Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Wacked Out War on Drugs

For many years I have been fighting to persuade people to agree with my perspective on the government’s “war on drugs”. Basically, I believe that all drugs should be legalized, with some restrictions. This belief arises not just from an urge to experience different states of mind myself but also economic and safety reasons as well.

In the US, marijuana is the largest cash crop, meaning it makes more money (~$25 billion per year) than any other plant grown and sold, including wheat (~$19 billion), tobacco, cotton, and corn. Why don’t we tax this huge pot of money, control its distribution, and save a whole hell of a lot of money spent on prisons, law enforcement (coast guard, boarder patrol, and police)?

Doctors have been using the dissociative drug Ketamine for a long time now to anesthetize patients. It has also been used as party drug because at slightly lower doses Ketamine can produce hallucinations and out of body experiences. Recently researchers have also found that at lower doses than those used at parties, Ketamine actually works incredibly well as an anti-depressant.

If other psychoactive drugs, such as LSD, Mescaline, or MDMA can also have such positive results should the government reschedule them as Schedule II drugs so that physicians and researchers can more easily purchase them for use in medical research? LSD and Mescaline have both been shown to help treat schizophrenia, alcoholism, and several other diseases and they are not addictive or cause any physical toxic effects.

What about the drugs that do cause addiction in some people and can be very damaging to their health and life? Well one thing that legalizing the drugs would do is put the drugs in the hands of people who know what they are doing with them. Pharmacists, if they were going to sell the drug, could be legally forced to maintain an online list of people who have purchased the drug and the date that it was purchased on, that way they would know not to sell to anyone who had purchased a dose of Heroine within the last week, or whatever arbitrary time is needed for the brain to recuperate from a dose of Heroine, from any pharmacist connected to the network. Pharmacists would also have to give sterile needles. The addictive nature of Heroine does not manifest itself until after multiple successive uses of it that cause a tolerance to build in the person using the drug. The tolerance is an indicator that the brain chemistry has been altered and there is now a dependence on the drug to maintain a normal state of mind and sensation, this is called addiction. If enough time is separated between each use then a tolerance never builds and the damaging effects on the brain are greatly reduced, if not altogether eliminated.

So in conclusion, the US could make billions of dollars by taxing drug sales, reducing the number of people in prisons, and by no longer wasting money trying to prevent the import of the drugs. Control on who used the drugs would be far greater, and therefore usage would be far safer, and new therapies for difficult to treat diseases and disorders could be researched. The is no good reason to make drugs illegal as far as I can see. Making drugs legal would make them easier to get but would also make them less dangerous and better information surrounding their use could be disseminated (D.A.R.E. would have to stop lying about the negative effects of use of marijuana, and other drugs).


jerems said...

We've debated about this for years Andrew. I'm not going to argue with you about Weed, I can't believe that we waste our time with this drug. If we were going to truly follow a moral crusade to save lives, alcohol is one of the most damaging drugs out there. on the same token, I would start an all out revolution if alcohol were ever banned. I can't for the life of me figure out why Marijuana has become the focus of a national debate, it is honestly a waste of our time. The war on drugs, as you well know, was a political ploy to begin with. A nation full of fear, will vote for someone they think will solve the problem. Communists, drugs, Al Queda, whatever. That's not to say that there aren't bad drugs, bad communist..... or bad terrorists. :) There are drugs out there that carry with them a greater risk. You cannot tell me that Heroin is just as addictive as Marijuana. You cannot tell me that you honestly believe Meth has a medicinal use. I am not going to tell you that I know which drugs have a use, and which don't, because my qualifications don't allow it. I do know that a pharmacist isn't qualified to judge whether a person is dependent. Simply prescribing a drug, at regular intervals, doesn't mean they won't become dependent. It would be naive of us to believe that a black market still wouldn't exist.

There is obviously a reason for drugs. The contributing factors to drug abuse are way too varied for this discussion, but I will say this, that there are some drugs that are self-propagating. These types of drugs aren't what we need to legalize. I think Meth is a prime example. I'm not certain which drugs should be regulated instead of banned, and I agree that sending millions of Americans to prison for non-violent drug offenses is absolutely retarded, but I'm unwilling to accept a green light for all drugs. Poverty, unemployment, abuse, and parenting are some of things we should be addressing. As for drugs that are illegal, or would be if some became legal, I fail to see where locking someone away for drug posession helps. We used to treat drug addiction (methadone clinics), but we also used to treat mental illness. That's another blog altogether though.

