Monday, March 5, 2018

Without a Hint of Irony, Former CIA Director’s Podcast Discusses Solutions for the Opioid Crisis

Michael Morell, former CIA Director, hosts a podcast “Intelligence Matters.” He recently had a very inspiring guest on his show, retired U.S. Navy Admiral James “Sandy” Winnefeld.

Winnefeld’s son died of an overdose from fentanyl-laced heroin. After his son’s death, Winnefeld has dedicated a tremendous amount of effort to find solutions for the opioid crisis. In fact, he formed a non-profit group dedicated to this cause, Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic (SAFE).

Overall, I strongly agree with most of Winnefeld’s strategies. During this podcast, he brought up several points that most of America views as highly controversial. For instance, he advocated for safe injection sites. Although this concept is controversial in the U.S., several countries have hosted these types of facilities which have proven to be a highly-effective form of harm reduction. 

Every one of these facilities are staffed by health professionals equipped with the opioid-overdose-reversal drug, naloxone. There have been several overdoses in these facilities, but there has never been an overdose death. Furthermore, safe injection sites are a major boost to public health by providing clean needles, thus reducing HIV and Hepatitis. One study concluded that the city of San Francisco would save $3.5 million in public costs.

Hence, although this concept is highly stigmatized, Winnefeld stated during the podcast that he wished these facilities had been legal in the U.S. while his son was still alive. If so, he may still be alive.

Winnefeld brought up other very important points. In particular, the vast majority of drug arrests are for possession, not trafficking. In addition, a large percentage of those charged with trafficking are merely supporting their habit. 

However, Winnefeld and I disagree on the extent of decriminalization. I support the full decriminalization (and eventually the legalization) of drugs, not just the users. Nonetheless, Winnefeld offered a great deal of insight during this podcast, which is worth a listen.

However, I would be remiss to not point out the irony of a former CIA Director commenting on evidence-based solutions for the opioid crisis. 

U.S. Marines in an opium field in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. (Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re not familiar with the CIA’s extensive complicity with drug trafficking, there are several research resources available. However, there’s also a tremendous amount of speculation and disinformation on this topic. With that said, if you’re interested in reading about this issue, my first book, The Drug War: A Trillion Dollar Con Game, goes into great detail with extensive documentation.

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