The stigmatization of addiction as a moral failure is one of the biggest drivers of the current U.S. opioid crisis and the related hepatitis C virus (HCV) epidemic, argues a recent op-ed by Vox health correspondent German Lopez.

Lopez writes that he has dedicated much of the past year of his reporting to the U.S. opioid epidemic, overdose deaths and drug policy. Reporting from places like New Jersey, Vermont, Canada and more, he has spoken to many experts on the opioid crisis and published an in-depth overview of the best policies to tackle it. However, Lopez notes that no matter how much light he sheds on the topic, the stigma associated with addiction stands in the way of progress in the fight against the opioid and HCV epidemics.

For instance, Lopez asks why the U.S. isn’t widely embracing medication-assisted therapies despite decades’ worth of medical research supporting them. He asks why the country still largely relies on the criminal justice system to combat addiction rather than sending drug offenders to rehab. He asks why states continue to close down syringe exchange programs, which have been shown to stop the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, and why Congress seems so reluctant to approve the funding that experts agree is needed to address the epidemics. Stigma, he says, underlies it all. 

Lopez’s op-ed also overviews the startling effects the lack of a response is having on individuals suffering from addiction. More than 170 drug overdoses occur in the United States every day, and more than 64,000 people died of overdoses in 2016 alone. Meanwhile, cases of hepatitis C among people who inject drugs are on the rise, despite the introduction of highly effective treatment in 2013.

The op-ed ends with a plea to readers, policymakers, providers and more to overcome their fears of “enabling” a moral failure and actively respond to the crisis using proven methods. Lopez writes: “Once Americans understand this, a lot of the policy recommendations proposed to combat the opioid epidemic quickly become obvious.”

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