Don't Legalize Those Drugs!

 Don't Legalize Those Drugs!
Posted by FoM on June 29, 1999 at 07:09:34 PT
By Barry R. McCaffrey
Source: Washington Post
Three-quarters of the U.S. population opposes the legalization of psychoactive drugs such as heroin, cocaine, LSD, methamphetamine, and marijuana. Therefore, the term "drug legalization" has rightfully acquired pejorative connotations.
Many supporters of this position have adopted the label "harm reduction" to soften the impact of an unpopular proposal that, if passed, would encourage greater availability and use of drugs -- especially among children. The euphemism of "harm reduction" implies that legalizing dangerous substances would reduce the harm these substances cause. In fact, condoning drugs would increase their use and hence their harm.Drug use imposes an unacceptable risk of harm on the user and others. The evidence supporting this viewpoint is chilling:Substance abuse wrecks families. A survey of state child-welfare agencies found substance abuse to be one of the top two problems exhibited by 81 percent of families reported for child maltreatment. Researchers estimate that chemical dependence is present in at least half of the families involved in the child welfare system. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that non-drug users who live in households where drugs are used are 11 times more likely to be killed than individuals from drug-free households.Drug-dependent individuals are responsible for a disproportionate percentage of our nation's violent and income-generating crimes such as robbery, burglary or theft. National Institute of Justice surveys consistently find that between one-half and three-quarters of all arrestees have drugs in their system at the time of arrest. In 1997, a third of state prisoners and about one in five federal prisoners said they had committed the crimes that led to incarceration while under the influence of drugs.Injection-drug users place themselves at great risk. A University of Pennsylvania study of Philadelphia injection-drug users found that four times as many addicts died from overdose, homicide, heart disease, renal failure and liver disease as did from causes associated with HIV disease. Dr. James Curtis, director of addiction services at Harlem Hospital Center, explains: "It is false, misleading and unethical to give addicts the idea that they can be intravenous drug abusers without suffering serious self-injury."Clearly, drugs themselves harm users. A significant percentage of all current drug users are addicted to illegal substances. Addiction is a brain disease that changes a person's neurochemistry. For 4 million chronically addicted people, drug use is not a choice and hence has little to do with personal liberty. Removing the threat of criminal sanctions would eliminate the possibility of forced treatment and condemn countless addicts to miserable lives.One argument given for drug legalization by harm-reduction advocates is that the "war against drugs has been lost." Aside from the fact that this is not a war, much progress has been made. Current drug policies are reducing drug use and its consequences. Drug use in this country has declined by half since 1979. The number of current users dropped from 25 million in 1979 to 13 million in 1996. The decrease in current use of cocaine has been even more dramatic.This is not to say that drug policies cannot be improved. The 1999 National Drug Control Strategy is implementing important changes. The strategy's number one goal is prevention. In the past four years, the administration increased spending on prevention by 55 percent while spending on treatment rose 25 percent. The strategy calls for more treatment in the criminal justice system to break the cycle of drugs and crime.At root, the debate over drug legalization boils down to a question of risk. Studies show that the more a product is available and legitimized, the greater will be its use. If drugs were legalized, the cost to the individual and society would grow astronomically. Removing the criminal status associated with drug use and sale would not make such activity less criminal when drug abuse wrecks young lives. It is criminal that more money is spent on illegal drugs than on art or higher education; it is criminal that crack babies are born addicted and in pain; it is criminal that thousands of adolescents lose their health and the freedom to create a bright future.Harm-reduction advocates tolerate drug use because they consider it part of the human condition that will always be with us. Many other perennial problems such as racism, theft and aggression cannot be extinguished entirely, but we still resist their damage and criminalize the practices. No one argues that we should legalize these activities to make them more sanitary or provide tax revenues.On a judicial level, the question of drug legalization comes down to whether we should legalize destructive behavior. With respect to the individual, society at large and the environment, American jurisprudence has run in the opposite direction. Americans have decided that people do not have a right to ride motorcycles without wearing helmets, drive cars without using seat belts, pollute the environment at will, or endanger the self and others by refusing vaccination or similar life-saving health measures. In general, our laws indicate that self-destructive activity should not be permitted or condoned. Drug consumption damages the brain, which in turn produces other forms of destructive behavior. U.S. law does not grant people the right to destroy themselves or others. Addictive drugs were criminalized because they are harmful; they are not harmful because they were criminalized.The writer is director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on June 29, 1999 at 07:11:24 PT:
Direct Link To Article Here!
Here's the direct link to the above article! 
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