Should we not end this War on Drugs?

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After reading of another death from an overdose of PMA, which, according to Harry Shapiro, of the drugs agency DrugScope:

“ has become increasingly prevalent after a crackdown on the chemicals needed to make ecstasy (MDMA)”

Should we not end this War on Drugs and make them available in the same way we do alcohol and tobacco?

“In 2011, PMA was linked to one death. In 2013 there have been 23 deaths linked to the drug.” Research by BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme found.

According to Professor Nutt, PMA is five to ten times stronger than MDMA (Ecstasy). The tragedy is the 23-year-old man did not die from taking ecstasy, but from taking what he thought was ecstasy. How many thousands of people took what they thought was ecstasy on New Year’s Eve? How many are taking it right now? Whether we like it or not people take drugs, be it alcohol, tobacco, ecstasy, cocaine or weed and most of these people will be back to work on Monday, drug free, except for the smokers, of course.

Comparison to alcohol is a common argument used by those who wish to legalise drugs. Most adults drink, but most adults are not alcoholics. Using alcohol is not the same as abusing alcohol. Hence the same logic can be applied to drugs. Therefore the vast majority of users will not become addicts. However, if you take smoking as the comparison ‘legal’ drug, the picture is not so clear cut. Most adults who smoke are addicts. What starts as an occasional activity soon becomes a daily habit. There are very few ‘social smokers’. If drugs are more like cigarettes then making them legal would be a disaster.

The truth is of course somewhere in the middle. Drugs are not all the same. I would not arrive at work to teach after a glass of wine, but I’ll drink three cups of coffee before first lesson. Some drugs appear to have more addictive features (cocaine and heroin) whereas others seem to be more specific to a particular occasion e.g. ecstasy and partying, and therefore less inherently addictive.

All drugs are not equal. If they were legalised there would be costs AND there would be deaths. But there are costs NOW, and there are deaths NOW. We have to accept that allowing drugs to be sold openly would create a new set of problems; health rather than criminal. The constant availability of high fat/sugar food is too much of a temptation for many people, hence the rise in obesity and associated health risks.  Many more people who may never have tried cocaine will do so increasing the amount of addicts and potential fatalities. The biggest risk will be from commercial interests. There would have to be legislation on advertising and promotion, much as there is now with tobacco and alcohol. Tax revenue from sales, and money originally spent on the war on drugs, will have to be diverted into health and support services.

I’m not suggesting legalisation is going to solve the drug problem, but it will make it easier to identify those who are at risk and enable resources to be targeted in those areas. Dying from a dodgy ecstasy tablet or being knifed in a turf war between rival drug gangs is hardly solving the problem either, and the randomness of these deaths makes them wholly unpreventable and deeply uncomfortable.

It has been argued that some of the most ground-breaking discoveries have resulted from drug altered perception, such as the structure of DNA. Equally heroin addiction makes women vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence, and casts a tragic shadow over many families. Yet trying to eradicate drugs seems about as useful as catching rain water in a sieve. We need to be grown-up about drug use and we need to understand what turns USE to ABUSE. Rather than a war on drugs, we need to fight a battle against factors that make addiction more likely such as dysfunctional family relationships, abuse in childhood, low self-esteem and deprivation.

Just as drugs are not all the same, neither are the people who take them, and neither should be the laws that govern them. Colorado and Washington have taken a bold step in allowing the sale of cannabis to over 21’s. It will be interesting to see whether these States descend into ‘reefer madness’, or whether the extra tax revenue (estimated at 40 million) provides much needed community funds. It will also be interesting to see if other governments follow their lead or whether they will continue to engage in a war where there can be no winners.

What do you think?

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