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Drugs and judgement

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Did you know that in the USA, over 52.5% of all persons in prison are incarcerated for drug related crimes whereas only 6% are imprisoned for violent crime? 1

The USA imprisons more people than the USSR did under Communism or South Africa did under apartheid. The so called ‘war on drugs’ costs USA taxpayers $16 billion per annum during the late nineties. This is about the same amount that the American people spent per annum on buying illegal drugs. The cost for treating drug users as criminals has been an enormous failure and has let down those citizens with what is widely recognised as a medical problems and not an issue of weakness or morality. If you were as ineffective in the workplace as the ‘war on drugs’ has been in decreasing drug usage you would have been fired long ago.

So why do we persist with a punitive approach when it simply does not work. Mostly it is because of ignorance, judgement and fear. In professional circles the debate is over, drug usage is a medical problem. Then why is it that a teenager caught with a joint of marijuana can still end up with a criminal record? Well people believe that if we are soft on drugs then the problem will rage out of control. Again, there is a very lengthy lag time before scientific facts and research are understood and taken up by society.

There are several countries in Europe that have not only made marijuana usage legal or decriminalised it, but gone ahead and decriminalised it and the use of heroin and brought its regulation under government control. No one is saying that marijuana doesn’t create serious problems for people pre-disposed to schizophrenia and psychosis. Nor am I saying that heroin doesn’t destroy people’s lives.

But let’s take heroin usage as an example. Countries that have legalised heroin and brought its sale under government control have seen no increase in its usage and have seen marked decreases in the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C. Even more importantly in the immediate future, it has decreased the occurrence of overdose, which is the main killer of intravenous drug users. Why? Because the main course of overdose is incorrect dose rates which is a problem that is caused by its illegality. When you buy heroin in the street you don’t know what’s in it or how strong it is.

It is widely understood amongst health care practitioners that if we can keep heroin users safe until they are about 30 most of them will have stopped using of their own accord. In this country, we have seen fit to leave the management and control of this industry to organised crime.

It is also true that the cost for addicts maybe in excess of a $1,000 per week, forcing young people into crime and prostitution whereas government controlled supply is at minimal cost to users, with no increase in the drugs usage.

One of the ways that we avoid showing care and understanding for drug users is to compartmentalise our own behaviours. Many in the community who take prescription medications, drink alcohol or smoke tobacco do not see themselves as drug users or addicts. It is easier to be judgemental of others when we see ourselves as different to those people taking illicit drugs.

While not necessarily recognising it there are many of us out there who are self-medicating. Alcohol helps to numb us and thus ease our suffering. It is also a powerful social lubricant. Cigarettes provide oral gratification and you may have noticed that when smokers are under stress they reach for a cigarette. This is because cigarettes provide an immediate relief to anxiety.

The whole ‘say no to drugs’ campaign has been an insulting simplistic approach to drug treatment. We are complex creatures and most of us have valid issues that could cause us to take drugs. It is believed that up to 80% of all people in prison have drug related problems.

Mind you it is not all doom and gloom. Injecting rooms, drug court and an increase in treatment and rehab programs show that we are starting to take notice and are showing greater care and compassion for those who are suffering.

In finishing, if you are a drug user and wish to quit, we must first seek to understand our need to use and look to replace them with healthier life affirming actions and behaviours.

Often this process takes time and is best handled by competent caring non-judgemental professionals. 


1. Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2011). Federal Justice Statistics 2009 - Statistical Tables. NCJ: U.S. Department of Justice


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