Andrew said...

The point isn't even whether or not the drug could be used medically, although that is a good point for drugs such as LSD, mescaline, and MDMA (and many others), the point is that in the hands of professionals it would be safer. Not 100% obviously, but more so. I also never said that heroin or meth or any other drugs were just as addictive as marijuana (which is not very addictive), but I do think that by legalizing those drugs the government can control it and all aspects surrounding it a little better.
Of course it would be nice to put a law out there that said you have to be a perfect parent, or that we would become largest welfare state in the world to end poverty and unemployment here in the US, etc. Those are hard problems to solve. In the mean time it is not hard at all to see the immediate benefit of legalizing marijuana and, soon to follow, all other drugs as soon as measures to control their use have been set up.

jerems said...

You're just not selling me on the idea that all drugs should be legalized, because I just don't agree that it's the right answer. I don't have the right answer, but making meth a prescription isn't where I want to see healthcare in this country go. What is the goal here? You said to make it safer? Safer for who? The user? We can give out clean needles for free, and we do. As far as safer from the standpoint of the drug? That's not really possible. The ingredients in Meth make it impossible. That's like the idea of a light cigarette. It still kills you. Are there bad batches of drugs? Yes. What is the ratio of deaths by overdose compared to that of deaths by bad drugs? I understand you're thinking that by regulating it, you can keep people from becoming addicts, I just don't think that nature of some of these drugs allows that.

Andrew said...

It would be safer from basically all standpoints you look at. One it would be safer to the user because needles would be given automatically with every dose of the drug which is not done currently because you have to go out specifically and get the drug then go and get a sterile needle, where as by legalizing it you would only have to go out and get the drug and at the same time you would get a needle. Secondly there is the safety of doses, a pharmacist with a pure batch of the drug can very easily say, "this is how much to take to have a very good time without overdosing and I won't sell you any more." Third, we can more easily manage addiction by knowing the usage statistics of each person that decides to buy the drugs from the pharmacist.
There will still be overdoses and addicts with the legalization of drugs just like with alcohol and tobacco. However, there will be a lot more money to deal with those problems, and a lot more control (and therefore safety) of those problems. And yes the drugs, at the molecular level are the same legal or not so that changes nothing.
As far as healthcare goes, those companies don't provide for your alcohol consumption, what makes you think they would provide for other's recreational drug use?

marisa said...

I'm not familiar with all the laws, so I'm going to have to go with personal experience and speculation. These do not make for a solid debate, but it's friday evening and i have some drinking to do (oh, the irony!).

As far as I know, with the exception of marijuana (CA excluded), all other class A drugs are legal. Not available OTC, grant you, but legal in terms where they can be prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacy.

Do I think marijuana should be illegal? No. I have seen how it affects those who smoke on a regular basis for many years at a time, and I would certainly argue that it has a detrimental effect on the body, but no more than alcohol. In my mind, if alcohol is legal, then pot should be too.

I put marijuana in it's own category, however. Even apart from all other class C drugs...and from what I know, class B drugs were originally used as treatment for the common cold, until better options were available. As far as I'm concerned, this means that their use in the medical community has expired. As for class A drugs, I see absolutely no benefit to legalizing drugs such as heroin or cocaine. There does not seem to be any benefit, as most of the drugs you have argued have medicinal use are psychoactive. I've seen far too many young, strong, healthy people die after a short stint with heroin. It is not a drug of recreation, but of lifestyle. Do I know even more people that have done it and aren't dead? Yes. However, I also know even more who do coke on a fairly regular basis who can function, but the ones that stick out are those who have strokes in their early twenties.

I'm sure if I looked at the statistics, the fatality rates of these drugs are fairly low (cocaine especially, though I'd think regular use must show a huge strain on the heart). The effect of all drugs, in my mind, is a matter of moderation. Pharmacists are not capable of monitoring their clients to this degree. Making it available via pharmacies (as I believe you are suggesting?) would only fix the problem of purity (not having your stash cut with rat poison, for instance) and dose. Dose, however, can easily be meddled with, for the user can simply take more than the recommended dose.

