When Fixing the Problem Makes It Worse: New at Reason

In the front of the SUV, a man in a black T-shirt is unconscious, or nearly so, and slumped over the steering wheel. Next to him on the passenger side, a woman's bra strap slides off her thin shoulder as her head lolls. In the back, a 4-year-old is strapped into his car seat, looking oddly placid. The image, published by a local Ohio police department in 2016, is the most striking of the steady drip of such photos and videos, disseminated by well-meaning authorities with the goal of scaring the pants off of Americans and discouraging abuse of heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids.

The opioid crisis—the sharp uptick in opioid-related deaths in recent years—provides endless human fodder for local newscasts. Newspapers and magazines publish story after story about the costs of addiction to families and communities. All of this creates a powerful feeling, even among those generally immune to drug panics, that this time things are different, writes Katherine Mangu-Ward.

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