Pubdate: Tue, 21 Aug 2001
Source: Charleston Daily Mail (WV)
Copyright: 2001 Charleston Daily Mail
Author: Robert Sharpe


Methadone maintenance is the most effective known treatment for heroin 
addiction. The treatment can be applied to all opiate addictions, including 
synthetic drugs like OxyContin.

The addition of a third methadone clinic in West Virginia will help 
minimize the problems caused by the ongoing OxyContin epidemic.

The overdose deaths and the high incidence of HIV among intravenous drug 
users throughout the nation are direct results of drug prohibition.

Because drugs like heroin are sold via an unregulated black market, their 
quality and purity fluctuate tremendously. An addict accustomed to 
low-quality heroin who unknowingly uses near pure heroin will likely overdose.

Likewise, addicts would not be sharing needles if not for zero tolerance 
laws that restrict access to clean syringes, nor would they be committing 
crimes to support their habits if not for artificially inflated black 
market prices. Methadone maintenance programs have been proven to reduce 
drug use and related crime, death, and disease among chronic users.

Methadone maintenance is a prime example of "harm reduction," an 
alternative approach to drug policy and treatment that focuses on 
minimizing the adverse effects of both drug use and drug prohibition.

America's drug problem is far too serious to allow zero tolerance to 
dominate the debate at the expense of public health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 58 percent of 
AIDS cases among American women are linked to injection drug use or sex 
with partners who inject drugs.

Overall, 36 percent of AIDS cases in the United States can be traced back 
to intravenous drug use. This easily preventable public health crisis is a 
direct result of zero tolerance policies that restrict access to clean 

Punitive drug laws compound the problem by driving use underground.

Would alcoholics seek help for their addiction if doing so were tantamount 
to confessing to criminal activity?

In the interest of containing the OxyContin epidemic, let's hope America's 
tough-on-drugs politicians acknowledge the drug war's tremendous collateral 
damage sooner rather than later.

Robert Sharpe

Washington, D.C.

Sharpe is program officer for the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation.
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