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

Vaccination training meeting
  • COVID-19
  • Tools & Resources
  • Community Engagement
  • Immunization

CDC’s Vaccine Confidence Bootcamp to Develop Strategies...

To help support local health departments (LHDs), NACCHO partnered with the...

Nov 23, 2021 | Tori Decea

CDC’s Vaccine Confidence Bootcamp to Develop Strategies...

Pills 2
  • Tools & Resources
  • Infectious Disease
  • Research & Reports
  • Infection, Prevention, and Control

U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week (USAAW) 2021

Kick off U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week (USAAW) with NACCHO as a partner with...

Nov 18, 2021 | Jaclyn Abramson

U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week (USAAW) 2021

Pregnant woman

Join NACCHO’s New Congenital Syphilis (CS) Community of...

NACCHO is launching the Congenital Syphilis Community of Practice (CoP), to...

Nov 17, 2021 | Rebekah Horowitz

Join NACCHO’s New Congenital Syphilis (CS) Community of...

NRHA Print H ENG Color
  • Health Equity & Social Justice
  • Rural Health
  • All of Us

We Need More Data on Health in Rural America

On this Rural Health Day 2021, we need to ensure that health equity and quality...

Nov 17, 2021 | Angela Lutz, NRHA, Sarah Chughtai, NACCHO

We Need More Data on Health in Rural America

Adult vaccinations sm
  • Funding Opportunity
  • Immunization

Request for Applications: Partnering for Vaccine Equity

NACCHO, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),...

Nov 16, 2021 | Katherine Waters, Victoria Thompson

Request for Applications: Partnering for Vaccine Equity

  • Health & Disability

Funding Opportunity: Strengthening Disability Inclusion...

Funding announced for the Strengthening Disability Inclusion Efforts within...

Nov 15, 2021 | Sara Lyons

Funding Opportunity: Strengthening Disability Inclusion...

VLC for MCH
  • Access to Care
  • Emergency Response
  • Hazards & Health Effects
  • Health Equity & Social Justice

NACCHO Recruiting Members for Virtual Learning...

NACCHO is recruiting members for a new Virtual Learning Collaborative (VLC) to...

Nov 09, 2021 | Adelaide Appiah

NACCHO Recruiting Members for Virtual Learning...

Nurse checking childs heartbeat 500x333
  • COVID-19
  • Immunization
  • Infectious Disease
  • Maternal, Child, & Adolescent Health

Highlighting Key Data to Support COVID-19 Pediatric...

On Tuesday, November 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC)...

Nov 04, 2021 | Adelaide Appiah

Highlighting Key Data to Support COVID-19 Pediatric...

One health day nov3 2020 square
  • Infectious Disease

One Health Day 2021: Connecting Human, Animal, and...

One Health is a collaborative, multisectoral, and trans-disciplinary approach —...

Nov 03, 2021 | Kimberly Nalley

One Health Day 2021: Connecting Human, Animal, and...

Back to Top