Saturday, 31 January 2009

Saying Yes to Drugs

In the battle of reality versus ideology, the lively debate over drug abuse and treatment is full of grand ideas from many different perspectives. This has led to the public being assaulted for over 100 years with moralism, propaganda and scare tactics to suit a variety of agendas for those in power. Not surprisingly though, one important but critical issue is usually over looked ... is it really wrong to take drugs? Forget the images of desperate junkies shooting up in public toilets or the burnt out stares of meth-heads. The public face of drug use does not represent the reality for much of the drug taking population. Despite what you have been told, most people use drugs because it’s really enjoyable and they want to. Addicts only make up a tiny percentage of drug users and beating drug dependancy can vary between that of addiction and that of kicking coffee.
Consider the facts. 99% of drug users do not become addicted. Most drug users grow out of it in their 30s or 40s. Some drugs are basically non toxic in their pure form i.e. heroin, LSD, cannabis. No drug is instantly addictive. Nearly one in two people in the western world have tried illegal drugs including US presidents, world leaders and others in positions of power. If drugs caused as many health problems as we are told, our hospitals would be over flowing with crazed out drug zombies and our morgues would have to be privatised. Instead our jails are overflowing with non violent drug users which indeed led to the large privatisation trend of correctional institutions.
In moderation and with a known quality and dose, most illicit drugs will have little or no lasting effect on your health. The associated risks are easily overlooked when you consider the enjoyment they can bring to people. Taking ecstasy, LSD, magic mushrooms, speed, heroin or cocaine is like no other experience possible. Imagine the ability to pop a pill and 30 minutes later you feel love for those around you. They love you too and with the much heightened feeling of touch, sex becomes almost surrealistic. Everyone is your friend, there are no fights and each person is as fascinating as they find you. No wonder they call it ecstasy. Do you want to feel confident and super cool? Have a line of coke. Want it to last all night? Have a line of speed. Even camping can become one of the most memorable experiences you’ll have with a community broth of magic mushrooms for dinner one night. Having a boys night out? Drop some acid and you’re guaranteed a night of laughs, extreme smiling and the most amazing surroundings you could possible imagine. And that’s before you even leave the first pub. Maybe you just want some calm and to avoid the crowds. Opium was made for this very reason and heroin will do the trick very nicely. And no, you don’t have to inject it.

It is true that drugs have potential for problems but so do many other activities and substances. The key is moderation like everything you do in life. We have to face it, humans have been getting high since we crossed the great divide from wandering nomads to structured civilisations. Even one of the world’s first complex societies in Peru used coca leaves and lime to create a basic form of cocaine for pleasure. Since then various mind altering drugs have been used for religion, culture, self improvement, meditation, knowledge seeking and entertainment.
The big questions remain. Why is feeling “happiness” considered such an evil act and why are so many resources called on and so much time devoted to stopping it? It’s not that there isn’t any information available about these substances that dispel many of the popular myths . We know that alcohol and tobacco are much more dangerous and without the futile prohibition laws, the harms of illicit drugs would be even considerably less. The money spent on stopping people getting high would solve world hunger and house every homeless person on the planet. Think about that for a minute. What does it cost to keep incarcerated the 30% of prisoners who are non violent people and are only guilty of getting high? Whilst we know that most of the problems with illicit drugs is due to the laws of prohibition, the world continues spending over $100 billion annually trying to deal with drug use. When we are reapplying the same old strategy year after year and it has no success at all, then maybe we have a problem with our decision makers. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate our principles when not enough money is available to stop people starving to death or to provide emergency health services but enough to fund a dismal failure like the cruel, misguided "War on Drugs".

Are drugs morally wrong? Of course not.

Are they dangerous? They are as dangerous as we allow them to be.

Is Getting High On Drugs Always A Bad Thing?
The Examiner
by J.D. Tuccille, Civil Liberties Examiner
December 2008

A while ago, I reread Jacob Sullum's Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use, several years after first picking the book up. I was struck, once again, by his treatment of the consumption of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and any other intoxicant you can think of as a not inherently bad thing -- in fact, a potentially good thing if done in moderation. Sullum is one of the few writers I can think of who treats the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake with respect, rather than as an unseemly vice.

Even among many advocates of drug legalization, drugs are often treated as an unavoidable curse that burdens the human race, with legalization a necessary evil preferable to the ills, such as loss of civil liberties, that accompany prohibition. The very term "harm reduction," so popular now among advocates of alternatives to the War on Drugs, implies that drug use always damages the user, and that the goal is to reduce drug use by means other than criminal sanction.
This is why so many debates over legalization devolve to discussions of whether removing criminal sanctions will result in more consumption of disfavored intoxicants. See this otherwise somewhat sensible discussion from the Baltimore Sun:
A recent column on jury duty -- my first actual trial in more than 20 years of summonses to the Circuit Court of Baltimore City -- prompted a letter from reader Tom Ryugo about the decriminalization of heroin and cocaine. As you'll see, it's kind of hard to argue with this common-sense take. I've had this discussion with many people, including the former New York cop you runs an organization devoted to decriminalization, and the famous Baltimore attorney Bill Murphy. I can't make up my mind about it. Perhaps I should. . . . My fear is that legalization will lead to more use. I don't think the death penalty is a deterrent to murder, but I think the threat of incarceration and a life of addiction and misery is a deterrent to people who might be tempted to move from reefer to heroin or coke.
If you view drug use as inherently bad, it makes sense to assume that anything that might lead to increased consumption is something of a setback.

