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Decriminalize addiction

I WOULD like to add my comments to those expressed by Haider Javed Warraich (“Drug of destruction,” Op-ed, Feb. 19). I have been a substance abuse professional for more than 40 years, a career that began as a result of personal experience, I am well qualified to speak about opiate addiction.

This epidemic will not be controlled when approached as a criminal justice problem. Like all other epidemics, it is a public health problem.

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Opiate addiction is infectious like other diseases, but not through the spread of germs. It is socially infectious as it spreads through peer groups and communities. Prescription opiates are passed around in bars, taverns, and schools the same way marijuana used to be.

Far too many opiates are being prescribed and the pharmaceutical companies are protective of their profits. This is why they resist converting to tamper resistant versions of opiate medications. When Oxycontin was made tamper resistant, its popularity dropped and the popularity of 30 milligram oxycodone skyrocketed. I know this because my patients have told me so.

Opiate addiction needs to be medicalized. This is a form of legalization. All the drug laws should stay on the books, especially those related to sales and distribution by nonaddicted profiteers.

Medicalization would allow addicts to register with a specialized medical program that would provide them with safe, inexpensive heroin. This would remove most of the financial incentives for selling opiates, like when Prohibition was repealed.

Registered addicts would receive access to good health care and rehabilitative services with the goal of helping them to become drug free eventually. We know that incarceration does not work. Addicts in jail sit around and talk about using drugs all day. If we divert some of the resources now devoted to the criminal justice approach, there would be ample funding for the public health approach.

It is my hope that this letter will stimulate some unconventional thinking and problem solving because this epidemic is not going away.

John Plunkett


The writer is managing partner of Mass Bay Counseling.

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