A Response to the Heroin Epidemic


April 4, 2016

Editor’s Note: the following Letter to the Editor was authored by Don Mathis, a member of CHN’s board of directors and also a board member of Doctors for America. It was printed by the New York Times on March 31, 2016, in response to the Times’ front-page story on March 26, “Heroin Yields Ground to Fentanyl, Its More Potent Killer Cousin.” For some background information on the opioid epidemic and what Congress should be doing to help, see our recent blog post and this piece from our March 14 Human Needs Report. 


The influx of fentanyl as an additive to heroin and as a free-standing active killer is a scary reminder that the drug epidemic must be addressed from the demand side as well as the supply. Supply-side strategies that rely on law enforcement, opioid prescription restrictions and international cooperation are necessary but not sufficient to reduce and reverse our national scourge of substance use disorder.

The demand-side focus relies on prevention and public education and awareness. We need adequately funded media campaigns that target those who are most vulnerable to addiction, including middle-school students and teenagers, returning military veterans, people who have exhausted their medical prescriptions and other high-risk populations.

Two coming events offer opportunities to launch such campaigns. From April 19 to 21, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem will convene in New York to consider multiple options to address addiction and treatment. Later this year, the United States surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, will release the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Substance Use, Addiction and Health.

These two events will provide high-visibility platforms that could save the lives and futures of millions of people here and abroad.

drug abuse