Leave it in Park –

March 13, 2020 – This hypothesis is the unifying theme of Rat Park, a documentary examining three vastly different approaches to drug policy: in the U.S., Portugal and the Philippines. Today, amid an opioid epidemic, the contrasts offer important insights.

How did opioid use become so widespread? The film pinpoints the epidemic’s epicentre as Florida in the 2010s. Ubiquitous, unregulated pain-management clinics dotted the sunshine-and-Geritol state, staffed by retired doctors seeking a profitable side hustle. Clients could walk in to a “pill mill” with an MRI scan and walk out with a prescription for hundreds, even thousands, of opioids. At one time, the state had more pain clinics than McDonald’s and Walmarts combined.

The pill mills eventually were shut down, but with no treatment supports for a dependent clientele — as though cutting off supply would magically erase demand. People turned to the streets for cheaper and more readily available heroin, much of which is now laced with dangerously potent fentanyl.

The policy hypocrisy sits uneasily with harm-reduction advocate Justin Kunzelman. “What is a bar but a safe consumption site for alcohol?” he asks, poignantly.

Treating substance use as a criminal, rather than a health issue, is taken to its furthest extreme in the Philippines. Photojournalist Vincent Go has chronicled more than 1,000 extrajudicial killings under thug-president Duterte’s war on drugs. Drive-by hits from motorcycles are common, the bodies left in the street as a warning to others.


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