Thursday, September 23, 2004

Philosophy of Drug Use

MelbournePhilosopher

Link to site containing factual information on drug use, drugrehab101.com

Last night over dinner, I had a discussion with two friends who thought that the Australian Greens drug and substance abuse policy was really quite stupid.

The policy is available for all to read here . "1.2 The regulation of the personal use of currently illegal drugs should be moved outside the criminal framework." (Note - a distinction is later implied between legal and illegal drugs - it appears a re-evaluation of classification is called for)

Let's look at what makes a drug a drug. As in common usage, drugs are made up of stimulants and depressants - uppers and downers if you will. They might give you a high similar to that experienced after physical activity or achievement, or they may dull your emotional sensitivity. They take your mind and change it. But so do a lot of things - the term "sugar high" doesn't come from nowhere. It is silly to stigmatize druge just because they alter our state of mind. Some drugs have terrible effects but others don't. One of the Greens policies - which is philosophically very reasonable - is to classify drugs accurately according to their effects. One likely effect of this would be to put marijuana usage in roughly the same class as alcohol. It is less physically addictive that nicotine, and the effects no worse that alcohol intoxication. It is a fairly benign substance.

This brings us to one of the two major points of this article. Economics is a strong driver of the underground drug trade. This article is a good source of information . Essentially, by moving "benign" drugs into legitimacy, we can put stronger economic pressure on the sale of illegal drugs by contracting the market. Aspirin is not much more expensive to make than heroin. That's a bit scary - but it also shows why selling heroin is so lucrative. Because the sale of "soft" drugs like marijuana increases the exposure of more lethal and addictive drugs, people tend to move from one to another. Removing that link would be a step forward in helping people to avoid the "downward spiral".

Drug use, however, is not a victimeless crime. There is an economic rationalism to the idea that is better to redeem than to punish. For every otherwise productive member of society that is drawn into drug addiction, our economy and our society suffer. Both our social environment and our economic environment are less good because of losses to drug addiction.

The hope of of this policy is that that by ensuring better satefy and better monitoring, we can minimise both the harm caused by improperly manufactured substances, and also reduce the frequency of overdoses caused by the sale of very potent substances. Standardisation might improve the situation by making the trade subject to control. By selling drugs legally and cheaply, we would undercut the market of illegal drug traffickers, at the same time making major inroads into the profits of criminal organisations such as the mafia and gangs, which are also involved in violent crimes.

However, there are a number of problems to this. Legalising drugs will inevitably lead to more people taking up their use. And, I would argue, substances such as heroin are sufficiently dangerous that there is no way to encourage safe use. They are dangerous because highly addictive drugs attack our free will. A "rational human" may be phobic, or addicted to chocolate because of the psychological crutch it gives them, and this causes no real problems. However, highly addictive substances are not merely crutches for our minds - they start that way, but then become a heavy burden. The drug becomes unavoidable, because the physical addiction is felt like a hunger - we crave it, and this assaults our free ability to choose.

Keeping these drugs a crime is vital, because we need to retain the ability to deal with the scenario as a society. A framework which requires a civil offense and a victim - like our civil court processes - is insufficient because we are unable to provide a proper disincentive. Keeping some drugs within the purveiw of criminal law is incredibly important, because it allows the police to take action to curb the drug use without requiring that a particular victim lay charges.

Destigmatising the use of "soft" drugs, the minimisation of harm through needle exchanges, safe injecting houses, and by logical extension a drug substance exchange by which drugs of unknown quality and potency might be exchanged for a known-safe substance, are all positive steps towards reducing the direct suffing and death caused by drug misuse. Attacking the profit margins of the criminal drug trade by shrinking the markets to the worst kinds of drugs is also a good idea. However, police are there to protect and serve - and unless hard drug use remains criminal, they would be unable to use their power to protect or serve those individuals too addicted to help themselves.

20 Comments:

Blogger thesocialworker said...

When you say "hard drug use" are you talking about IV drug use? Let's take for instance injecting herion, I think you may be surprised how few users are in-fact misusers (most commonly refered to as 'junkies'). What is your definition of 'safe use' anyway? I agree that police should be here to 'protect and serve' but gaoling an illicit drug user is hardly good protection. It may make the world appear safer but where's the protection for the user? Against him/herself? Why not address the underlying issues of drug addiction such as poor unemployment opportunities, poor educational attainment, discrimination etc? I have no problem supporting current illicit drug legislation, I do however, have a problem with a government who finds it more convenient to build a gaol cell than provide a rehab spot.

