Drug problem at the root of crime

A photo illustration of the temptation of drug use. (Photo: David Orcea, Shutterstock)

As a public safety officer for nearly 20 years, I am often asked what I believe is an effective way to suppress crime in our nation. The answer is simple: Solve our drug problem.

And while many envision street drugs as the problem, the misuse of prescription drugs is a huge crisis with no bias toward any community in this state. Prescription opioid abuse is estimated to cost the United States about $56 billion annually due to health costs, criminal justice costs and lost productivity.

The solution to combatting the abuse of common street drugs and prescription medications is anything but simple. It is a multi-agency, multi-layered, multi-communities problem that cannot be solved with any one policy or plan. Instead of turning our heads from this, we must chip away at drug abuse with the tools that we do have.

In fact, 62 percent of abusers inhale opiates nasally and 26 percent take them through intravenous injection.

One of these tools is an emerging technology in the way pain killers are formulated to prevent some of the most deadly forms of abuse. This technology, often called “Abuse Deterrent Formulations” of commonly prescribed opiate painkillers, have been used to provide patients with the same pain relief as conventional opioids, but incorporate breakthrough science designed to protect against tampering and abuse.

Chewing or altering narcotic pills are popular because users report a more intense and faster high from injecting and inhaling the substance. In fact, 62 percent of abusers inhale opiates nasally and 26 percent take them through intravenous injection.

Several states including California are considering legislation this year to improve and safeguard patient access to these new formulas of painkillers. I have seen firsthand the correlation between drug abuse and crime and the lives lost and destroyed as a result. I view these abuse deterrent formulations as a substantial step in facing opiate abuse and reducing crime and cutting law enforcement costs.

According to a 2010-2011 government survey, almost 1.5 million Californians, ages 12 and over, were estimated to have abused painkillers in the year prior. More alarming is that drug overdose is currently the third-leading cause of injury and premature death in Los Angeles County.

Certainly, nobody would suggest that abuse-proof pills are end-all solution for the epidemic of narcotic abuse, but they can be part of a real solution. People who have struggled with addiction or substance abuse in the past, those who live with others who are current or recovering addicts and those who live with teens or young adults seeking opioids for recreational use can all benefit from abuse deterrent formulations.

A common opioid reformulated with abuse deterrent technology was associated with cost savings due to reduction in abuse, including $430 million in medical costs, almost $100 million in criminal justice costs and $476 million in workplace productivity.

Abuse deterrent formulations have received widespread support as part of a comprehensive effort to combat prescription drug abuse and promote appropriate pain management. Included in this support were the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, members of Congress and the National Association of Attorneys General.

An overwhelming majority of us working within the criminal justice system know full well that there is no one fix for the rampant non-medical use of strong prescription painkillers. We also understand that there are people living with legitimate pain who have the right to have access to relief. But if there is a way to make even the smallest of dents in the problem, we must embrace and encourage it.

The medical, law enforcement and local neighborhood communities should stand together in support of a policy that allows doctors to prescribe these abuse-deterrent formulas when they believe that their patients need and should responsibly have access to them.

I urge our lawmakers to stand up for policies that preserve and improve patient access to this new technology. This is an issue of critical importance not only to members of my profession, but California citizens as well.

Ed’s Note: Brent Meyer is a Sacramento police officer and the statewide vice president of PORAC, the largest group of police officers and deputy sheriffs in the country. 

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