It’s important that journalists are starting to report that fentanyl-laced cocaine and meth are killing large numbers of Ohioans. But this “new” trend in drug deaths is not new at all. It started in earnest more than two years ago. What’s sad is that our state and local health officials, along with journalists, missed the change — and still don’t understand its scope or import.

Reporters and health officials are trapped in the false belief that opioid addiction is the primary cause of the drug overdose epidemic — and that’s what it is, a “drug overdose epidemic,” not an “opioid overdose epidemic.”

The scientific fact is this: Ohio’s entire illegal drug supply — except marijuana — is contaminated. The extent of the contamination varies by drug, but, sadly, no federal, state or local effort is underway to understand the primary cause of the drug overdose epidemic: the ever-changing chemical composition of the illegal drug supply.

Drug prohibition causes impurities in illegal drugs (cocaine, meth, heroin, etc.), just as it did during alcohol prohibition. Drug prohibition puts a large share of Ohio’s population at risk of sudden, unexpected overdose death. Every year, nearly 1 million Ohioans use illegal drugs (not counting marijuana), according to the federal government’s drug use survey. These peaceful drug-taking “deviants” may include your child, your neighbor, your plumber, yourself.

The dream that the drug war would save lives died tens of thousands of lives ago. It’s time to stop blaming drug users for their own deaths.

Cocaine, meth, heroin and other drugs can cause all types of problems, and users should be encouraged to avoid the risks and deal with the harms. Drug use rarely causes death in and of itself. Nearly all drug overdose deaths occur because the illicit drug wasn’t what a person expected: it was different or stronger or mixed with various things.

Today, a person using meth or cocaine or fake Adderall or heroin has a good chance of consuming fentanyl or a fentanyl analog. And it’s these adulterants — the contamination, not the drug — that’s killing Ohioans by the thousands.

— By Dennis Cauchon, President Harm Reduction Ohio

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