Simply... What's The Treatment?


new internationalist
issue 224 - October 1991

Simply... what's the treatment ?

There is no easy cure for a society hooked on illicit drugs.
The NI takes you on a whirlwind tour round some of the solutions on offer.


The total war on drugs

The 'war' has failed so far because it has been too soft. There should be no holds barred. The enemy is as much the drug user as the drug pusher and producer. There should be tougher penalties and laws on possession, including the seizure of property, unrestricted rights of entry to suspected premises, routine drug tests at the place of work and stricter law enforcement. The army should be used if necessary. The aim is a drug-free society. This means making the war an international priority as well. Measures to be taken should include armed intervention and the eradication of crops in producer countries. Full co-operation should be required from countries in the South as a precondition for aid, loans or trade deals.

Side effects:
. The illicit nature of drugs increases their appeal to the young

. Bigger risks mean bigger profits on the trade as well as more violent and efficient traffickers

. Further corruption of enforcement agencies and governments

. Other priorities, such as the eradication of poverty, continue to be neglected.


Reduce harm

The worldwide growth of HIV infection and AIDS has drawn attention to the part played by drug users in the spread of the virus - particularly the use of infected needles to inject heroin. Many medical professionals have made urgent appeals for sterile needles to be supplied freely to addicts. Reducing the harm from drugs for users, who are victims not criminals, is the priority. War is counter-productive because it promotes violence and inflates profits from the trade. Instead there should be treatment of addicts.

Side effects:
. Free needle exchanges condone drug use and possession, which remain illegal

. Reduced sentences send wrong messages to traffickers and potential users

. Resources for treatment are not available.


Decriminalize possession

Millions of people regularly break drug laws. So making it no longer a criminal offence to possess small quantities of drugs for personal use would put an end to police intrusion into personal lives and allow them to concentrate on serious crime instead. Drug supplies might be controlled through publicly-run outlets, taking private profit out of the traffic and impurities out of the drugs. And, by removing the war from its present status, more pressing issues of poverty and development could be tackled.

Side effects:
. The risk of increased consumption of potentially dangerous drugs

. A clear distinction between possession and trafficking is not easy to make

. The real dangers of, and distinctions between, different drugs might be inadequately recognised

. Impossible if political ideology is set against public spending on social problems


Photo: Julio Etchart. CHOOSE YOUR POISON
Legalize drugs

Two very different strands of opinion have now come together. Since the 1960s various 'legalize cannabis' groups have been arguing for the beneficial effects of taking marijuana and the usefulness of the hemp plant from which it derives. For some societies marijuana and other hallucinogenic drugs are a sacred part of their culture. The 'legalize cannabis' groups have now been joined by free-market libertarians who say that drugs are a commodity like any other. If consumers choose to use drugs it is up to them - private enterprise has the right to develop the drugs business too. State interference is wrong in principle.

Side effects:
. Drugs would be actively promoted by advertising

. Potential for increase in use and addiction, as has happened with tobacco and alcohol

. Small producers in poor countries put out of business by large plantations, as with tobacco, coffee etc

. Power and wealth of drug barons and traffickers is legitimized.


Let them get on with it

There's no shortage of hype about illicit drugs - the excitement, glamour and violence give the whole nasty business a breathless media attention it does not merit. Even if a minority in the rich world take them, and some peasant farmers from the poor world produce them, the majority of people are not involved. The publicity is a distraction. We should continue our pursuit of success, happiness or revolution - depending on our viewpoint - and refuse to be distracted. If addicts want to kill themselves, so be it. If politicians want to crusade against them, let them get on with it.

Side effects:
. Appeals only to those with no interest in how their tax money is spent

. Even if not you, then your relatives or friends could get involved, whether you like it or not

. Impossible to do if you live in most inner cities or many Third World countries

. Fails to address the needs of the Third World.

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New Internationalist issue 224 magazine cover This article is from the October 1991 issue of New Internationalist.
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