Part 1: What is the Drug Problem?
Everyone talks about the drug problem, but what exactly is the problem? We all know the symptoms.
Symptoms of the Drug Problem
Screwed up drug policy. Extremely dangerous drugs can be bought in the grocery store (e.g. nutmeg) while comparatively benign drugs can land you in prison (i.e. marijuana).
Driving Under the Influence. Driving while impaired kills thousands each year. Oh sure, you can argue that it’s not the drug, it’s the idiot who doesn’t know his limits, but when drugs like alcohol impair your judgment…
Risk Blood Diseases. Using unclean needles to inject drugs like heroin can spread blood-borne pathogens such as Hepatitis B and HIV.
Addiction. Psychological and physical addiction to various drugs, especially “hard” drugs like heroin and crack cocaine, destroy families, turn people into thieves, and can lead to social isolation. I’m not going to cite statistics here because the statistics available are questionable at best. Rather, I’m speaking from personal experience. If you don’t think addiction can screw up the life of the addict and his or her family, then you haven’t met enough addicts.
Organized Crime. The profitability of drug smuggling has bankrolled organized crime groups for years, financed gang wars, and contributed to “low-intensity conflict” (which doesn’t seem very low-intensity when it’s you who’s getting raped, robbed and murdered) in drug producing countries like Colombia.
Unknown Composition of Street Drugs. When someone buys some weed from the local dealer, thinking ‘hey, this is one of the safe drugs,’ s/he can’t readily tell whether it’s laced with something more dangerous.
Health Implications. The fact is that many drugs can and do screw you up bad. Tobacco causes cancer and heart disease. Alcohol causes liver disease and cancer (with heavy abuse). Cocaine increases your risk of heart attack, can cause depression, degrade cartilage, and seriously fuck up your brain chemistry. LSD can cause psychosis. Marijuana has been linked to psychosis. Ecstasy can cause dehydration, hypothermia, depression, anxiety and seriously screw up your memory. Heroin… well heroin just kills you if you accidentally take too much. People like to pretend their drug of choice is safe, but the best evidence we have points to the contrary.
Separating the Symptoms from the Disease
Yet, these are just symptoms. The essence of the drug problem is no single effect at either the individual or societal level. The real problem is a conflict among:
This is the real drug problem – not drugs themselves, but the conflict among our rights and responsibilities, combined with the pragmatic effects of drug use. Now that I’ve established what the drug problem really is, it will be easier to see why current solutions don’t work (part 2) and how the problem might be addressed (part 3).