Paving the roads with dead drug addicts

injection drug preparation (CC: Dirty Bunny)
Injection drug preparation (Creative Commons, Dirty Bunny)

From time to time the issue of how to handle the drug problem springs up in national media here in Norway. Questions like whether we should hand out drugs to addicted, whether to provide indoor organized guidance and equipment for the addicted, or the possibility of legalization of certain drugs pops up about every second year. We hear terrible stories of what the users have to cope with on a daily basis just to survive – just to get enough money for the next shot. After a while, however, the media’s attention turns. They become tired of the issue, and move on to the next hot topic, normally something involving celebrities or sex, preferrably combined. Everyone forgets about the drug victims, and nothing happens.

Forskning.no, a Norwegian website publishing new local and international science research recently had an article about how many drug-related deaths Norway has had the last ten years. I nearly fell off my chair when I read the article.

Norway has had 3.000 deadly overdoses the last ten years! I have not seen the numbers divided per year, but evenly distributed this means we have 300 deaths drug-related deaths every year. An other worrying number: This is 70 deaths per million citizens, compared to only 7 per million citizens in France!

How come this doesn’t get any more media attention than a few articles in Forskning.no (article) and NRK.no (article)? Where are the big headlines? Where are the public outcries demanding more resources allocated to helping the unfortunate drug addicts? Where are the petitions? Where are the journalists grilling the politicians live on TV? We’re only ten days away from the election here in Norway, and yet nobody seems to care!

Just for comparison I looked up some other numbers from Statistics Norway, specifically statistics of traffic-related deaths. This has always been a very hot topic in Norway, where the public outcry (and a very popular topic for Norwegian newspapers every summer holiday) has been that we need more money to make the roads safer for all of us.

Heroine, probably the most dangerous, intense and destructive drug (Creative Commons, Tiago Rïbeiro)
Heroine, probably the most dangerous, intense and destructive drug (Creative Commons, Tiago Rïbeiro)

Last year, in 2008, we spent over 15 billion Norwegian kroner on our roads, over 10% more compared to what was spent in 2006. I’m not suggesting that it’s a bad idea to spend much money on making the roads better and safer. My question is, however, how we can spend billion upon billion on traffic safety, and perhaps save 50 people from being killed every year, when if we only had spent half a fraction of this amount on prevention, treatment and help for drug addicts, we probably could have saved 250 lives every year! Not to speak of how the crime rates would have plummeted if we could handle the drug-problems in a better fashion.

Are we not created equal? Are we not of equal value to the society? In reality, it’s evident we are not, and I’m not so naive that I would think otherwise. But that the difference is this grotesque, shocked me.

It’s time to step up and actually try to do something about all the drug-related problems in Norway. It’s time to ask ourselves if we’re doing enough. And – are we doing the right things? Norwegian drug politics have not changed much the last ten years – perhaps it’s about time to stop and ask ourselves if we’re doing enough, if we’re spending our resources right.

We’re not paying attention, and in the meantime, nearly one person dies of an overdose, every day.

3 thoughts on “Paving the roads with dead drug addicts”

  1. I think one difference is that you can almost fix a road, but seldom fix an addict. You’re getting into the very very tricky mathematics of the value of a human life (a scary and fascinating field) and the way politicians and bureaucrats interpret it.

    I suppose the best avenue is research to understand the point at which recreational drug use turns into a life threatening habit. I have seen tons of the former and a bit of the latter. It’s not immediately apparent to me what differentiates the people who go on to live happy productive lives and the ones who ruin everything.

    1. I’m not necessary talking about “fixing” the addicts, that topic is probably suitable for a blog post or two in itself. For many of the addicts it’s not about getting clean at all – they often either lack the motivation, or are just too deep into the bad habit. It’s more about helping the addicts to not hurt themselves, providing simple damage prevention and damage control.

      Injection guidance, hygiene advice and providing sterile equipment in a safe environment would probably reduce the number of OD’s in general (and consequently terminal OD’s as well) by as much as 95%.

      Why isn’t this done? It isn’t done because it’s considered unethical. Evidently it’s better to let them kill themselves. Slowly.

      The politicians should, in my humble opinion, look at this from a somewhat more pragmatic viewpoint. This, however, still seems to be far away (at least if the conservatives get their way).

      I probably could have worded myself better on the “question” of how much a life is worth, but the main point still stands (I hope). We spend enormous amounts on traffic safety, in order to save lives, which I by no means disagree with. But I think the society would benefit greatly if one spent more time and money on helping the drug abusers as well. These two issues are not mutually exclusive – we can do both!

      Both when it comes to traffic safety and drug abuse, the cost of improving the current situation might actually lead to saving ourselves money. The issue of traffic safety has been addressed for many years already, but next to nothing have been done to help the unfortunate drug addicts. We don’t need to set up a number-crunching beowulf-cluster of Excel-spreadsheets to see that the drug addicts in Norway more or less are being ignored, hidden away from public. I mean, even the police just want them to go away, to some fictional place where noone can neither see or hear them(!).

      What you point out in the end is definetly a very valid point, and we can only hope to gain more knowledge of what makes some people addicts and others not, but I’m just not certain whether one actually can come to a good conclusion on that.

      These are my personal views, and I do not claim to know the true answer to this. But I do think I see a better way of handling this than todays situation.

      Erling Gjelsvik, a writer for BA.no disagrees rather strongly with me, and seems have lost all sense of empathy (auto-translated into English by Google). It would be interesting to meet him someday to understand the basis of such a senseless rant.

  2. Flott innlegg, men jeg mÃ¥ innrømme jeg kom hit av en annen grunn: søkte etter “norbits” pÃ¥ Delicous og fant din personlige innloggingsurl. Om du er interessert i personvern skjønner du sikkert at det ikke er en spesielt heldig kombinasjon: jeg fant deg (og ditt ekte navn) etter to tastetrykk. Husk Ã¥ uke av for “Private” nÃ¥r du skal lagre bokmerker som er av sensitiv natur.

    Bare et tips 🙂

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