Saturday, February 24, 2018

Open Space: Arresting addicts not helpful for anyone

July 13, 2016 by Adam Marsh, Student Editor

I’m not saying that students should be snorting coke off desks in the middle of class or shooting up in the bathroom of Fisher, but heroin, cocaine, and other illicit drugs absolutely need to be decriminalized.

It’s a no-brainer. Portugal, for example, has seen drug-related deaths drop from around 400 a year to around 290 since decriminalization in 2001. Rates of HIV infections linked to drug use there went from around 1,400 in 2000 to around 400 in 2006.

Treating addicts like criminals for something that is defined by the World Health Organization as a mental disorder is total bullshit. Imagine if someone arrested you because you were depressed and told you that you better damn well start feeling better. Imagine if someone told you eating was now illegal.

This story originally appeared in our July 13, 2016 issue.

This story originally appeared in our July 13, 2016 issue.

That seems outrageous, but, for a drug addict, the idea of living a life without drugs seems just as outrageous as not eating. When you’re truly addicted, the substance becomes a fundamental need just to feel normal. Trust me—I know many people, some of them family, who sought treatment and have been clean ever since, with the help of therapy and weekly support meetings.

Think jail helps? Drugs are far easier to obtain in jail than they are on Pandora Avenue. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve heard addicts say, “I can’t keep doing this; they’ll catch me.” And, sure enough, they usually do. As one friend who has now embraced recovery told me, “The sound of a cell door sliding shut never stopped me.”

With anxiety through the roof over the current state of their lives—the anger from loved ones, the fear of having to break the law just to get through the day—they will keep at it until they have had enough of trying and a treatment plan is laid out in front of them, because people do whatever makes them feel most comfortable when they’re anxious. They retreat to the familiar.

And for a drug addict, the familiar is the hell of needing what you no longer want.

Some people argue that if drugs were decriminalized, it would create a free-for-all. What weird world do those people live in? Look around: the masses aren’t stumbling out of the liquor store before work on a Monday morning. Why? Because most of the population doesn’t go into physical withdrawal if they don’t drink.

If heroin became legal tomorrow, would people think, “Yes! Let’s go shoot up and fuck my entire life away”? If people do think that, then they’re probably in need of the same help that many close to me have received.

Decriminalization doesn’t increase temptation. Those who become addicted through experimentation have genetic, sociological, and psychological predispositions that would land them in treatment —or a coffin—regardless of legal status. The addiction is not in the substance; it’s in the addict’s brain chemistry.

Plus, there’s the matter of the money that would be saved by not having to jail people because of drugs.

Society needs to make addiction less dangerous where it can. And the only way to combat that destructive brain chemistry—as my life has shown me time and time again—is by treating those who are addicted with the compassion and understanding they deserve.

I know it’s hard. But next time you see someone pushing a shopping cart down Pandora, ask yourself how you would want to be treated if you were dying from the covert suicide of active addiction.

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One Response to “Open Space: Arresting addicts not helpful for anyone”
  1. Andre Serzisko says:

    I agree with the premise of the opinion, that drugs should be legalized, and Portugal is certainly a good example of why this legalization should occur sooner rather than later. We also have closer to home examples, of safe injection sites, that bring down HIV transmission rates, and dramatically reduce overdose deaths and complications from the use of dirty needles, e.g. collapsing veins, or necrotizing muscle tissue. Another example is a recent study of the decrease in dollars spent on opiate-based pharmaceuticals since the legalization and regulation of marijuana in certain states in the US. I disagree, however, with the specific statement that addiction, “…is in the addicts brain chemistry.” The more exposure I have to this area as a therapist and educator, and its been 23 years now, I realize now that addiction is created not by individual brain chemistry, but an individuals response to a set of circumstances in their lives that is difficult to manage for many different reasons. Inability to connect with others seems to be at the heart of what is taking place with addiction, and we see this as a growing problem with the issues arising around pornography, social media, technology, and gambling.

    The chemistry is similar in all these “addictions” yes, but the chemistry is a natural response to a pattern of consumption behaviour rooted in responding to larger issues in the persons life. We as a society are creating the problem, and addiction will never go away until we learn what is behind addiction, and it doesn’t start with looking at the brains of “addicts,” it starts with looking at why we reject others and create divisions between ourselves and other people.

    For too long we have been looking at the individual for the answer to addiction, as the author correctly points out, a simple policy change can dramatically decrease rates of addiction, this has very little to do with brain chemistry, and everything to do with how we treat others.