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Drug choices, bad choices

By Alan Caruba
web posted May 15, 2006

Americans are apparently addicted to everything. Addiction used to have a real definition. It was a medical term that meant an individual was physically dependent on something, usually tobacco, alcohol or a drug of some kind. Everybody understood the use of the word, but recently the President told Americans they are addicted to oil. He might as well have said they're addicted to driving cars or plastic.

Recently, I read an Associated Press article, "Addicts say killer heroin is hard to resist." It dealt with a problem faced by an estimated 10,000 addicts in the Philadelphia and South Jersey area. "A bad batch" of drugs had killed at least nine heroin users and the real issue facing the others was where could they get their hands on this really powerful heroin so they could take it as well!

What I found just as astounding was the estimated number of addicts. Ten thousand is a lot of people using heroin and may not even include others smoking a joint of marijuana, snorting cocaine, getting a hit of LSD, ecstasy or using amphetamines.

By coincidence, I was reading a new book by Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy ($21.95, Encounter Books). The author has spent sixteen years in the British health and penal systems treating heroin addicts.

Like many of my generation, I became aware of the problem of illegal drugs during the early 1960s. I was a journalist at the time and, along with everyone else, subjected to the idiocy surrounding the "Beatniks" who spawned literature celebrating "the drug culture." The most famed was the addict, William Burroughs, a parasitic lowlife with a gift for making drug addiction sound like the gateway to intellectual achievement and deep personal insight.

Another hero of the time was Dr. Timothy Leary who championed the use of LSD. He coined the phrase, "Drop out, turn on, and tune in," a literal call to a life of useless self-indulgence with a pretense to insights that, in reality, never accede the need to know where to obtain the next fix.

Today we have "rappers" who likewise glamorize "the street" or "the ghetto" or whatever passes for poverty and criminality. In the 1800's there were men like the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge or Thomas De Quincy, the author of Confessions of an Opium-Eater. Both were pretentious poseurs.

The last time I checked, the sale and use of illegal drugs in America had passed the $44 billion mark and, if anything, those using them would be better understood if we called it more correctly an addiction to stupidity, but let's be kind and call it making bad choices.

By 2001, according to a White House commission on drug policy, drug offenders accounted for 21 per cent (236,000) of the state's prison population in 1998, up from 6 per cent in 1980, and 59 per cent (55,984) of the federal prison population in 1998, up from 25 per cent (4,749) in 1980. As the 1990s ended, there were 1,532,200 drug arrests that accounted for 10.9 per cent of all arrests. The cost to society for the incarceration of those with drug and/or alcohol violations was $38 billion and rising.

Drawing on his long experience, Dr. Dalrymple relates that, "When I ask heroin addicts why they started taking heroin, the great majority of them reply with one of two answers. These are: 'I fell in with the wrong crowd," and "Heroin's everywhere.'" The addict never acknowledges that he or she knowingly and consciously decided to take the drug. They are always the victim. "Actually, you have to work quite hard to become a bona fide heroin addict," says Dr. Dalrymple. Moreover, one can stop taking heroin with relative ease. There are no painful withdrawal symptoms unless the addict is taking other substances as well.

Even the loathsome William Burroughs wrote, "You don't wake up one morning and decide to be a drug addict. It takes at least three months' shooting twice a day to get any habit at all."

In England and America the heroin addict is treated as if he or she had a medical condition. No, they have a stupidity condition. Around this group of stupid people, however, have grown vast bureaucracies to "treat" them to "overcome" their addiction. Those who are incarcerated overcome it in a few days. The rest are treated in out-patient centers where they can get methadone and other substitutes for their original condition of stupidity.

By 2005, New Jersey was spending more than $250 million a year to imprison drug offenders. Even low-level offending miscreants were costing $34,218 to incarcerate for each year of his/her sentence as compared to a mere $19,800 to send them to drug court, including a residential substance abuse treatment, for one year. Generally, the former was likely to be rearrested just over half the time and the latter having only an eight percent chance. In both cases, if it even matters to these morons, they could have been financed to attend a community college or vocational school where they could learn to be that which they apparently deplore, productive members of society.

"That withdrawal from opiates is not a serious medical condition is a truth universally acknowledged by doctors; but it is also a truth universally ignored…" says Dr. Dalrymple.

At this point, someone is sure to point out that drugs and criminality go hand-in-hand. It is drugs, we're told, that drive the addict to steal. In all likelihood the vast bulk of lower economic class addicts would find another reason to steal, primarily as a way to avoid holding any kind of a job. These are frequently the same people who dropped out of school to avoid acquiring any useful knowledge and skills.

Why do people take drugs? Drink to excess? I have no idea. I am appalled that the people who do cost the rest of who don't so much money. If the widespread knowledge of a batch of lethally bad drugs in the Philadelphia area is not sufficient to stop users, one suspects that no amount of "treatment" or incarceration is going to make much difference.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba, 2006

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