For several years now, the drug naloxone has been used in emergency rooms and clinics to treat people who have overdosed on opium-derived drugs like heroin or morphine.
A new version of the drug is even more promising in that it can be administered outside of hospitals. The new version comes as a nasal spray, and retails for about $10.
Several dozen volunteers and government public health groups across the United States have begun distributing the packets to drug users, along with training on how to use it.
The results have been encouraging. One study looked at 16 organizations that have been distributing the kits, and found that they'd cumulatively trained 20,950 people to administer the drug, and successfully reversed 2,642 overdoses.
Perhaps you aren't fond of the idea of using tax dollars to help drug addicts avoid overdoses (and yes, some of the groups distributing the packets are taxpayer-subsidized). As a libertarian, I have mixed feelings.
But a $10 antidote is considerably preferable to a taxpayer-funded trip to the emergency room. The packets seem even more reasonable given that many states have been reluctant to pass "good Samaritan" laws, which shield people who call 911 to report overdoses from prosecution.
In any case, they certainly seem like a good idea for private groups and non-profits. It's a cost-effective way of saving lives.
But not everyone is happy. Dr. Bertha Madras, deputy director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, recently told National Public Radio she opposes the distribution programs because—and hold on to your hat for this one—she believes life-threatening overdoses are an important deterrent to drug use.
"Sometimes having an overdose, being in an emergency room, having that contact with a health care professional is enough to make a person snap into the reality of the situation and snap into having someone give them services," Madras said.
Madras' reaction offers a telling glimpse into the mind of a drug warrior.
We're told that certain drugs have to be prohibited because they're too dangerous. But we should also resist efforts to make them less dangerous because doing so might encourage drug use.
It's a bizarre argument until you consider the real motivation behind it: In truth, it's not so much about the harm some drugs do; it's about an absolute moral opposition to the use of some drugs.
Even if they were completely harmless, some people simply don't like the idea that we can ingest chemicals that make us feel good.
Over the years, drug warriors from former Drug Czar William Bennett to current Czar John Walters to recent DEA Administrator Karen Tandy have defended the efficacy of alcohol prohibition. All three have called the experiment a "success," and the notion that it failed a "myth."
They insist alcohol prohibition was a success because it reduced alcohol consumption. That assertion itself is debatable, but even assuming they're right, the argument itself is revealing.