How Regulation Kills
I was young and clueless. It was a small place and the majority college-aged staff was very close. It was expected that as the new kid I would struggle to fit in at the start. Weeks and months went by and I began to find my place. I took a liking real quick to one employee named Vinny. His nickname was “Goblin.” He was a high-school drop out, cooked a delicious cheeseburger, and was addicted to heroin. He was one of my best friends throughout high-school and through the job.
Vinnny was awesome. We had so much fun when we were on the same work shift. He would cook and I would cover the counter. We would sing songs and I would just laugh at his jokes and impressions. We made fun of our bosses together. We would try flirting with female customers. We would sneak chicken nuggets to each other when the bosses were not looking. We would argue about hip-hop and yell at each other over songs. After I got my license, we hung out and drove around. He was hard on me though. He wanted me, an idealistic high school kid, to understand the realities of the world around me. I knew about his addiction the entire time and I knew he was struggling.
Vinny was a good friend and there was a real brotherly love between us. But during senior year, I began to work less. When high school ended, I left the restaurant to go to college and we drifted apart. I didn’t see or talk with Vinny for a while. I went back to the restaurant last year and learned that Vinny had died from a heroin overdose in September 2012.
Thinking about drug policy became much more personal to me as a result of this experience. I wanted to figure out what types of public policies could prevent more people like Vinny from passing away. Drug overdoses remain a leading cause of preventable, injury-related death in the United States. The Center for Disease Control has reported that drug overdose rates have more than tripled in the U.S. since the 1980s. But prison and legal penalties are clearly not the solution to drug addiction and drug overdose. Labeling people criminals because of their addiction does not help addicts. We cannot treat drug addiction with jail cells.
Then I found out about Narcan, the opiate antidote that, if administered early enough, can reverse overdoses and save lives. I immediately thought about Vinny. Emergency personnel in our home state of New Jersey are now allowed to administer Narcan. This is a very positive step forward for a state where overdose is the leading cause of accidental death. Vinny unfortunately contributed to that statistic. Nearby in New York City, Narcan has been used to reverse more than 500 heroin overdoses since 2010. I wish Vinny was counted in that statistic instead.
Public policies that look to reduce harm to the user are the real solution to drug addiction. Some states have helpful policies that allow emergency personnel to administer Narcan. But the best possible policy would be offering the antidote over-the-counter. The CDC reports that more than10,000 overdoses have been reversed due to Narcan treatments administered by laypeople. Now that is a beautiful statistic.
I don’t know if over-the-counter Narcan would have saved Vinny during that fateful night in September 2012. But I do know that offering people the opportunity to reverse overdoses would be a dramatic step forward in helping those with addiction. Goblin was a good friend and we had a blast working together. Here’s to you, bro. I miss you.