Congress, government agencies, foundations, communities, and health care providers have been developing and implementing policies to turn the tide on the opioid epidemic for years. Nurses are on the frontline and in the trenches treating chronic pain, substance misuse, and mental health issues. Many health related policies and regulations are still ineffective in fixing the opioid epidemic, but we do know that using a criminal justice route to solve a public health problem will not succeed in its intent. But just this week, President Trump called for the death penalty, also known as capital punishment, for “certain drug dealers” in order to curb the opioid epidemic.
The American Nurses Association (ANA) opposes both capital punishment and nurse participation in capital punishment. Capital punishment and penalizing those convicted of certain classes of crimes by killing them violates the most basic human right, the right to life and liberty. The ethical standards of the profession obligates nurses to protect human rights and practice with respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of every. Instead ANA advocates for increasing access to Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), access to mental health services, and patient centered education.
The Trump administrations plan also includes a federally backed ad campaign to prevent non-prescribed opioid use. Education needs to extend past prevention measure to include safe use, storage, and disposal. Proper disposal of unused pills ensures that fewer opioids reach unintended persons and markets, and in turn, less misuse of narcotics.
Health care providers, public health officials, and law enforcement need to work together to implement proven policies that help all individuals and communities. Instead of taking a criminal justice path, such as the failed drug policies of the “just say no” campaign, which history has shown to perpetuate public health issues, officials need to take an interdisciplinary approach to address the underlying health, economic, social, and educational causes of drug use in both urban and rural communities. ANA is actively advocating for nurses through advising federal agencies, supporting federal legislation, and connecting members with their representatives to ensure the voices of nurses are heard.