NEW YORK, NY – Over 100,000 Americans now die every year of drug overdoses, yielding a death rate that routinely exceeds those of homicides, suicides, and car accidents. In fact, the CDC recently reported that drug overdose deaths increased 30 percent in the United States from 2019 to 2020, an increase that shows no signs of declining. Yet public perception of the crisis lags behind its growth. No longer confined to white, middle-class rural America, the epidemic once again affects urban populations, too.
In a new report for the Manhattan Institute, Charles Fain Lehman offers insight into how the drug epidemic has spiraled out of control and what can be done to stop it. Particularly, he implores local governments, as the closest entities to the front lines of the crisis, to play a special role in addressing it. To do so, he reviews six frequently discussed local-scale policies, offers estimates of costs, and provides caution where necessary. The six policies are:
Naloxone access and distribution: Local policymakers should explore the possibility of giving their first responders—EMTs, firefighters, and police officers—naloxone.
Investing in treatment capacity: Filling the “treatment gap” is not innovative, but it is lifesaving, and local leaders are particularly well-positioned to do so.
Drug court programs: Local administrators, working in tandem with courts, can establish drug-court programs, which have been proven to have a positive effect on recidivism.
Wastewater tracking: Tracking the level of drug metabolites—the excreted byproduct of metabolizing a given substance—in municipal wastewater has been shown to be an effective indicator of a localities’ drug use for nearly two decades and could help target treatment and supply reduction measures.
Supervised Consumption Sites (SCS): The true impacts of Supervised Consumption Sites are not currently known, and while the scale and urgency of the drug crisis may mean that radical policy solutions must be considered, local leaders should proceed with caution.
Drug Market Interventions (DMI): DMIs target areas with high concentrations of active drug sales, primarily drug markets which significantly contribute to overdose deaths, using a “focused deterrence” strategy to drive down drug deaths and crime.