9/23/2004 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Good Points, socialworker. I have no idea what the Australian statistics are on how many, let's call them casual, users become chronically addicted users. My belief is that there would be a strong link between occasional use leading to frequent / junkie use.

If you have any reports on the matter though, it would be fantastic to know. I mentioned the importance of destigmatising drug use, and classifying drugs accurately - and this info would have to be a part of that classification.

I question whether the underlying causes of drug use can ever be properly addressed, although I accept things are far from the best they could be. It seems to be the case that drug use compounds these problems, and not all people in the same situation turn to drugs. There will always be some people who turn to drugs, and we can't ignore the problem of drug use as only symptomatic of people's poor situations.

The needs of society should be placed ahead of the needs of the individual only when the solution precludes doing both at the same time. Helping junkies wean themselves of addiction solves both problems. However, you can't force a person's thinking, and it may not always be possible to help people in that way.

Thanks so much for your input. I hope I've responded thoughtfully! If not, feel free to post again, and I'll let you have the last word...

9/23/2004 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger a process of emanation said...

Just on the classification according to effect idea: There is much more happening that depressant/anti-depressant and a move to this classification is to hit some difficult questions on just what is really happening in our brains, neuroscientifically speaking - narcotic means addictive and sleep inducing, then there is hallicinatory, habitual, intoxicating, and finally the scientific classes like, ampthetamine (at least 50 illegal varieties)and opiate (from morphine/heroin to codiene etc). Classifications like 'Class 1' - used in our current drug legislation (I believe) - are however ultimately arbitrary and drugs are currently dumped in levels according to political, economic and historical reasons more than anything 'philosophically reasonable'.

Worst of all, a drug currently classified as class one builds an arguably philosophically unreasonable wall between it and further research into its effects, addictiveness, short and long term health, benefits of analogues (often less narcotic, more targeted etc etc) and also between social research into the trade, use, economics etc, due to stigma (injecting halls etc) and the thus underground nature of harder 'class'-y drugs. This is the very research needed to classify drugs in a reasonable way.

The answer? Well, let me classify them :) I'm not saying legalise drugs. Just give me a few million dollars, a freedom to do the research under the law, and I'll set up a company to develop safe recreational drugs, for use in different environments, with different effects. It will happen eventually, science *is* because it moves forward. It will destroy the trade of current dangerous drug use, and you know it will make the money back.

But I digress.. what was the point again. Oh, yeah, nice post! Will be reading more of your stuff...

The Chemist of Philosophy
http://text.emanated.net/

9/23/2004 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger thesocialworker said...

It's estimated that 1 in 4 people who've inject herion become 'dependent'. That's 25% and is, by my standards, a lot. However, herion use doesn't occur in a vacuum. Once you start to factor in cummulative risk factors ie social and economic disadvantage, perhaps we'll be able to explain why some people become dependent and the other 75% (also big figure) don't.

Anyhow, I recommend these short reads http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/helthrpt/stories/s1090963.htm and what they're actually discussing http://www.racp.edu.au/hpu/policy/drugs.pdf

I like to think of this issue as 'a right to health' one, rather than worrying oneself with upholding traditional 'law and order' at all costs.

9/23/2004 07:56:00 PM  
Blogger infidelchick said...

Do you really think that it's inevitable that decriminalisation of drugs would lead to more users? I can't see the reason for this.

I also take issue with the idea that heroin is as dangerous as you say. There is substantial evidence that alcohol and cigarettes are both more addictive, alcohol figured in more road deaths, violent crime, domestic abuse etc situations than heroin, heroin itself does little physical harm to the user if sufficiently pure.

Just some comments.

9/30/2004 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

To use economic terminology, I think it's inevitable that decriminalisation of drugs would place upward pressure on the number of users. I'm not talking there about the overall level, but for one of many results. I rest on the assumption that there are at least some people for whom breaking the law to take drugs is a disincentive. Removing that would mean that particular demographic would then take drugs. There would presumably be a raft of effects from decriminalising drugs, and that is one of them.

9/30/2004 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger infidelchick said...

I agree, but I would work on the assumption that the criminalisation of drugs provides incentives for others. I think that decriminalisation would merely change the demographic profile of drug use.

10/01/2004 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger thesocialworker said...

