I would like to apologize to the reader. As a former special agent with the DEA, I have seen the opioid crisis at its beginning, middle and now present state.  I apologize for not having paid more attention to the other side of drug law enforcement- a side comprised of countless lives and families torn apart by addiction.

The Disconnect

There is a disconnect between addiction and drug law enforcement. For me, the disconnect began early on during my time at the US Probation Office. It’s hard to view drug addiction as a disease when it is treated as criminal behavior.  I saw every person of interest as “just a junkie”, without considering how they reached such a low point. I learned the hard way that a “con” is a con for a reason; and if their lips were moving, there was a very good chance whatever coming out was BS.

Lie myself, many cops have received their education about addiction the wrong way. Drug law enforcement is rarely viewed dispassionately. The experiences officers endure eventually turn into passion, and hopefully that passion becomes the type of compassion that is fueling my journey.

Addiction

Addiction is a disease characterized by an individual pathologically pursuing reward or relief by substance use and other behaviors. The brain’s pleasure-reward system, the dopamine reward system, urges us to continually repeat these gratifying activities, driving an addict to think about only the next hit or the next high.  To an addict, nothing else matters.  Kids, family, friends, work- nothing is as important as not getting sick from the DTs.

Every “junkie con” has an agenda, however the one thing they all have in common is the fear of withdrawal.  There were countless times I arrested someone addicted to either heroin or pills and had to listen to their pleas to let them take “one more hit” so they could hold off the DTs until they made bail.  The best I could do was stop at the ER and get them basic treatment for their “dope sickness” before sending them off to the worst 72-hours of their life.

Every addict brings a unique history, biology and relationship to their drug use. Addiction is often found along with other mental health issues such as trauma, depression and anxiety. We need to treat the real problem instead of simply dealing with its inevitable consequences.

The Fix

There is no “quick fix” to this problem. Building walls and throwing people into prison will not fix America’s drug problem.  Enforcement does not work because it fails to address the underlying issue surrounding drug abuse and addiction. Those who have experience with addiction and its affects know that it is an illness requiring rehabilitation and treatment. Instead of coming up with new ways to enforce, we must fix our broken system by adopting policies to prevent addiction and expand treatment opportunities.  I’m not talking about a $50K 30-day “hang out by the sea” treatment center either; that is a temporary fix and almost every addict has failed sobriety numerous occasions.

We cannot “arrest” ourselves out of this crisis. The war on drugs used punishment and incarceration as a means of decreasing the amount of drug abuse and addiction that plagued our communities. That did not work. The only way to fix the drug epidemic is with time and by implementing policies that aim to prevent addiction and expand treatment opportunities. As law enforcement moves beyond arresting, the opportunity for addicts to turn the corner will be significantly enhanced.

As law enforcement moves beyond arresting, the opportunity for addicts to turn the corner will be significantly enhanced.

Education Not Enforcement

You cannot fix the opioid epidemic without fixing how law enforcement approaches the issue. Drug law enforcement is necessary for a host of reasons, but it has taken an insidious change of route by coming into the neighborhoods of middle America and disrupting millions of lives that thought drug addiction was solely an “urban” issue.  The last 50 years of drug law enforcement has only made things worse.

The current system is broken. We cannot keep patting ourselves on the back, pretending that we are making a difference by taking drugs off the streets. As Albert Einstein once said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

When you lower demand you get reduction. The way to lower the current opioid demand is through education not enforcement.  We must devote resources to rehabilitation and treatment programs, not incarceration. A separate “Opioid Drug Court” must be implemented with the goal of getting every addict into a treatment center prior to getting a bail package.

Drug law enforcement requires one to also be a front-line social-service provider. As cops become more aware of the social issues surrounding addiction, when they are forced to answer the impossible question of “Why? Why my little girl?” to those that entrust them with protecting their neighborhoods, perhaps then will they start educating and not arresting.

A common misconception is that if you are not dispensing opioids you are not at risk for drug diversion. That is entirely false. ALL healthcare providers are at risk. Drug diversion is not an isolated issue for hospitals and large institutions; it is affecting smaller facilities like dental practices, veterinary offices, nursing homes and surgi-centers as well.  All healthcare providers must become educated about the risks and brought into State and Federal compliance. TITAN offers a full suite of drug diversion prevention solutions focused on providing you and your team with the proper tools and knowledge to function more securely. Contact us today to learn more.

About Jack

Titan Group DEA Retired Special Agent Jack Teitelman

I must make a disclaimer: I have been using drugs, buying drugs, investigating drugs, studying drugs for the past 32 years. I am a self-professed expert in all things drugs. 26 years with the DEA, combined with personal experience taking pain pills for a bad back gives me a perspective that is quite unique. Nothing in books or on TV can prepare one to deal with the devastating issues that surround drug addiction. Titan’s mission is to educate not only doctors and pharmacists, but the other side as well, in hopes that together we can end the story of opioid addiction once and for all.

 

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