.
Next, there are the users who have been using so long and so deeply that their brains are already fried. Unless they really want to kick the habit, there probably isn't much we can do for them. If they want to get clean, we should help them any way possible, and that means extensive rehab. The short-term efforts don't work well and cannot work in the long run.
That brings us to the most vulnerable group and those we should do our best to help. They are the first-time users or light users, including those who may be trying something for the first time. And that includes legal drugs.
We rejoiced at the introduction of Narcan. But there is a bad side as well as a good. I was told one story of a young man who used heroin but claimed it was OK because of Narcan. He even used it three times.
The first line of defense is knowledge. As many of us realize, when an obituary appears for a young person who died suddenly, a widespread cause of death is drugs. Wouldn't it be more helpful to casual users to list that as the cause of death in the story? Sure, that is painful but the family should appreciate the fact that the admission may shock some friends and help them realize that those drugs are not a good thing. The death would, therefore, at least do some good.
When Prince died, my immediate reaction was: drugs. Every newspaper, radio station, and TV station spent hours extolling his accomplishments, abilities, and talent. When the story was released that drugs may have been involved, the stories shrunk to an occasional paragraph. A much higher level of cause-of-death reporting may have the effect of convincing some to forsake drugs, in favor of living.
We should offer much more publicity to those famous individuals who died too young as the result of both legal and illegal drugs.
Among those who preceded Prince is a long list of famous individuals. Hopefully, some of them can reach and influence some of our children and young adults:
Most addicts can relate to some famous person who died as a result of drugs. If you are a TV or movie fan: Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose; "Glee" actor and singer Cory Monteith, heroin and alcohol; "That '70s Show" actress Lisa Robin Kelly, multiple illegal drugs; Heath Ledger, prescription drugs; Chris Farley, morphine and cocaine; John Belushi, speedballs.
Prefer the music scene? Rapper Kris Cross died from cocaine and heroin; Whitney Houston, cocaine, along with other things; Amy Winehouse, alcohol; Michael Jackson, prescription drugs; Jim Morrison of The Doors, suspected heroin; Ike Turner, cocaine; Kurt Cobain, heroin and prescription drugs leading to suicide by gunshot; Dee Dee Ramone, heroin.
How about sports? New York Rangers hockey player Derek Boogaard, alcohol and Oxycodone; professional wrestler Umaga, prescription drugs; WWF wrestler Bam Bam Bigelow, cocaine and prescription drugs; Boston Celtics draft choice Len Bias, cocaine.
This list can go on for an awfully long time. It covers actors and actresses, athletes, musicians, writers; those in their 20s and those in their 40s. Some of them, like Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, will live in our memories for years.
This is not a new phenomenon. Author Louisa May Alcott died in 1888 from long-term mercury poisoning.
All can serve as a strong indicator to today's users. The high that may last a few minutes or a few hours cannot compare to the high of living a full life.
We should strive to shed the light on the real consequences of the misuse of drugs. Perhaps we can save a life.
Nashua resident Joseph Ross is co-author of "Fast Track for Caregivers." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.