Drugs and Denial
Clever little blighters us human beings, very pushy at getting what we want, and now with the skills of science and chemistry in pursuit of profit we can make all manner of stuff, easily and conveniently so too, so we do, and we use it.
Use of chemical ‘stuff’ has quietly crept up on us especially during the last century or two, though it has always been there historically. Our cultural history is rife with potent potions and cures, brewed and distilled from all manner of unlikely ingredients, animal parts, poppies and wild plants, hallucinogenics used for divination, patent remedies sacraments and poisons too. But now, the extent of it is both colossal and yet semi-secret, denied or unadmitted very often
The simple fact is we live in a drug soaked chemical society, prescription drugs, leisure and hedonism drugs, harmful and curing drugs, chemicals added to food and drink, sweeteners flavourings, preservatives, organic and natural or synthesised in laboratories and factories. Both legal and illegal substances are commonplace, used for beneficial useful and/or indulgence purposes, without agreement on which quite often. Surely the only rational and sensible policy is to be honest and open about risks and dangers in all these areas. As Professor Nutt, before he was sacked from his drugs advisory post to the government wanted, we have to regulate drugs used for pleasure or indulgence on a scale according to their risk to health, the same as we do for chemical additives to food, or with medicines.
Simplistic prohibition has failed again, as it did with alcohol in theUSA. It is no longer just backroom laboratories, like the ‘operation Julie’ LSD producers of the seventies though as in cannabis farms they still exist, but legal third world factories with industrial technology manufacturing for export. Mafia type huge corporations form cartels in South andCentral Americato cultivate large poppy and coca plantations and are rich enough and well-connected and skilled enough to suborn security forces and even governments.
The most harmful drug, heroin, was a tiny problem before prohibition. The number of addicts known to the Home Office (mostly heroin addicts) grew from 2,400 in 1979 to around 18,000 in 1990 and almost 45,000 by 1996. Then a new generation of heroin user smoked the drug, although many of these switched later to injecting. LikeAmerica, the drug became associated with poverty and unemployment but soon expanded into all social classes. Acquisitive crime and local low level dealing increased as poor heroin users sought to support their habit.
Today, there are estimated to be close to 340,000 problematic users of heroin in theUK. These numbers are likely to be an underestimate, It is now well beyond any argument that legal prohibition has failed utterly.
A continuing problem is drug use because of performance achievement, most blatantly in sports as in cycling competitions, on demanding and exhausting rock ‘n roll tours and fierce financial markets. The Olympic organisers in theUKnow see their local simplistic user/athlete prohibition disallowed by higher authorities. While peak exceptional performance is so highly valued and rewarded there will always be a demand for a chemical boost.
Those of us who want an end to the increasingly corrupting, damaging and irrelevant 20th century drugs prohibitions feel we may be pushing on an open door with editorials like The Observer today (08/04/12)
“All wars end. Eventually. Even the war on drugs – resilient for so long – is starting to show signs of exhaustion….
A regulated market would move the market out of the murderous, barbarous hands of the cartels and into the free market. It would facilitate the introduction of the type of public health programmes that have been so effective in reducing smoking. And it could regulate the strength and even safety of many drugs.”
We all take drugs but rarely keep a record, or even notice our personal drug use, by which is meant ALL self-administered, usually small, doses of chemical substances known to be psychologically or physically active. Most provide more or less effective solutions to perceived need as with painkillers. We all recognise as familiar phrases:
“I could really use a nice cup of tea”, “I cannot start the day without my coffee”
“Goodness knows I could use a drink” meaning alcohol.
Never mind the illicit: “Want a puff, a snort, a trip?” or “Fancy a line?”
The extent of general use of all drugs is enormous, theUSgovernment’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, known as Nhanes, shows prescription drug use alone soared in the past decade according to Nicholas Bakalar (Published by The New York Times on October 18, 2010). The report cited data findings that spending on prescription drugs more than doubled over the last decade, even after accounting for inflation. In constant dollars, Americans spent more than $234 billion on prescription drugs in 2008, up from $104.6 billion in 1999.
There are also over the counter remedies, pills for a purpose: cold cures, hangovers and digestive complaints, dietary supplements, sweeteners an infinite exoticas Damien Hirst exhibits as Art, and there are the illegal drugs before beginning to contemplate legal indulgence as in beer wine and spirits plus tobacco.
