Drugs

After 50 Years, NACCHO Calls for an End to the War on Drugs and a Public Health Approach to Substance Use and Its Harms

Jun 17, 2021 | Theresa Spinner

“Notably, the War on Drugs costs the U.S. nearly $50 billion per year, while the public health workforce and infrastructure, and in particular substance use and harm reduction services, remain severely underfunded.”

by Lori Tremmel Freeman, Chief Executive Officer —

Washington, DC, June 17, 2021 — “The War on Drugs was declared on June 17, 1971, expanding the federal government’s role in drug control and the criminalization and incarceration of people who use drugs. After 50 years, we can see that this criminalization approach has failed to reduce substance use, exacerbated the root causes of substance use disorder, driven the disproportionate and mass incarceration of Black, Latinx, and other people of color, and limited access to substance use treatment and harm reduction services. Notably, the War on Drugs costs the U.S. nearly $50 billion per year, while the public health workforce and infrastructure, and in particular substance use and harm reduction services, remain severely underfunded.

“After half a century of the failed War on Drugs, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), representing the country’s nearly 3,000 local health departments, is calling for a public health approach to substance use and its harms. This would involve scaling up evidence-based harm reduction and health services and eliminating legal and other barriers that impede these strategies. Local health departments (LHDs) often provide harm reduction services—including syringe services programs, naloxone training and distribution, drug checking services, and overdose prevention sites—enabling them to meet people who use drugs where they are, address the immediate harms they face, and build trust that can support their overall and long-term health. However, LHDs and their local partners need significantly more funding from all levels of government—including an elimination of the ban on the use of federal funding for syringes by Congress—to scale up harm reduction services. The removal of legal barriers, including the decriminalization of syringes and other equipment, could make it easier for local health departments to build trust with people who use drugs and provide them with the tools they need to protect themselves from overdose and infectious diseases. There is also a need for increased investments in substance use treatment, including medications for opioid use disorder, and HIV and viral hepatitis services for people who use drugs.

“The current approach focused on the criminalization of substance use exacerbates the root causes of substance use as a criminal record can serve as a barrier to housing and employment. Additionally, this approach contributes to stigma, deters people from seeking services, and can directly impede access to harm reduction services and substance use treatment, which are difficult to obtain in correctional settings. Consequently, the decriminalization of minor drug offenses would reduce the harms associated with the War on Drugs and increase access to health and social services. Notably, Oregon has recently decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs, which is anticipated to reduce racial inequities in drug arrests by 95%. Internationally, in Portugal, decriminalization has been associated with an increase in substance use treatment and a decrease in HIV, fatal overdoses, and of course, drug arrests and incarceration.

“For 50 years, the U.S. has focused on criminalizing, rather than treating or reducing the harms associated with substance use disorder. To effectively combat substance use and its harms, the U.S. must shift to a public health approach and invest in substance use treatment, harm reduction services, and other health and social services that improve the health and support recovery for people who use drugs.”

###

About NACCHO
The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) represents the nation’s nearly 3,000 local governmental health departments. These city, county, metropolitan, district, and tribal departments work every day to protect and promote health and well-being for all people in their communities. For more information about NACCHO, please visit www.naccho.org.


National association of county and city health officials naccho squarelogo

About Theresa Spinner

Theresa Spinner is the Director, Media and Public Relations at NACCHO.

More posts by Theresa Spinner

Related Posts

Wicpic2 1
  • Tools & Resources
  • Webinar
  • Breastfeeding
  • Maternal, Child, & Adolescent Health

Every Step of the Way Through the First 1,000 Days: The...

August is National Breastfeeding Month! This year’s theme, “Every Step of the...

Aug 02, 2021 | Harumi Reis-Reilly, Erika Ennis

Every Step of the Way Through the First 1,000 Days: The...

Focus Group General
  • Tools & Resources
  • Health & Disability
  • Opportunity

Help National Center on Health, Physical Activity and...

The University of Alabama at Birmingham, in partnership with Lakeshore...

Jul 30, 2021

Help National Center on Health, Physical Activity and...

  • Tools & Resources
  • Health & Disability

Disability Language Guidance

The use of language and words describing people with disability has changed...

Jul 30, 2021 | Guest Author

Disability Language Guidance

Coronavirus Masks
  • COVID-19
  • Tools & Resources
  • Health & Disability

New Guidance Issued on “Long COVID” and Disability Rights

The new guidance is on the HHS website and on the DOJ website.

Jul 27, 2021

New Guidance Issued on “Long COVID” and Disability Rights

STD Treatment Guidelines 2
  • HIV, STI, & Viral Hepatitis

Division of STD Prevention at CDC Releases Updated STI...

The CDC released Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Treatment Guidelines,...

Jul 22, 2021 | Rebekah Horowitz

Division of STD Prevention at CDC Releases Updated STI...

16446383 computer
  • COVID-19
  • Epidemiology
  • Infectious Disease
  • Informatics

Navigating Reporting Requirements for Rapid COVID-19...

Rapid antigen tests emerged in the summer of 2020 as powerful tool to diagnose...

Jul 21, 2021 | Zachary Smith

Navigating Reporting Requirements for Rapid COVID-19...

Battelle28f7bf8ec5e163acbc5dff0000ff1aaa
  • COVID-19
  • Access to Care
  • Infectious Disease
  • Social Determinants of Health

New federal program provides free COVID-19 testing for...

U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) is offering an important new federal...

Jul 19, 2021 | Andrea Grenadier

New federal program provides free COVID-19 testing for...

IPC C Stephanie Black 3
  • Infection Prevention and Control Champions

Member Spotlight: Dr. Stephanie R. Black recognized as...

NACCHO recognizes Stephanie R. Black, MD, MSc as its latest Infection...

Jul 09, 2021 | Zachary Smith

Member Spotlight: Dr. Stephanie R. Black recognized as...

Cdc hiv nhtd 2021 promo facebook
  • HIV, STI, & Viral Hepatitis

National HIV Testing Day is June 27

Every year, National HIV Testing Day is observed on June 27 to raise awareness...

Jun 25, 2021 | Guest Author, Latisia Grant

National HIV Testing Day is June 27

Back to Top