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Hyperbolic Fentanyl Rhetoric Stifles Responsible Policymaking – Orange County Register

Many of us have heard a variation of the many rumors circulating about drug use in general or fentanyl in particular. As recently as October, we saw a resurgence of the old myths of “drug-based Halloween candy”, but even before that, as the death toll rose due to the crisis of illicit opioids, we’ve seen a recycling of DARE’s attempted – and failed – scary tactics

The most recent iteration is the rainbow fentanyl scare and hyperbole associated with inferences that small amounts of fentanyl can double kill an entire county or the entire population of California, as recently claimed Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco in a news release. These are completely false.

Media-savvy readers might take them as common-sense warnings or safety precautions, but all of these statements are really just fear and hyperbole. This drug policy rumor mill not only misleads the public about critical health information, it distorts policy debate, hampers reform, and has deadly consequences.

As the Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) and a retired police lieutenant, I know the importance of getting the facts right and using evidence rather than guesswork to achieve our goals. In this case, that goal is to achieve meaningful reform that actually saves lives. From my experience working in specialized units that included gang and narcotics investigations, I also know that these same things are what protect officers on the job and protect public health and safety.

In August, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) issued a warning about so-called “rainbow fentanyl,” calling it a “deliberate effort by drug traffickers to create addiction in children and young adults. “. The resulting media coverage was intended to instill fear among parents nationwide and turn the public against harm reduction policies.

But the DEA’s claim is not the reality. Drug trafficking experts have debunked this rumor, pointing instead to long-studied substance concealment tactics. Yes, law enforcement officers seized fentanyl hidden in toys, but it wasn’t put there to entice children – it was hidden in unassuming objects to make it easier to smuggle it with law enforcement.

The same experts also denied the claim that the brightly colored pills were designed to attract children. Rather than being disguised as candy, drug traffickers and pushers color their product to distinguish it from other substances and make it look more like pharmaceutical-grade drugs.

Halloween has passed and not a single case of a child overdosing or even finding rainbow fentanyl has been reported. Instead, the result of the scare tactics has been to distract and distract from the conversation about the very real dangers of the opioid crisis.

As with rainbow fentanyl, rumours, myths and fearmongering about the dangers of skin contact with fentanyl have had a negative impact on first responders. The widespread belief among police that simply putting a small amount of the substance on exposed skin can cause an overdose and death is damaging. This can slow down a person’s life-saving response to an overdose and adds to officer stress and burnout.

There are no reported cases of this happening to a police officer or other first responder, but misinformation from law enforcement and the media continues to fuel this unfounded fear to the detriment of those who need help. . Harm reduction and policy reform seem to have no greater obstacle than the beliefs surrounding substance use, treatment options and recovery.

The War on Drugs has fueled mass incarceration as a method of treating substance use disorders. By imprisoning people who use drugs, they will have to quit and end their addictions, right?

Bad. Despite decades of effort, incarcerated people still overdose at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. California’s Riverside County reported that 38% of deaths in custody this year can be linked to fentanyl. Sheriff Bianco, who touts a tough-on-crime approach that includes drug-induced homicide charges to address a public health problem, can’t even manage to keep drugs, including fentanyl, off his own jails. This is emblematic of the continued failure of our drug policies, not of its success.

We need to take a bold approach to saving lives, and it forces us to recognize that the status quo just isn’t working. What is needed is a paradigm shift that ties public health and law enforcement strategies tightly to our most important outcome: saving lives by reducing both morbidity and mortality.

What we say matters and when we repeat fearmongering, we perpetuate a cycle of damage that has life or death consequences for thousands of people. Twisting the political debate only serves the interests of those who want to keep our failed drug policies in the past rather than embrace new approaches to public health and safety. Change is scary, but losing hundreds of thousands more lives to opioids is worse.

Lt. Diane Goldstein (retired) worked for the Redondo Beach Police Department for 21 years. She is the executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a nonprofit group of officers who want to transform policing by advocating for drug policy and criminal justice reforms that will make communities safer and fairer. .

California Daily Newspapers

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