In the United States, drug overdose is the second leading cause of accidental death. Yet many of us encounter overdose victims only on television, where they are often portrayed as cold, decrepit creatures beyond saving.
Besides being dehumanizing, these myths lead to reckless public policy. For instance, the drug naloxone, according to In These Times (Nov. 2009), shows great promise as an antidote for those who have overdosed on opioids, including heroin and OxyContin. Between 2001 and 2009 the Chicago Recovery Alliance, a small Illinois-based nonprofit that trains friends and family of drug addicts to inject naloxone with a syringe, has tallied some 1,641 overdose reversals. Unfortunately, there are just 16 programs like Chicago’s in a country where millions struggle with addiction. This despite the fact that naloxone has shown very few harmful side effects and, by any other standard, ought to be as easy to obtain as a box of condoms.
Instead of being applauded, advocates struggle for funding and battle stereotypes. “The reality of it is that the fastest-growing population is white, middle-class kids who are now finding opiates very, very, very attractive,” Mark Kinzly of the Harm Reduction Coalition tells In These Times.
In the spring of 2009 U.S. Representative Donna Edwards, a freshman Democrat from Maryland, introduced the Drug Overdose Reduction Act, because “no federal agency is tasked with combating overdoses and no federal money is dedicated to reducing overdose fatalities.”
The bill, which would make $27 million in grants available for combating the more than 20,000 annual U.S. overdose deaths, attracted just 12 cosponsors and is languishing in committee.