In 2014, in response to a growing heroin problem, some Porter County police began carrying naloxone, a drug that curbs the effects of opioid overdoses. Now, with heroin-related deaths in Lake County numbering in the dozens over the last three years, the county is considering equipping their police with naloxone kits.
Last year, you might also recall, saw an HIV outbreak downstate caused by needle-sharing. This resulted in the establishment of the state’s first needle exchange program.
These actions by the state and local authorities are the right things to do. Still, they are responses to problems becoming too big to ignore, as opposed to a solution that fixes the overall problem. Indiana’s drug laws are still firmly of the mentality of the old War on Drugs, a policy that seems to have less proponents every year.
In creating the needle exchange, Governor Pence and Republicans swallowed their strong anti-drug stance and acknowledged such a measure was necessary. That was a good start, but this opportunity should be taken to address major drug policy reform as a whole, specifically treating drug use as a crime instead of a health issue.
We wouldn’t be the first state, either. One of the most high-profile states to do so was New Jersey, which replaced prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses with court-ordered treatment. Notably, this change had bipartisan support in the state and was signed into law by Republican Governor and current Presidential candidate Chris Christie.
It might be early to judge New Jersey’s success or failure. However, the country of Portugal notably reformed their drug policy top to bottom in 2001. The results weren’t perfect (no policy is, really), but certainly much more effective than a hard-line drug war.
In New Jersey, treatment for one person costs about half that of incarcerating them. But more than saving tax dollars, it’s simply more humane to treat an addict and give them another chance at life, rather than locking them away and forcing them to live with the stigma of a felony conviction when they leave prison.
I doubt you’ll see much debate about this subject in this Indiana’s gubernatorial campaign this year, but it’s a conversation that should be had.