The New York Times reported on June 14 2008 that:
“Legal Drugs Kill Far More Than Illegal, Florida Says,
MIAMI— From “Scarface” to “Miami Vice,” Florida’s drug problem has been portrayed as the story of a single narcotic: cocaine. But for Floridians, prescription drugs are increasingly a far more lethal habit.
An analysis of autopsies in 2007 released this week by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission found that the rate of deaths caused by prescription drugs was three times the rate of deaths caused by all illicit drugs combined.
Law enforcement officials said that the shift toward prescription-drug abuse which began here about eight years ago, showed no sign of letting up and that the state must do more to control it.
“You have health care providers involved, you have doctor shoppers, and then there are crimes like robbing drug shipments,” said Jeff Beasley, a drug intelligence inspector for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which co-sponsored the study. “There is a multitude of ways to get these drugs, and that’s what makes things complicated.”
The report’s findings track with similar studies by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA, which has found that roughly seven million Americans are abusing prescription drugs. If accurate, that would be an increase of 80 percent in six years and more than the total abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, Ecstasy and inhalants.”Floridait is generally accepted scrutinizes drug-related deaths more closely than do other states in theUS.
The bifurcation, the division, between the legal and the common prohibited substances like cannabis, LSD, amphetamines and heroin we all know of. The latter have their strength and purity untested, dealers ‘cut’ and adulterate in pursuit of profit generating horrendous health risks. On the other hand there are the totally everyday legally allowed and mass-marketed branded caffeine and alcohol delivery systems, on TV, sponsoring sport and which almost invisible because they are ubiquitous. This bifurcation seems to distract and blind us to an actually seamless reality, inducing a general blind spot over how we live now bathed in a sea of pharmacologically and physically active substances.
This is, in mental health term, called denial. Generally in psychology a state of mind marked by a refusal or an inability to recognize and deal with a serious personal problem, but we have it on a societal/political level. In such debate as exists the focus gets distracted by the prohibition/legalisation argument now becoming current but it is much wider than that. The fact of drug use is huge and everywhere, in the world of sports, in the pop/rock music world, in health, it is instrumental in massive death rates, tens of thousands in the drug smuggling ‘wars’ of central and south America.
In the same issue of the Observer quoted above Otto Pérez Molina, the president of Guatemala, who as former head of his country’s military intelligence service experienced the power of drug cartels at close hand, is pushing his fellow Latin American leaders to use an upcoming summit with President Obama to endorse a new regional security plan that would see an end to prohibition and thus the profitability of smuggling.
“The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated.”
Pérez Molina concedes that moving beyond prohibition is problematic:
“To suggest liberalisation – allowing consumption, production and trafficking of drugs without any restriction whatsoever – would be, in my opinion, profoundly irresponsible. Even more, it is an absurd proposition. If we accept regulations for alcoholic drinks and tobacco consumption and production, why should we allow drugs to be consumed and and produced without any restrictions?”
If we move beyond denial, beyond simplistic even risible prohibitions and ‘wars’ and admit it is a common and seemingly eternal part of our humanity to use our wits and apply to ourselves such chemicals as ease our passage through this mortal life, this ‘vale of tears’, then being in possession of the ‘bigger picture’ might, as it does for the individual in therapy, enable more constructive engagement and better solutions. We can then reduce harm, including both to law enforcers and victims, diminish pain, and prevent much death and injury. Surely we can do better than the irrational, illogical, dangerous piecemeal patchwork of laws and regulations we have cobbled together over decades.
An end to the notion of distinguishing quite irrationally between legal and illegal drugs for religious reasons, international convention, cultural difference or moral habit and not on the basis of health and harm caused, could be the beginning of proper recognition of where we are really at and where we go from here. All drugs have effects we need educating about, all need regulating according to perceived risk and need.
In the preface to his world wide survey ‘Out of It, A Cultural History of Intoxication’ Stuart Walton (2001 Hamish Hamilton) says:
“Intoxication plays, or has played, a part in the lives of virtually everybody who has ever lived, and yet throughout the entire Christian historical era in the West, it has been subject to a growing accretion of religious, legal and moral censure. These days, we are scarcely able to whisper its name for fear of falling foul of the law, of compromising ourselves in the eyes of others…”
Not facing squarely up to this present reality which has grown from a long history of human use is simply denial.
The UK Parliamentary Science Select Committee said the present system was based on historical assumptions, not scientific assessment.
The designation of drugs in classes A, B and C should be replaced with one more closely reflecting the harm they cause. It rates some illegal drugs as less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, see chart or click on link below.