I've been doing some reading on this topic and I've found there to be significant opposition to your view that drugs such as Herion "attack our free will". There seems to be a large body of evidence suggesting that there are many people who are able to use such drugs moderately without getting hooked; refered to as "Chipping". Studies have found that these people "tended to use heroin at specific times when it would not disrupt their jobs or other responsibilities." (Zinbergas cited in Bower 1989). Then I came across Wodak (2001) who states that to "claim that heroin is inherently dangerous is false. Heroin is rapidly metabolised to morphine, which is used safely by the healthcare system in large quantities throughout the world. In the Swiss heroin prescription trial (1994-7), there were no deaths from overdose in almost 1500 patients followed up for 18 months." It has become aparent to me that exposure to an addictive drug does not inevitably sap the human will and cause unrestrained drug consumption.That's the best I can do for now.

10/03/2004 03:24:00 PM  
Blogger thesocialworker said...

You also say that legalising drugs "will inevitably lead to more people taking up their use." I agree. Just say Herion was legalised. Let's also pretend that before the legalisation there were 100 Herion users and 10 000 alcohol drinkers (Total number of drug users 10 100). So, now that Herion has become legal, some people decide to change their drug of choice, which, leads to a rise in Herion use by say 500 people, yes? However, we still only have 10 100 drug users, so overall drug use is not increasing is it? So what's the problem? Alcohol use has declined hasn't it? Which is good, right? 500 less drunk drivers and domestic abuse goes down? Where's the harm in legalising Herion?

10/03/2004 03:47:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Okay, a few comments. Thanks for the debate and I welcome your views, but I have to point out some gaps in your reasoning. That doesn't make you "wrong" but some of lines of argument are not properly reasoned.

Your point about some people being able to use heroin safely is a good one, however laws have to address a common audience. I don't believe that the remainder (i.e. the abusers) could move across into the safe user category.

I'm not a chemist, but the matabolism of heroin into morphine does not make heroin safe. Morphine is also a strong drug, and while I don't claim to know its specific effects, it is a prescription-only drug in this country.

Your argument on the effects of legalising heroin are more of a concern. Implying that the overall level of drug use wouldn't change is just false. If you have 10, 000 heroin users and 10, 000 alcohol users, you have 20, 000 drug users. You are arguing the case that you have a fixed number of drug users, and it is merely a choice issue where only the proportions change. A balanced guess might be to suggest that there are two distinct groups with some overlap. Depending on the size of the overlap, you will end up with a situation closer to the one you describe, or the one where the number of drug users double. I don't have any statistics to back up a claim about which is true, but I would suppose that drug use would rise overall, and end up somewhere in the middle - maybe a 20% rise.

The key point of your last post as I see it is the issue of "chipping". If we could all be chippers, and there were no abusers, then the case against heroin is much less strong. However, if chipping is a minor exception, then short of issues drug licenses to those people, we must outlaw drug use for the good of the majority.

I think that on a practical level the way forward is to seek practical understanding, and move towards a more progressive model. I would see legalising marijuana as the first step, not the last. I don't think it's sensible to legalise heroin given our current knowledge, plus the intense polarity of opinion. What I think is important is to move towards a system more based on objective facts. It is definately true that safe injection houses and needle exchanges are good for harm minimisation, and it is definately true that marijuana is not clearly worse than cigarettes or alcohol. Dealing with the issues of soft drug use could help us to better understand those of hard drug use. I believe that we need clearer knowledge than we now have if we are to change laws relating to hard drugs.

10/03/2004 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger thesocialworker said...

I don't expect the abusers to move across to the safe use catergory. Junk food is legal and yet society is prepared to accept junk food abusers, are they not? We free hospital beds for the obese, yet we stick the 'junkies' in gaol. And if you believe the "majority of injecting drug users are living quite functional lives not necessarily engaging in crime and are probably quite an invisible population", as I do - and from which I draw the conclusion that 'chipping' is in no way 'a minor exception', then where is all this harm being done by Heroin use? We don't gaol the fat-man for overeating do we? We don't gaol the 2 packs a day mum for smoking in the same room as her 1 month old baby; even though there's strong evidence tying smoking to SIDS, invasive meningococcal and cancer; and if we ever did, would we start wondering why crime was yet again on the rise? Where's the consistency? How does individual herion use harm others or an individual any more than alcohol or tobacco use. What's with the selective paternalism? Why must people be protected from herion and not tobacco or alcohol? Gee wiz, banning things for "the good of the majority", I'd hope the person deciding what's good is no Saddam. I'm not convinced that the overall numbers of drug users would rise with legalisation. Sure there would be overlap (by this I think you mean people using both Herion and alcohol?) but it still doesn't mean the overall numbers of drug users would rise. I really don't think there is a % of the population who aren't using any drugs because heroin is not available nor do I think that the numbers of drug users could ever double.