The idea of having a mandated online list would be for show, only. Example: two people walk into a pharmacy. Each person gets their share of heroin, person A gives their share to person B outside in the parking lot for a price. Same as when teenagers have someone who is 21 go run packie for them. The need for police assigned to drug reinforcement would not go away. Pharmacies would have to be heavily protected, those who would even sign up to offer the drugs. A few years back pharmacies in the area stopped dispensing oxycontin because of the high incident of hold-ups.

This is how I see it panning out:
Drugs would come into this country via the gvt. Corrupt officials would give US native drug lords their share, and dispense the rest to the pharmacies and medical communities however you see fit. Portions of those percentages would again go to local drug dealers, who would then offer them on the street at a lower price and unlimited doses. Outside of the medical community, I don't see how this has any different affect on society than what we have now (except prices would probably be lower).

As for psychoactive drugs, I know close to nothing about them, so won't even bother to attempt an argument for or against them.

What I think should be done, however, is to have more informative D.A.R.E-like classes to provide accurate information on drugs. Right now it is like preaching abstinence to teenagers. These classes teach nothing of use, other than "just say no." Kids and young adults rarely say no to, drugs, men who say they have puppies in the back of vans (am i the only one who fell for that last one?), so the best service we can do is to properly educate people on the effects of these drugs, and if they do choose to do them, how to do so safely. Oh, and as for the needle issue, I believe clean needles are distributed at various clinics, though I'm not sure who funds it.

pksnerd said...

Andrew, this is a very complicated topic, but I do believe legal is better than illegal in perhaps all cases. The complication arises in trying to specify the details of legality. In other words, for each street drug, you have to decide whether it should be regulated like alcohol, tobacco, precription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, or something else.

Andrew said...

Finally someone who agrees with me on this topic and from a fellow scientist no less. I agree 100% with what you say PKSnerd, that there would have to be various types of regulation depending on the drug. Marijuana, as we all agree on so far, should be legal and I would add that it should be regulated in the same manner as alcohol, ie to give certain licenses to businesses to allow them to sell it. Heroine, methamphetamine, or potent and addictive substances should require a doctor's prescription. A doctor's prescription for recreational drug use also does not mean that healthcare would have to cover the drug, but having both a doctor and a pharmacist, and hopefully a national database of all sales of the drug and who purchases them, would give at least two more levels of control. Of course there would still be a black market so there would still be abuse of the drugs but I believe that there would be far fewer problems.

Marisa: The classification scheme of drugs in the US is Schedule I-V (Class A, B, C, is used in the UK), with Schedule I drugs carrying the largest penalty for use, possession, and sales. Also, you bring up the drug oxycontin which is similar to morphine and heroine and is a schedule II drug. It has a high potential for abuse as does heroine yet it is legal and many prescription monitoring programs have been established to help curb the abuse of this drug. Those programs have been shown to be helpful in limiting the number of doses of lost.
Yes some money did go to the "US native drug lords", namely large pharmaceutical companies, but that money was at least taxed as opposed to buying the stuff from Afghanistan or Columbia. The doses and purity were also controlled.
I do agree with you that more informative and accurate information should be given to children.

marisa said...

morphine is also legal via prescription (mostly in the use of hospice care, however), and its abuse is rampent. i'm confused how you believe programs have curbed the abuse of these drugs when i personally could call a few people and have oxys by the end of the week. that doesn't seem controlled to me at all.

you still haven't convinced me what benefit this class of drugs (i'm sticking with class a-c, because that's how i learned it, and when i look in the town paper where i grew up, that's how it is classified when telling me which former high school classmate was caught for possession and/or OD) would provide for society.

Wigginton said...

I agree that all drugs should be legalized but not exactly for the same reasons as you do. Like the rationing out of heroin so that people don't become dependent doesn't fly. Heroin is not something that people are going to take recreationally.

I think all drugs should be legalized for the following reasons

1) We spend money on a "war on drugs" that we never can or will win, legalizing it will allow us to spend money on other things like education, rehab, and other social services that maybe will help people not want to get high all the time.

