Sunday, May 30, 2004

Heroin and Other Drugs

There are a lot of people in jail in the US and the whole world for using heroin. This is interesting because heroin makes people drowsy, docile, harmless and inoffensive. The addictive nature of heroin is only a social problem when the drug is difficult to obtain. We are all totally dependent on oxygen and water but we don't need to commit crimes to get the air we breathe or the water we drink. And don't think we are morally superior because we aren't criminals. If air were $5 per breath we'd all be stick-up artists...

The user of pharmacologically pure heroin suffers problems only after decades of use. The liver may not stand up to long term heroin addiction and life may be shortened. This is a relatively minor problem, compared to the problems caused by other drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

Overwhelmingly, the problems occur only because heroion is illegal and would not occur if heroin were legally available:
  • Illegal heroin is impure and is therefore medically dangerous.

  • Illegal heroin is expensive and motivates addicts to commit property crimes and prostitution.

  • Illegal heroin fills the jails with expensive-to-maintain criminals that create a heavy tax burden.

  • The war on drugs corrupts our government and law enforcement officials.

  • Heroin is more of gateway to other drugs because it is popular in the criminal subculture.

  • Illegal heroin spreads AIDS and other diseases because addicts are forced to share needles. Legal heroin could be sold in single-use injectors.

  • Illegal heroin fosters an atmosphere of street crime and mugging that pollutes human relationships, promotes racism, and wreaks economic devastation on cities.

There a couple of caveats that must be understood. First, people don't like dealing with addicts on a day to day basis. It might be necessary to segregate the addict population from the general public with a new form of civil commitment.

Also, the situation with other drugs differs. Cocaine, PCP, crystal meth and even ecstasy are stimulants and encourage or stimulate all sorts of anti-social and dangerous behaviors that society will not tolerate. Sexual stimulants in the age of AIDS constitute chemical warfare agents. Even marijuana can act as a stimulant (especially to eating and to sex) and is in a different class.

Heroin isn't good for you. I don't recommend it or use it. But taking the profit out of heroin should reduce it usage, not increase it. The problems of the Dutch, who have effectively decriminalized heroin, are related also to their decriminalization of marijuana and of prostitution, and the particulars of Dutch society. At the very least, more study is needed.

The situation in the black community in the US is probably influenced by decades of exceptionally poor medical care, especially in the last half of the 19th century and the earlier decades of the 20th century, a period when opiates were available, the black community were no longer slaves and drug education truly primitive. Painful conditions were treated in an ad hoc manner. The presence of sickle cell disease, which is very painful and was undiagnosed for centuries, probably contributed to the culture of drug use, especially of pain killers, such as opiates. Sickle cell disease occurs in about 1 in 500 black births, which seeded the society with a population in significant pain for no known reason. An increase in the availability of good medical care should also reduce drug addiction.

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