Sunday, January 11, 2009

Drugs: a rope to hang ourselves with

Unity at the Ministry of Truth offers 15,000 words to justify the legalisation of drugs, and is cheered on by Devil's Kitchen and (or am I mistaken?) by James at Nourishing Obscurity.

On the other hand, ex-Birmingham prison medic Theodore Dalrymple points out that no-one has ever died from coming off opiates; de-addiction can be achieved in a limited time; and it's criminals who turn to heroin, not heroin-users who turn to crime.

"Ah, but we only want the same treatment as smokers and drinkers," will be the cry. Well, seeing the damage that fags and booze did to my 20-years-too-early departed parents (and friends and acquaintances, and Looked After Children I've worked with), I'm inclined to agree; but not in the way the libertarians wish.

I'd be interested to know all the costs, expressed financially, of the harm done by "cigareets and whisky". I very much doubt that the tax covers the expense of the disbenefits. Here's an example, relating to alcohol: "For the UK, the external costs are likely to be in excess of the £20 billion figure and indeed taking loss of life into account and using more usual figures to value this loss could bring the total closer to £45 –50 billion for the UK as a whole. This is clearly way in excess of the revenue yield of £12 billion in 2000/01."

Instead of battening on the addictions of its citizens, the government could easily forego the £18 billion revenue on tobacco and alcohol - that's only the same cost as the ludicrously expensive and probably unnecessary NHS IT project, "Connecting for Health". Then, freed from this compromising financial interest, it could begin to tackle the problems seriously - not through the unimaginative approach of Prohibition, but through better education, and limiting the outlets of these harmful substances, as I have already suggested here.

As for other drugs, what is this campaign to encourage us to spend half our lives in a doze, daze or haze? Is there a plan to subvert society, to leave us in the land of the Lotus Eaters? Are we to sleep like the hare, while the Eastern tortoise wins the race? Is the opiate of the masses to be opiates?

B*lls to the Politics of Ecstasy; it's just an excuse for the spoiled end of the middle classes to indulge themselves further, leading (like the Pied Piper) hordes of less safety-netted proles into oblivion.

And why should libertarians support addictions, which imprison the will and distort reason?


James Higham said...

Or am I mistaken?

You are mistaken. Somem pieces I post for perusal only and yours becomes an update now, Sackers, in that spirit.

The issue itself - I can't make up my mind.

James Higham said...

...through better education, and limiting the outlets of these harmful substances, as I have already suggested here...

Aye, there's the rub. Cutting supply plus education is great but who will educate the youth in schools? Leftist teachers? Who will educate children from birth at home, when those sorts of values are at an all time low? Who will support the crackdown on distributors? Gordon's lot?

Sackerson said...

Morning, James. Thank goodness you're not a cheerleader. I'm a teacher - but am I a Leftist? Is concern for the poor and vulnerable a Left thing, or a Right thing?

Values: yes, addictions are a symptom as much as a cause; but they fix the victim in his misery.

Shame especially on any politician who claims to have a socialist heart yet fails to protect the people; but that falls into the trap of thinking that Conservatism is essentially uncaring, doesn't it?

AntiCitizenOne said...

Are you suggesting banning Ropes?
Rope Control?
The War on Rope?

Have a system that allows people choice, but doesn't let them pass on the costs to others.

We have the worst system at the moment whereby we have chemical choice removed, and drug users pass on their costs to non drug users.

Sackerson said...

I didn't say banning, ACO. And what system would prevent external costs, such as violent assault?

Mark Wadsworth said...

S, I think you have missed the point completely.

The point is that there used to be a few thousand heroin addicts in the UK who got it from their GPs, once they stopped that, the number of addicts increased rapidly (and appears to have flattened off at a few hundred thousand).

Would you prefer there to be a few thousand or a few HUNDRED thousand addicts? I'd prefer the former, so why don't we 'do a Switzerland' and see what happens? It always works.

As to the whole human cost of tobacco & alcohol compared with human benefits plus tax revenues, you can muck about with the figures as much as you like, I am sure it is a better-than-break-even position.

hatfield girl said...

We know from the destruction of the societies of the Northwest American Indians, and so many other cultures, that drugs, including alcohol, can wipe out any kind of organised society. And we know that they are used deliberately for that purpose by oppressors. If it's done between cultures it will be done between classes. And is being done.

It's one thing to be having a glass of chilled Dovizio before lunch, another to be in Gin Lane. No caring political stance would encompass gambling or drug-taking as a source of profit or state funding. Both are intensely addictive, and destroy.

Sackerson said...