10/03/2004 08:10:00 PM  
Blogger thesocialworker said...

I don't expect the abusers to move across to the safe use catergory. Junk food is legal and yet society is prepared to accept junk food abusers, are they not? We free hospital beds for the obese, yet we stick the 'junkies' in gaol. And if you believe the "majority of injecting drug users are living quite functional lives not necessarily engaging in crime and are probably quite an invisible population", as I do - and from which I draw the conclusion that 'chipping' is in no way 'a minor exception', then where is all this harm being done by Heroin use? We don't gaol the fat-man for overeating do we? We don't gaol the 2 packs a day mum for smoking in the same room as her 1 month old baby; even though there's strong evidence tying smoking to SIDS, invasive meningococcal and cancer; and if we ever did, would we start wondering why crime was yet again on the rise? Where's the consistency? How does individual herion use harm others or an individual any more than alcohol or tobacco use. What's with the selective paternalism? Why must people be protected from herion and not tobacco or alcohol? Gee wiz, banning things for "the good of the majority", I'd hope the person deciding what's good is no Saddam. I'm not convinced that the overall numbers of drug users would rise with legalisation. Sure there would be overlap (by this I think you mean people using both Herion and alcohol?) but it still doesn't mean the overall numbers of drug users would rise. I really don't think there is a % of the population who aren't using any drugs because heroin is not available nor do I think that the numbers of drug users could ever double.

10/03/2004 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Hey, maybe you're right. But if you are, then the principle which I am standing behind of a more objective basis for the classification of drugs will still work to the best advantage. What I am trying to stand for is not the jailing of heroin users per se, but the structured improvement of the systems we use when dealing with drug use, starting with what is to me the more obviously out-of-proportion laws covering marijuana. If the statistics back up the same arguments for heroin, then hey I'm all for it. What I'm not in favour of is a society without limits. Your earlier post quoting 25% of heroin users become 'dependant'. I think that until that number comes down, it is too high to accept. But maybe a more balanced approach would be to look at the precise laws. It's illegal to be drunk and disorderly, maybe the same law could be extended to heroin. It's the cost to society that I'm worried about. Maybe my view is all just so much hand-me-down opinion, but even the figures you've quoted don't give me the confidence to change my opinion so quickly.

Wouldn't you agree that reforming the case for marijuana, along with the provision of safe injecting houses and more needle exchanges is a step in the right direction? Change happens incrementally. It's the job that's never started that takes the longest time. Surely it's better to support positive motion than to oppose it because you don't think it goes far enough?

10/03/2004 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger abigail said...

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9/13/2005 02:41:00 PM  
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10/08/2005 10:31:00 AM  
Anonymous todazee said...

i am certain that mr social worker is a drug user. What has this world turned into? people arguing so hard and openly in support of drug use. David cameron is right when he says we're in a social recession and you knw what we can argue all day long but its increasing and popular attitudes like this that means our world will only get worse. More and more people will take drugs because 'its ok' increase and worse crime rates committed by younger and younger people ( remember the edlington devils)

God help the few of us with some morals left we just have to work harder with our children i guess.

2/21/2010 03:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Diversified Topics said...

It should be dealt with empowerment programs.

3/26/2011 07:48:00 AM  
Anonymous white panther said...

The society has a drug addiction problem because in schools kids are educated in the wrong way. They just get the memo: you are not allowed to do that, that and of course that. That is like not educating them at all. Telling a person not to do something, guess what... it determines that person to do that something.

8/04/2011 07:43:00 AM  
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11/23/2014 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger nasir shuja said...

good to know this is a topic where the empirical is relevant in that way. [this exposition has all already been stated] do we really need to talk about genes, etc. if we see those are irrelevant, we can talk about the ability to regulate a desire. no, you cant, so you see it's something you cant regulate out of people. you can look at other systems to see how they assume things will turn out, and end up wherever you will. yea, probably the up/down nature of use will go in some direction based on empirical factors, so you then have to piece things together accordingly. then you have to gauge where you are, and come up with an ontological position. none of the positions i have seen described so far suffice.

12/13/2014 09:57:00 AM  

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