But, as many of us who have not just experimented with, but enthusiastically consumed various intoxicants know (Whoops! I bet I just blew my next job interview), the road to perdition is not usually lined with dried vegetation, white powder, pills or crystals. In fact, many a party, evening or weekend afternoon has been made more pleasant by "cocktail hours" that featured refreshments that would make John Walters weep. Some of us dabbled, a few of us indulged and there were occasional bingers, too. The vast majority of us, whether we still smoke or snort or not, suffered little or no harm -- in fact, we downright enjoyed our experiences, improved our moods and released a lot of tension in the process. And then we went about our responsibilities just a little more relaxed than we might have been.

Yet the loser pothead or scrawny junky is the image most often evoked when people think of drug use.
There's a good reason for that. As Sullum writes in Saying Yes:
We see the drug users who get hauled away by the police, who nod off in doorways or on park benches, who beg on the street or break into cars. We do not see the drug users who hold down a job, pay the rent or the mortgage, and support a family. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, people naturally assume that most illegal drug users are like the ones they notice, who are apt to be the least discreet and most antisocial. This is like assuming that the wino passed out in a gutter is a typical drinker.
Hmmm. So, how many users are, you know, addicts?
That's actually a hard question to answer, given the difficulty involved in asking people about their drug consumption habits. In fact, when prohibitionists talk about vast armies of addicts, they're talking about something they just don't know. Let's turn to psychologist, lawyer and drug researcher Stanton Peele for an idea of how many cocaine users just can't put the stuff down:
One way to calculate the number/percentage of addicts is to compare those who have ever taken a drug with those who currently take it with those who currently take it daily (or nearly so). Of course, many regular, daily users wouldn't be classified as addicts (like the physician described by Zinberg and his colleagues who for decades injected morphine daily, but did not use on weekends and vacations, without ever increasing his dosage or undergoing withdrawal -- see Meaning of Addiction, Chapter 1).
Unfortunately, you can't get government statistics on daily use. The most frequent use calculated in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) National Household Survey on Drug Abuse is 51 or more times in the prior year, or an average of once weekly (or more), which would obviously include many users who are not addicts.
The 1995 Household Survey found that of 3.7 million cocaine users in the last year, 1.2 million used on average at least once a month and 600,000 used at least weekly on average. Although these 600,000 would not qualify as clinical addicts, Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey wants to claim these and more. Hmmm ... so the number of addicted cocaine users actually falls below the government's measurement threshold.
Well, what about heroin? that's nasty stuff, right? Surely we have an idea of how many heroin addicts there are. Well, we can kind of guesstimate. Wrote Sullum for Reason magazine in 2003:
The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse indicates that about 3 million Americans have used heroin in their lifetimes; of them, 15 percent had used it in the last year, 4 percent in the last month. These numbers suggest that the vast majority of heroin users either never become addicted or, if they do, manage to give the drug up. A survey of high school seniors found that 1 percent had used heroin in the previous year, while 0.1 percent had used it on 20 or more days in the previous month. Assuming that daily use is a reasonable proxy for opiate addiction, one in 10 of the students who had taken heroin in the last year might have qualified as addicts.
One in ten? How does that compare with perfectly legal alcohol? Well, according to the National Institutes of Health:
A 1994 study of drug use and addiction in the U.S. showed that more than 90 percent of Americans have experimented with alcohol, and about 70 percent drink at least occasionally. About 15 percent of those who experiment become alcohol-dependent at some point in life. This compares to a dependency rate of 25 percent in those who experiment with smoking tobacco, and around 4 percent in marijuana smokers.
So, it's pretty clear that the vast majority of people who consume any intoxicant do so without developing dependency and, in fact, may well enjoy benefits from their consumption, since they presumably value the pleasure, stress-reduction and other qualities found in intoxicants. On the other hand, a few users of any intoxicant will have problems, whether their drug of choice is legal or illegal.
So, even if you don't believe that people have an inherent right to choose what to put into their own bodies (I obviously do), the "problem" of legalization isn't as simple as whether it "will lead to more use." For every abuser who suffers problems, there may be nine users who enjoy benefits. Increased use may, in balance, be a good thing since the evidence suggests that most of that use will be moderate.
All things considered, you still may conclude that prohibition, with its militarized policing, erosion of the Fourth Amendment, soaring costs and high rate of defiance (breeding disdain for the law) is a worthwhile venture. But I think Jacob Sullum makes a strong case that the drug use that prohibitionists want to stamp out is not an unalloyed evil.