Hi, Mark. Can of worms. Let us continue the "friendly struggle":

Are you saying the increase in heroin addicts is just because they couldn't the stuff from their GP (with threatening behaviour, as happened to my GP friend and colleagues of his)? I'd have thought the causal chain is far more complicated.

I'm also confused by the fact that you use figures in your first para and then tell me in the last para that figures don't matter.

As for missing the point, you haven't addressed my last one. What is libertarianism, and liberty, for? Isn't libertarianism a natural foe of addiction?

Sackerson said...

Sorry, HG, missed you out - your comment must have come on while I was making my last counter. Like (I think) yourself, I suspect that substance abuse is (to some extent) being used by our caring ruling elite to reduce the challenge to themselves. Many black people firmly believe that drugs are being used to keep their community down - I attended a seminar for carers and social workers for Looked After Children given by a ponytailed policeman who mistakenly thought we'd be (as in every way he implied he was) soft on drugs; was he ever disconcerted when I had a go.

Anonymous said...

Prohibition only works if there isn't a demand for something, if a demand exists then a market will spring up.

America learned this when Prohibition turned the Mafia from a problem to a menace and criminalized otherwise law abiding people.

It also does untold harm to the medical community. Opiates (including pure heroin) are the most harmless class of anaesthetics, yet study in them can be difficult due to their legal status. Same with MDMA (street ecstasy usually contains more harmful related chemicals) with has been shown to have use in dealing with Post Traumatic Stress.

Prohibition also provides a strong platform for criminal enterprises, allowing them to make large profits from an unregulated and untaxed market, and create misery for the places they operate and the people they prey on. It also increases deaths, as many drug-related deaths are down to impurities and uncontrolled dosages.

Drugs can be a problem, especially in the hands of the feckless and irresponsible, however criminalizing them doesn't solve that it just produces a whole new swathe of problems that cost society billions.

Legalize, regulate and tax them. You'll see less mortality rates, less crime, less social problems as they'll be out kids hands, less escalation to other drugs - dealers give away freebies of more addictive drugs to hook users, and have addiction problems out in the open where they can be treated properly.

If you're looking for a perfect solution none is to found, best we can do is adopt a stance of least harm which can only be found by taking the market out of criminals hands and into a strong regulatory framework which pays it's own way.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:20, well said.
S, I'm amazed, I didn't have you down as an 95 year-old reactionary; and yet again your ignorance about herion addicts and their GPs pre 1970 (no violence or threats involved) makes you sound like a 21 year-old righteous.

HG: 'We know from the destruction of the societies of the Northwest American Indians, and so many other cultures, that drugs, including alcohol, can wipe out any kind of organised society.' Yes, it had absolutely nothing to do with having their land and country stolen and then shipped off to some sh*thole to scrape out a living. Yes, all those ungrateful Abos in Oz turned to drink also, I believe.


Sackerson said...

@Anon 12:20: you'll note that I DON'T advocate prohibition of tobacco and alcohol, for the reasons you have given. But every effort - every effort - should be made to get people to stop using the one and reduce the other. Decriminalising other drugs - look before you leap, and remember the Gin Epidemic.

@Anon 13:52 - exactly correct, I am none of those things. And my GP friend and his colleagues (and Theodore Dalrymple) had those experiences much, much later and fairly frequently. How is it reactionary to wish to protect young people from habits that impoverish and enslave them (and this is what black communities object to)? I think perhaps some libertarians haven't really defined what they mean by liberty.

Anonymous said...

I wondered when some one would mention 'protecting the young'. The usual excuse for all sorts of prohibitions/bans/rules/general control freakery.

In my opinion all drugs should be freely available, quality controlled, and taxed, much as alcohol and cigarettes are now. A person's body is theirs to do with as they wish, not for the State to control. As long as there are draconian laws regarding harming others with one's addictions (ie drink/drugged driving, use at work etc etc) I see no reason why anyone may not drink/smoke/drug themselves to an early grave. It is entirely their decision, and they have to live with the consequences. I would also prevent free NHS treatment for people who have health problems as a result of their addictions. Give people the freedom to choose and then make them suffer the consequences of their own actions. There is too much molly-coddling in todays society. Make your bed, and lie in it. Do not expect society to pick up the tab for your bad decisions.

Sackerson said...

So when I spent two years teaching Looked After Children, who suffer bouts of depression, anger, violence, self-harm, plus substance abuse and mutual sexual abuse, we should have let them get on with using drugs, alcohol and tobacco? You don't mean that, of course. It was a blessing to them when the age for smoking was increased, so there was no question of weak care workers granting them permission just to have an easy shift. But what about adults with addictive and self-destructive traits - let them implode?

Paddington said...

