Letter to the editor: We can end the opioid crisis

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A pair injects heroin. — photo by Flickr user hundred visions and revisions via Wikimedia Commons

By Marco Battaglia

Eighty-five percent of heroin users start by taking legal opioids. Fentanyl and carfentanil are involved in a clear majority of overdose deaths. Even combining these with moderate alcohol use can be deadly.

Scientists were learning the powers of synthesized opioids prior to the start of the war on drugs. You likely have not heard of carfentanil. It is a manufactured weapon in a manufactured crisis. The toxicity of carfentanil has been compared to that of nerve gas. Yet it is only classified as Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act in the United States.

There is a better way than war and mass incarceration. Ninety percent of public money spent fighting drugs in Portugal is channeled toward health-care goals — just 10 percent is spent on police enforcement. Instead of a war on drugs, there are more than 40 publicly funded facilities across Portugal treating more than 4,000 addicts at any one time, free of charge to them. They removed the criminal penalties for all drug use and combined this action with an intense focus on harm reduction, treatment and rehabilitation.

A decade later, the number of addicts is halved, and overdose deaths have dropped to just 30 a year for the entire country. The number has remained steady ever since. Portugal’s mortality rate from drugs is now more than four times lower than the European average. Portugal’s lesson for the world is that broadly removing criminal sanctions from drug use can be the catalyst to change public attitudes about drug use and users.

So far, the Czech Republic and Uruguay are taking similar approaches. Even some among the most conservative government members of parliament in Australia are considering following suit after inquiring into crystal methamphetamine use in Portugal and learning the approach was working to curb use. Both Uruguay’s and Portugal’s violent crime rates — among the lowest in their regions — have been declining since 2015. Portugal and the Czech Republic are often considered among the safest countries in the world.

Domestically, recent marijuana legalizations in Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have yielded positive outcomes. Numerous studies show little to no rise in marijuana use following legalization, coupled with declines in cocaine, cigarette, alcohol, meth and opioid use.

We can save many lives by phasing out the war on drugs and focusing on harm reduction. This activity is also cost effective and positive for the workforce in Iowa where we need able employees to turn our rural cities around and to continue our successes in urban areas.

Marco Battaglia is running for Attorney General of Iowa. You can keep in touch with him at

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  1. Seems like a much more prudent approach, at least to this everyday Joe. Good luck in your race for Attorney General, Marco! Persevere in your passion, knowing all of us are brothers and sisters affected by this issue, whether or not we agree with each other about causes and solutions. Stay real!

  2. i always believed that the usa is not approaching this epidemic right at all. i mean if you were to legalize all drugs and do it like they do in ansterdam. 80 percent of americans in jail are all drug related charges. it does not take a genius to figure out its not working at all. i know the usa is involved with bringing the drugs in. its all about the master of the world. and that master is MONEY!. it cost apprx. 30,000 a year to house a person in prison. do you know how much good we can do withy 30,000 cash. alot more good then just locking people up for drugs. its just plain out stupid to approach the way the usa is approaching the problem. please goverment get a grip and try anything but the way we are going about it now. as long as there is money to be made there will always be drugs to sell and buy. why? MONEY!

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