Drug use isn’t the problem – Addiction and the question of legalization or decriminalization

I don’t keep it a secret that I used to have a very serious drug problem. If you haven’t read it by now, my drug use started early on along with a whole bunch of high-school friends. They smoked weed, I wanted to fit in, and the rest is history.

But guess what? Most of them turned out fine.

Drug use versus addiction

Only about 3 of us ended up screwing up a major part of our lives because of our drug use. One friend died 8 years later from AIDS after finding out way too late about an HIV infection he got from shooting up heroin. Another dropped out of college and never made it back. I developed a massive habit that only grew bigger when I shifted from simply using drugs to selling them. Then I got arrested, served a year in jail and went to rehab. That sucked.

The thing is that I don’t think drugs were the source of our problem.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to get my own genetic code sequenced some time in the near future in order to certify this, but I think we all had way too much of the impulsive, rush-seeking in us to allow the rules of society to keep us down. If it wasn’t for the drugs, something else would have probably gotten us sooner or later. I know that, to date, my own love for speed (as in miles per hour) and motorcycles already got me in 3 pretty serious accidents.

What I know now is that once you start using drugs on a regular basis the issue of how you got there no longer matters. Your brain controls your behavior and when drugs control your brain, you’re out of luck without help.

Is the answer legalization or decriminalization?

I think legalization is a mistake. Making a drug legal gives the impression that the state sanctions its use. Heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, ecstasy, and yes, even marijuana cause problems for people. I think that sending any other message is dangerous.

It’s not a coincidence that most people with substance abuse problems in this country (about 15 million) are pure alcoholics. Want a guess at the second biggest group? The marijuana dependent group is about 5 million strong. The rest of the drugs pick up only a few millions in total. Any move towards the legalization of any new drugs will most likely increase their use and therefore the number of addicts.

Still, decriminalization could be the answer. I’ve been meaning to write a post about Portugal’s decriminalized system for a while and haven’t gotten around to it. The bottom line? People found with illegal drugs are given a ticket and sent before a committee. The more visits one has in front of the committee the more forceful the push towards treatment. Still, unless a drug user commits another crime aside from the  possession of drugs they aren’t sent to jail.

As it stand right now, 30%-40% of our prisoners are in for simple drug offenses. That means not only billions in wasted incarceration costs every year, but also billions and billions more useless dollars thrown away at future sentences, court costs, and more (health care, probation and on and on). As it stands now recidivism rates, especially within the addict population are at 70% or higher! Unless these people get treatment, they will go back to jail! It’s that simple. Really.

So what should we do?

Many people aren’t going to like my view point. Those of us in the addiction field are supposed to scream as loudly as possible that drug are bad and that their eradication should be a major goal of our system. I disagree. Sue me.

I think we need to put the money we’re putting into jailing drug addicts into treatment. Even if it saves no money in the present (it will) we’ll be seeing huge savings over time as less of these people go to jail, more of them earn wages and pay taxes, and less of them make wasteful use of other resources like emergency rooms and social services.

And guess what? It will make our society better. We’ll start taking care of our citizens instead of locking them up. We’ll be showing Americans that we believe they can overcome rather than telling them we’d rather see them rot in jail than help them. We’ll be cutting down the number of single parent households and along with them god only knows how many more seemingly endless problems.

That’s my story, an I’m sticking to it.

4 Replies to “Drug use isn’t the problem – Addiction and the question of legalization or decriminalization”

  1. The reason we have a government isn’t to send messages about what is and isn’t ok. We have a government to protect us from each other, to protect us from other governments, and to provide basic services. If sending people to jail for putting unauthorized substances in their own bodies is a waste of money, so is paying a committee to nanny them against their will. It also eats up money that could be used to treat people that actually want to be treated. Many people in treatment for marijuana in particular are there because it beats jail. They had a police problem rather than a marijuana problem.

    Hurting other people or their property is already illegal, with or without drugs being involved. People commit crimes to support drug habits because the government deliberately keeps drug prices high. If the prices of drugs reflected their production costs, they’d be practically free.

    There is a lot of money in drug prohibition, including money the government itself makes by selling them. We just supported Hamid Karzai’s reelection in Afghanistan despite the fact that it’s fraudulent. The CIA has been paying his brother for the last 8 years, and he’s involved in the opium trade, which has exploded since we got there. It’s exploded in parallel with CIA “black ops,” like the Eastern European horse riding school we converted into a torture facility. Just saying.

    Taking off the tinfoil hat, it is not illegal for me to drink myself to death, buy a house I can’t afford, or staple my scrotum to my leg. You can harm yourself in an infinite number of ways, and we should not waste time legislating against all of them. Being fat and lazy is much worse for you than taking LSD. It’s socially acceptable to be fat and lazy, but only dirty hippies eat acid. When the Negros smoke reefer, they may attempt to sleep with a white woman (look up Harry Anslinger quotes). Cough syrup is much like ketamine, but it’s ok because pharmaceutical companies get rich off it.

    ANY form of drug prohibition is a human rights violation, in that it criminalizes certain types of mental experiences. It’s ok to stare at the ceiling, but if it’s changing colors and you feel one with the universe at the same time, that’s bad.

    Decriminalization is bad because it sends a message that it’s legitimate for the government to violate your privacy when you haven’t hurt anyone else. The FDA is deciding what flavor of cigarettes people are allowed to smoke, for god’s sake…

  2. I am really with you on this. So far we have not seen evidence of jail or prison helping in any way, and the related expenses are overwhelming. That money would actually be better spent on helping those that need it, and would also make us a kinder more compassionate society. You have a very good approach, and my own life experience with substance abuse issues is congruent with these solutions you suggest. You have no reason to doubt yourself or your personal insight. You have much wisdom that certainly seems genuine, sincere, and authentic. Some may have differing opinions, but the actual experience and education rings true, and it actually gives me hope, not only for my own loved ones, but for our society in the future.

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