Some comments for several of you:

Mark - studies in the US have shown that the percentage of drug addicts appears not to have chenged since about 1904 - becuase they were criminalized. That is, we are coming to the scientific conclusion that such addiction is genetic.

Also, the approach tried in Zurich was also tried in Liverpool. Crime went away, the addicts were able to hold down jobs, with no bad health effects (most are from the stuff that the street dealers use for dilution), and the dealers moved away.

Hatfield girl - more studies have shown that the Australian and North American natives lack the gene that makes moderate alcohol use possible.

My own opinion is that much addiction, whether to alcohol or whatever, is due to the fact that the average person's life is dull and leads nowhere.

I argue for legalization and taxation, and would strongly encourage those with severe addictions not to have children.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Sackers, I don't need to respond because others far more knowledgeable than I have followed up with what I would have said anyway.

Nobody said children should be allowed drugs, BTW.

Anonymous said...

Sackerson, we have spent a great deal in trying to stop people smoking, and whilst it's made a good dent in adult smoking, teenage uptake has remained fairly static for around 30 years. The message is being put across, but it is being roundly ignored.

And I wasn't talking of merely decriminalizing drugs, but actively making them legal.

If you took the combined amount spent on the War On Drugs in the last half century, accounted for changes and totted the lot up, I'm betting you'd be pushing towards trillion dollar territory.

The results so far? Illegal drugs are more prevalent, cheaper and used. Drugs related crime has ballooned, with the crime gangs extending into enterprises such as people trafficking, and becoming of such size they require *military* level responses.

The War on Drugs has been lost, we're fighting a rearguard action that increasingly expensive and decreasingly effective, it's time to recognize that and find an alternative.

As for the Gin Epidemic, it actually partially shores up my argument. The government tried to stop gin drinking via regulation and the use of the 1736 Gin Act to effectively outlaw it via price controls in 1729 and 1736.

It failed.

It was the rising cost of grain that finally killed off the love of gin, when the spirits ban was brought in it was already on it's last legs.

Sackerson said...

Mark: but when do people cease to be children? That's not a frivolous question: the notion of being a legal minor has been around for centuries.

Sackerson said...

Anon 19:08 - thanks for that. Perhaps, as you say, the war is lost - but could it have been prevented? Didn't the Gin Epidemic start with deregulation?

Anonymous said...

The gin problem had a number of roots - including the government popularizing it as an alternative to brandy. That may have actually saved us from an absinthe problem however, which was the alcohol of the abusers choice on the continent.

As for the War on Drugs being prevented, probably not. Pharmaceuticals have a long history with humanity, and so does control and the occasional bout of puritanism. They were always going to clash at some point.

And in some cases, such as cannabis, there was a political and commercial element to it as well, due to hemp being used to make paper.

The irony being, had the likes of cannabis and LSD not been criminalized we'd have a much slower development of drugs - skunk and crack would still be over the horizon. We'd have created them eventually though.

Devil's Kitchen said...


"How is it reactionary to wish to protect young people from habits that impoverish and enslave them (and this is what black communities object to)? I think perhaps some libertarians haven't really defined what they mean by liberty."

I am all for proper drugs education; however, it is worth noting that I had a considerable amount of it, and it hasn't stopped me from taking just about every drug on the planet*.

And do you know what? I have never had to have any kind of hospital or other treatment; I have never lost a job; I have never even been late for work, after having taken drugs.

I have never assaulted anyone (most drugs, other than alcohol, put you in a frame of mind in which violence is the last thing you want to indulge in), nor hurt anyone, nor even caused a public nuisance whilst on drugs either.

I am not addicted to drugs either, despite heavy usage of a few of them (most are self-limiting, in that the effects begin to wane after a period heavy usage).

I have, on the other hand, laughed like a demon, make some excellent friends, danced, thrilled, been immersed in music in a way that's not possible sober, and had many fantastic times whilst on drugs.

You see, what I chose was to take the education that I was given, and the advice of friends, and my own experience, and indulge in a free and informed choice.

That is libertarianism, and it is still no business of yours what I put into my body, as long as I am willing to pay the consequences. And I am: that's why I am private;y insured up to the hilt.


* I haven't taken heroin: more from lack of opportunity than anything else. If I were offered a (non-intravenous) hit, I would probably take it, simply out of curiosity. I know people who have taken it a couple of times and are not addicts.

I have taken crack though, and got nothing out of it at all.

Sackerson said...

@Anon 22:28 - thanks for the extra information. As to whether we can control anything, which is what you seem to doubt, perhaps you should take the position of some Marxists, who refuse to do anything to promote the Revolution because taking an active part would imply that you didn't believe the Millennium to be inevitable.