2) Legalizing it reduces the blackmarket, and should reduce the amount of crime and drug related violence. Are streets should be safer, and law enforcement can focus on more serious crimes

3) Legalizing drugs will probably lead to a new economic revolution (maybe even a reevolution), creating new and legal jobs, new legal revenue streams, more taxable income and revenues

4) You make drugs safer by regulating them. With some standards and regulations, drugs will be safer for the users. I really think people who are going use drugs are going to use them regardless if they are legal or illegal. Cigs and alcohol are prob more dangerous than any illegal drug, imagine how much more dangerous they might be if there was a black market? Fighting these forces in the dark does no one any good

5) I believe legalizing drugs would reduce the drug use in the US long term. It will create more jobs and revenues giving people more opportunities. The government will see an increase in revenues which they can earmark for education, rehab, social services, infrastructure, etc to make people's lives better. The forbidden fruit theory should kick in making drugs less of a vogue thing to do. There will still be drug use but I think it will be safer for all involved, and better our country in the long run. There are stats that indicate that decriminalization of certain drugs reduces crime. So really the only thing we need to move past is the morality thing...legalizing drugs is almost like saying it's ok to do drugs...i am sure that if we can deal with cigs and alcohol and acknowledge the hypocrisy there, we can learn to deal with the legalization of all drugs.

Andrew said...

Again, I never said that there wouldn't be a black market out there anymore if drugs were legalized, I am only saying that legalizing drugs would save us tax payers a huge amount of money and that it almost definitely makes using the drugs safer. The fact that you are capable of going out and getting Oxycontin within a week is of little relevance to this discussion because where that Oxycontin came from was most likely someone that has a prescription and hence paid for it at a pharmacy and was taxed. They may resell the drug at a higher price to you to make some profit but at least you know you are getting pure Oxycodone and you know that one pill is equal to a very specific dose that was tested on thousands of people in clinical trials.

Andrew said...

Well said. I believe those reasons you mention are nearly the same as mine. I do think, however, that by controlling the sales of heroine it would be more controllable on the level of the user as well. Heroine is definitely used for recreation, in fact I think that is it's only use now because in the US at least it is not used medically. It is very addictive and dangerous, I understand that, and I think that the amount of money generated by it's sales would be best spent educating people to the dangers of using it and rehabilitation clinics for those that do get addicted. Also, people that are still inclined to try it, after learning about the dangers, would have a safer and controlled means of experimenting with it.

marisa said...

Being able to get my hands on otherwise "legal" drugs is very relevent, I believe. You stated by legalizing these drugs and putting them "in the hands of people who know what they are doing with them" addiction could be controlled. I think the example I posed debunks this theory.

Oxy is legal, heroin is not. Both are just as easy to get off the street. As for purity, yes there would be less deaths related to heroin, but by no means less addicts.

Andrew said...

Well for one, less deaths due to heroine would be reason enough to legalize the drug. Secondly, there is no controlled pharmaceutical database built to keep track of all sales of all pharmacies and the people who bought them so it is currently possible to have multiple pharmacies sell you Oxycontin and so it is impossible to tell right now whether that idea has been debunked. And again, I never said legalizing drugs would stop drug abuse, I just think there would be better control of it and we would have a lot more money to deal with the problem of drug abuse.

Wigginton said...

Andrew said...

Marisa, I hope I didn't come off as accusatory. I think your point about being able to easily get Oxycontin whether it is illegal or not being a good reason to believe that legalizing Heroine wouldn't have much of an effect, as far as the number of addicts are concerned. However, I do think that if Oxycontin or Heroine were legal for recreational use (which obviously they are not) but still required a doctor's prescription, or to be entered into a nation wide database, then usage would be better controlled, especially for those people first experimenting with using that type of drug.

marisa said...

andrew -

no tone taken, kiddo. you still get your bday gift...and no, it's not heroin (how is it possible to fit this much funny in just one girl?!?)

we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

Ian said...

Man, talk about beating a dead horse. How about we try a pilot program lagalizing marijuana and go from there? Such a system as Andrew described, including an online database, would take years to develop. Consider the lobbying groups on both sides of this debate. Baby steps, folks. Baby steps.

jerems said...

Who has a light?