Editorial Book Review

Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use
Jacob Sullum

Opponents of the "war on drugs" have long focused on the distinction between drug use and drug abuse; that distinction is at the heart of Sullum's provocative and impeccably reasoned new title. Our expensive and ineffectual drug war, Sullum says, is predicated on a fundamental misconception that drugs are inherently "bad." Politicians and the media perpetuate the stereotype of the desperate, violent druggie, while the average user looks nothing like that, Sullum says-just as the typical drinker bears little resemblance to a wino passed out in the gutter. "We see the drug users who get hauled away by police, who nod off in doorways and on park benches, who beg on the street or break into cars," Sullum writes. "We do not see the drug users who hold down a job, pay the rent or the mortgage, and support a family." He describes the billionaire insurance executive who's also a "functioning pothead," the neuroscientist who enjoys MDMA at social events and the woman who likes a bit of heroin before cleaning house. Most people understand that alcohol can be dangerous if used to excess, but alcohol in and of itself does not "compel immoral behavior." Why, Sullum asks, is that not the case for marijuana, cocaine and heroin? He labels the vilification of certain drugs over others (like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine) "voodoo pharmacology." A senior editor at the libertarian journal Reason, Sullum rejects the frequent moralizing that clouds the drug debate, and frames much of his case as part of the greater argument against so-called "consensual" crime, which asks why an act by consenting adults that doesn't hurt anyone should be illegal. As with his last title, For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health, Sullum proves he's not afraid to take on entrenched public policies that he sees as fundamentally wrongheaded. Never preachy, his volume presents its heavily annotated arguments in clear, conversational tone that's refreshing for a book of this kind.


Jack Dorf said...

Why is feeling “happiness” considered such an evil act and why are so many resources called on and so much time devoted to stopping it?

I sometimes wonder if it's because culturally we need taboos?
Perhaps the pursuit of happiness via the use drugs has become the new evil?

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Jack.

it's still a piss poor excuse for a so called intelligent civilisation to reap so much damage.

Curse them to hell I say ... TO HELL!!!

[Sinister laugh] Bwaaa ha ha ha ha

Anonymous said...

"99% of drug usees dont become addicted"
is dead wrong, & is 100% dead wrong for the drug ice.
its more like at most 50 / 50 %;
well more like 75/25.
i not lots of people that no people, & lots of people that are smart are addicted to ice big time.
i now a guy that almost dies from ice, he was in a comma for 2 weeks & come out of it, they asid his heart was f**k, it was now a heart of a 80 year old men, & he is only 22, the first thing he did when he got out was smoke some ice.
that is the bigest joke in the world, even people that smoke weed are addicted way more then 1%, its more like 50/50 for weed at least.
are you talking about candey or what, this is a joke, dead wrong.

Anonymous said...

ps, at least 60% of youn people will not stop smoking weed unto they die, so many people smoke weed that are 40-50 plus years onl.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks for your comments, Anonymous.

Ice and weed are not addictive. They might cause someone to be dependant but as I pointed out, it varies in degrees.

I too have first hand experience with knowing people who are fucked up over methamphetamines but that doesn't mean my experience is representative of the overall situation. I actually know 10 times the amount of methamphetamines users who use once or twice a year then maybe not for 5 years. Does this mean no one therefore has a problem?

BTW, I like your statistics.

Anonymous said...

"Ice and weed are not addictive. They might cause someone to be dependant"
for a start mate dependant means you need it,:;; i dependan on my pay each week to pay the rent, if i dont have it i stress out & will have to find away to get it.
if you thing only 1% of people get addicted. you are wrong.

if anything they will stop smoking ice & will wack up gear instead, same thing they need a hit & are addicoed to drugs.
i stoped smoking weed but started to smoke smokes instead. get it mate.

& that is 10 people outr of 1 billion people world wide, that is not even a 0.00000000001%.

Anonymous said...

i may stop smoking ice, but for 2 year i could not, so i was what? addicted.
get it.
& no i do not smoke ice.

Wolfgang said...

There is not a single drug on the planet that in and of itself has the power to create addiction. Perhaps if people stopped mythologizing the addictive potential of certain drugs users would be encouraged to be more responsible. End of story.

T.Nguyen said...

I have used numerous drugs in my life,have been on many binges and have had a lot of people around me do the same thing. I can say firsthand that no drugs out there causes addition, as Terry has mentioned it however does cause dependancy, addiction no. Where the f**k are you anonymous posters getting your statistics from? Sounds like a heap of horse shit to me

Jack Dorf said...

As Terry's sinister laugh faintly echoes in the background. Jack keeps reading comment 7 and wondering about the probability of intelligent civilisation ever evolving on this planet.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks for your comments

The threat of addiction is the golden goose for prohibitionists and anti-drug campaigners. Although it's a real problem, it's not the usual outcome. Some guidance and factual information from the suppliers or dealers would go a long way to bringing down problem drug use. Until it is sold by legitimate sources instead of your local drug dealer, this of course will never happen.

Jack, I am wondering the same as you.

Ann oDyne said...

I have always been in favour of decriminalisation.

It would destroy the Taliban for starters, and clear Court backlogs.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks for your comment, Ann.