Ending the War on Drugs
As a professional substance abuse counselor who has worked with thousands of people working to achieve recovery, I do believe we should regulate and legalize all drugs. We’ve been fighting and losing the war on drugs for years and we need some new approaches.
The truth is, only about 25% of people who try heroin will become addicted (1). I know, sounds crazy, but it’s true. Age of first use is the biggest predictor here, which might actually go do if we were to switch regulation/legalization.
For all illicit substances, 85-96% of people who use do not develop problematic behavior (2). Now that may sound made up, but it’s not. And it’s not a promotion for use either. Rather, these are the fact that contradict popular (mis)conception.
Recently, Harvard professor and author, Dr. Carl Hart, came out as a recreational heroin user (3). This guy is a case-in-point example of that.
Do I agree with him saying heroin use helps “work-life balance”? Not personally, but if it works for him, that’s good for him. He’s in a fortunate class of people who use heroin to enhance pleasure, rather than escape from pain. The latter is much more likely to get addicted.
The truth is that fear tactics to discourage use just don’t work and more often backfire. Just say “no” didn’t work, but real education may actually have a chance. But if it’s going to be real education, we need to start getting honest about drugs and their risks.
For example, heroin use is extremely risky and has the potential to be highly addictive and/or lethal. Some people may be able to use recreationally without issue, but the more risk factors one has in their lives (early onset use, previous trauma, mental health issues, etc.) the less likely this is to be.
On a macro level, where there’s demand, there will always be supply. Policing doesn’t work – if we can’t keep drugs out of prison how are we to keep them out of our borders?
A few additional facts…
When a drug ring is busted, drug use does not go down, but murder rates do go up as new dealers compete to reestablish a hierarchy of street dealing.
Making drugs illegal promotes making and selling the strongest form of drugs. It’s known as the “Iron Law of Prohibition.” For example, during the Prohibition, people didn’t smuggle beer, they smuggled moonshine. Also, can you imagine buying a drink and having no assurance of what’s actually in it? That’s the reality of today’s illicit drug market.
If you want to end illegal cartels, the only way to do so is to create a regulated/legalized approach to put them out of business. For example, are there really any illicit moonshiners left?
But that’s all macro level stuff, getting back to an individual level…
For me, if someone is using recreationally and it’s not causing harm, distress, or dysfunction, then I have no problem with it.
My problem comes in with the way we stigmatize addiction (personal failing rather than medical or societal issue), underfund recovery and overfund policing and punishing (41 billion (dollars) policing and punishing per year, as compared to only 4 billion treating, education, and job incentive programs combined), and don’t help more people struggling be better able to re-integrate into society. Rather, we give them felonies and make it harder, thus actually promoting that they continue to bond with drugs instead. All this at a cost of $35,000 per year per inmate with 70% of Westmoreland county jail opioid dependent.
So do I think our society should be promoting heroin use? Of course not! It’s super dangerous and ruins many lives. Does it ruin everyone’s life who’s ever used it – nope. Should we continue to try to keep it illegal in our society? No, we shouldn’t.
If you’re interested in hearing more about the subject, check out these two Ted Talks!
Johann Hari: Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong
Christina Dent: End the War on Drugs For Good
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