Thursday, April 09, 2009

Not Sure About Narcotics

Drug Week, Part 4

Painkillers derived from opium, like morphine, are very useful drugs. But the natural narcotics, and their synthesized cousins, like heroin, have the worst sociological effects when they are abused. Narcotics as so dangerous because they are so addictive.

Yet when people are high on narcotics they are usually not dangerous to others. On this scale, cocaine is worse than heroin. Heroin and its substitutes generally make people useless, but not dangerous. Heroin addicts are dangerous when they are not high, but will do anything to get high again. Heroin addicts would not be dangerous to others if they had a steady supply of heroin. Some of them are even semi-functional.

Still, heroin is so addictive, and does gradually destroy its addicts.

So how should it be treated? I don't have an excellent answer here. I think full legalization, regulation, and taxation is not enough social control. But full prohibition is not quite appropriate, and isn't working very well. What we need, I think, is a new legal category, something like a voluntary ward of the state, for people who choose to be heroin addicts. They would get a steady supply of the drug, which would be regulated for purity in the usual way. They would be kept from crime to support their habit. In exchange, they would be required to do socially useful work in their limited number of functional hours. And addicts would be given every help to quit.

This is not a great solution, but it is better, more proportionate, than what we are doing now.


emily said...

that's a tough call, but i can think of plenty of things that could be done by a heroin addict (etc) if this were the scenario. things like pressing license plates, stuffing envelopes, or small assembly tasks would be acceptable.

Anonymous said...

You might find this interesting if you're not already familiar with it

Gruntled said...

Thank you for the BBC link to the Swiss experiment in prescription heroin. The addicts are still addicts, but they are less dangerous. And this social effect is very encouraging: "young people see heroin not as a glamorous rock star's drug, but as a sad, banal, old people's habit."

Marty said...

As long as we're making them wards of the state, we might as well just toss em in jail.

You want to put them on welfare and give them free dope? I say put em in a prison camp and make them work for their food.

Voluntary junkie of the state... what are you smoking Gruntled?

virginia said...

I had to mull over this for a couple days, because it just seems so counterintuitive, but I actually think this is one potentially good solution to the drug problem (and the subsequent problems that come with it - HIV/AIDS from needle sharing, etc).

My complaint about government policies is normally that they attempt to legislate one person's view of moral behavior instead of taking a practical, rational approach to whatever issue is on the table (abstinence-only sex education is a good example of this, for me). What you propose, however, is extremely rational. As the BBC link notes, when you take away the dark, dangerous, verboten aspects of drug use and make them a pitiful welfare program, they will become much less appealing to many people looking for a rebellious outlet.