As Texas deaths caused by opioid use have risen, Austin has installed its first Narcan vending machine. This machine was deployed by the N.I.C.E. Project (More Narcan In Case of Emergency) in conjunction with Sunrise Homeless Navigation.
What is Narcan? It is a nasal spray drug that prevents death from overdosing on opioids like Fentanyl. It is so effective and can be successfully administered to people who are in such dire conditions that it has been referred to as a “Lazarus drug.”
The vending machine is located in South Austin and is free to use, allowing those who may be at risk of overdosing to have a life-saving drug on hand. Of course, those at risk are very likely to be addicted to illegal drugs, causing some to worry that Austin is subsidizing addiction.
However, as a life-saving measure, the vending machine isn’t a terrible idea. It strains credulity to think that someone would decide to begin taking opioids only because the city now had a free Narcan dispenser, and it is unlikely that drug users who are considering quitting their dangerous abuse would suddenly double down on their addiction because of a vending machine. It does, however, seem likely that an opioid addict, worried for their life, might use Narcan. Perhaps a near-death experience will convince them to seek help. Without Narcan, an opioid OD is essentially a death sentence.
Drug addicts deserve our sympathy and help; their deaths are tragedies even if they know their behavior is risky.
That being said, Austin’s decision to deploy a Narcan vending machine looks like only a first step in a general campaign of so-called “Harm Reduction.” And if that’s the case, it is opening a door, I would rather remain shut.
Regarding drugs, “Harm Reduction” has noble goals; rather than criminalizing drug addiction and making the lives of those afflicted by addiction harder, it focuses government agencies instead on rehabilitation and care. Again, these are noble goals. Anyone who has seen a loved one laid low by addiction has seen the need for radical love and mercy in attending to them.
But anyone who has seen addiction knows the fine line between care and subsidy, between showing mercy and enabling. We’ve all heard of parents with a child who cannot seem to escape the terrors of addiction. The parents provide housing, food, water, medicine, and sometimes even cash to purchase more of the substance that’s killing them—out of love for their child whom they see slipping away.
It has been said a million times: that an addict must hit “rock bottom” before changing his or her way. Of course, some people’s rock bottom is lower than others. Some find theirs, in a circle of loved ones, being told just how important their life is and what it means to know them. Others only find theirs under six feet of earth—leaving families devastated.
When a government follows a policy exclusively of “Harm Reduction,” the government risks rapidly shifting its relationship with addiction from one of reform and rehabilitation to one of enablement. And it almost always ends in enablement.
Case in point: San Francisco. San Francisco began a campaign of “Harm Reduction,” in the early 2000s, along with California as a whole. Drugs were increasingly decriminalized. Resources increasingly focused on addiction care. But deaths by overdose stubborn refused to decline. Quite the opposite. San Francisco, like Austin, massively outstripped the national average increase in opioid deaths. As deaths increased, so too did open-air drug markets, where poison is peddled in broad daylight, and primarily homeless and the working poor buy their pleasant suicides.
To try to combat this growth in open usage, the city has now deployed secretive “safe use” sites in the city. The drug-addicted may now go to a government-administered site under the care and protection of government-funded staff. The City of San Francisco has become the administrator of the soul- and life-destroying sickness of addiction.
To say that this is morally questionable is an understatement.
To give someone a life-preserver when they go for a swim in dangerous waters is one thing; to drive them in a boat into the middle of the storm and watch as they struggle to stay afloat is altogether another.
The groundwork for going further with “Harm Reduction” is already being laid as the vending machine is being used much more frequently than anticipated, with the supply that was intended to last months now almost exhausted. The City Council itself is getting in on “Harm Reduction,” has declared the opioid epidemic a public health crisis in a resolution that specifically calls for employing “harm reduction strategies.”
Should we follow the San Francisco model, we can expect worsening addiction, greater expenditure supporting that addiction, and more and more deaths.
Austin’s first step in “Harm Reduction” is one that many Republicans may support. However, we must all now be on the lookout for further steps that will take us down a dangerous, morally bankrupt path.
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