Sackerson said...

DK: thanks for visiting, I'd have drawn a chalk circle if I'd know you were coming.

I agree that alcohol is pernicious and have argued that rather than attempt to ban it, we should reduce its availability a bit - currently you can get it from the supermarket, post office, petrol station etc. And it does make many people horribly aggressive, so there is an incentive for others to band together and act in this way.

I do understand that there are many functioning drug users (as indeed there are functioning alcoholics), and the question of product purity is certainly one of the arguments propounded for legalisation and regulation. Set against that is what might then happen. If the research referred to by Paddington above is correct, the tendency to addiction is genetic, so the principal factor is opportunity. If only 5% have the fatal flaw, and these products become as available as a six-pack of wife-beater from Tesco Express, we could go from thousands of addicts to millions.

So one issue is how do you weigh your wish for a certain kind of pleasure, against the awful suffering of some other people? Is this corner of libertarianism less a struggle to be free of oppression than it is callous selfishness?

And there is a deeper question of the founding assumptions of libertarians: are we really free and rational in any case? If half our behaviour is genetically determined, and much of the rest conditioned by social expectations, drug-taking is not the blow for liberty that it was represented to be from the 1960s onwards. You yourself say "...I chose was to take the education that I was given, and the advice of friends, and my own experience...", which makes me think that your "free and informed choice" was conditioned by the example and advice of your friends, and the opportunity to take part yourself. Indeed, this is how I started on cigarettes and it took me a decade to get back off them, so I have some idea how unfree we really are. You'll see from my next post that I query whether public schools such as Eton had a drug problem as early as the 1960s, and "as the twig is bent, so the tree will grow".

I think we are in an age where the Enlightenment philosophy is as under threat from geneticism (and determinism generally), as Creationism was when evolutionary theory was formulated. Sartre refused to accept Freud's theory of the unconscious, because it fatally undermined his own position on existentialist free will.

So I think libertarians should move from questions of law, taxation, social liberty etc to re-examine the ground they are standing on.

Anonymous said...

"It was the rising cost of grain that finally killed off the love of gin"

No it didn't. Which is rather obvious, as if it had then the price controls would have worked too. It went out of fashion with the rise of the Temprance Movement. Which rather shoots down the argument for total liberalisation, since the Temprance Movement and more recent successes with cutting down on smoking suggests that making life difficult for users actually works quite well.

That said, I'm for liberalisation, since those that will die will die early, before they pass on their "weaknesses" to any offspring. Drug takers are dull and empty people best avoided, and the world will not miss them anymore than it will miss those that drink excessively. Look at the Devils Kitchen website - just destructiveness turned into pointless invective. Childish, empty, dull and going nowhere. He has long since lost the perception that there is anything wrong, but it is actually pretty obvious that something is wrong, if you bother to stop for a moment to think about it. Best avoided. Give him his free drugs and let him finish his slow suicide before he turns that destructiveness and negativity on the people around him. He will be the last to notice that anything is going wrong. His kind always are. It isn't the taking drugs that does the harm - it is the desire to try drugs in the first place. That is the first and most important stage. Those that understand that never go near drugs in the first place, although when they are young they may lie and tell a different story if it keeps them on the inside circle. The second stage is living a life through drugs whilst all the time denouncing those that disagree with them as if their behaviour was normal, commendable even. They don't realise it, but they can't actually give up. They can't admit they can't give up. They can't even admit to themselves they can't give up.

Don't bother talking to Devil's Kitchen about drugs. He is an addict, I can assure you. He can't give up drugs, and he will say whatever he can to both cover up his addiction and make drugs more freely available to him. It is damaging him but he doesn't realise it. You can't get any useful information out of anybody that is actively taking drugs because it will be the drugs that talk back to you, not the person trapped within the addicts mind. Even people that have given up on drugs cannot be relied upon to talk straight to you about drugs because they often like to keep their escape route back to drugs wide open. Once you are in it is hellish difficult to get out and stay right out.

Sackerson said...

Anon 10:43 - interesting observations on the addict's personality (smokers and drinkers also frequently kid themselves they can give up anytime) - but a terribly hard judgment on DK and on addicts generally.

"I'm for liberalisation, since those that will die will die early, before they pass on their "weaknesses" to any offspring." That's really harsh, and in any case I can assure you from my work with Looked After Children that they do breed, and often prolifically. Boozers and smokers, too. So Darwin's Final Solution isn't a solution!

Anonymous said...

Ah but if they live and breed amongst their own kind then it is INDEED a solution. The human race splits into two separate species, just as orwell and Huxley predicted.