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New NIFI Issue Guide on The Opioid Epidemic

A new resource is available for dialogue and deliberation from our friends at the National Issues Forums Institute (www.nifi.org):

What Should We Do about the Opioid Epidemic?

This new issue advisory titled What Should We Do about the Opioid Epidemic is now available to order as a downloadable pdf (free). A post-forum questionnaire is also available to download (free).

Opioid Issue Guide

The following is excerpted from the guide.

In the last year, doctors wrote more than 236 million prescriptions for opioids, or about one for every American adult. But many patients became addicted to the painkillers as their bodies began to tolerate higher and higher doses. Others, if they could no longer get prescriptions, switched to heroin; then came the even deadlier fentanyl…

This issue guide presents three options for deliberation, along with their drawbacks. Each option offers advantages as well as risks. If we increase enforcement, for example, this may result in many more people in prison. If we reduce the number of prescriptions written, we may increase suffering among people with painful illnesses.

Option 1: Focus on Treatment for All

This option says that, given the rising number of deaths from opioids, we are not devoting enough resources to treatment to make real headway in turning around the epidemic. Addiction is primarily a medical and behavioral problem, and those are the best tools for combating the crisis. Treatment should be available on demand for anyone who wants it. At the same time, the pharmaceutical companies that have profited from making and promoting opioid painkillers need to contribute more to the solution.

Option 2: Focus on Enforcement

This option says that our highest priority must be keeping our communities safe and preventing people from becoming addicted in the first place. Strong enforcement measures are needed, including crackdowns and harsher sentences for dealers, distributors, and overprescribing doctors. And we should take tougher measures to cut off the supply of drugs at the source. Addiction to opioids and other hard drugs brings with it crime and other dangers, and closing our eyes to these dangers only makes the problem worse. Mandatory drug testing for more workers is needed. In the long run, a tough approach is the most compassionate.

Option 3: Focus on Individual Choice

This option recognizes that society cannot force treatment on people. We should not continue to waste money on a failed “war on drugs” in any form. Only those who wish to be free of addiction end up recovering. We should be clear that crime will not be tolerated, but if people who use drugs are not harming society or behaving dangerously, they should be tolerated and allowed to use safely, even if they are damaging their own lives, Those who do not or cannot make the decision to get well should not be forced, and communities shouldn’t spend their limited resources trying to force treatment on people.

Click here to read more and to download these materials.


About Deliberation in National Issues Forums
National Issues Forums issue guides are designed to stimulate public deliberation, which is a way of making decisions together that is different from discussion or debate.  The purpose of deliberative forums is to inform collective action.  As citizens, we have to make decisions together before we can act together, whether with other citizens or through legislative bodies.  Acting together is essential for addressing problems that can’t be solved by one group of people or one institution.  These problems have more than one cause and therefore have to be met by a number of mutually reinforcing initiatives with broad public participation.

About the National Issues Forums Institute
The National Issues Forums Institute’s mission is to promote the use of public deliberation in schools, colleges, civic organizations, and religious institutions in the United States.  The institute’s members are volunteers drawn from leaders in government, colleges and universities, libraries, civic organizations, the media, and medicine.  For more information visit www.nifi.org.

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