Drug Use: A Personal Choice or Government Restriction
The World Health Organization defines drug addiction as a state of periodic or chronic intoxication detrimental to the individual and to society, produced by the repeated consumption of a drug. Thomas Szasz says that drug addiction or abuse cannot be defined without specifying the proper and improper uses of certain pharmalogically active agents. Society says that the administration of drugs by physicians is proper while the occasional self-administration of drugs by a physically healthy person is improper. According to Szasz this is a moral judgment and is not sufficient enough to make the use of drugs illegal.
Szasz supports the legalization of all drugs and brings up several points to defend his opinion. He begins with asserting propaganda is used to validate the prohibition of drugs. Drug addiction is no different than addictions to other substances and stimuli. He sees that legalizing drugs would be economically sound. One of the reasons that drugs are illegal is because drug use goes against tradition and American values. Lastly, Szasz tries to show that self-medication is not only a fundamental right but also a constitutional one.
I do not agree with the idea of drug legalization. The myth that illicit drugs are no worse than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco is not true. By decriminalizing the use of drugs crime rates would increase. Furthermore, drug legalization is not as cost-effective as Szasz alleges. Finally by looking at other countries that have tried to stop the prohibition of drugs we can see that it ultimately fails.
“Since most of the propagandists against drug abuse seek to justify certain repressive policies because of the alleged dangerousness of various drugs, they often falsify the facts about the true pharmalogical properties of the drugs they seek to prohibit.” Szasz states that this propaganda is used because there are many substances in daily use that are just as dangerous as the substances they want to prohibit. Additionally, dangerousness alone is never adequate enough of an argument to justify the prohibition of any drug, substance, or artifact. Every individual has the capability of injuring or killing himself; this is a basic expression of freedom. Szasz says that is us absurd to deprive an adult of a drug because he might kill himself with it.
Society shouldn’t fear drugs because they are addicting. A fundamental characteristic of human beings is that they become used to things, that they become addicted. We become addicted to cigarettes, orange juice with breakfast, watching a certain television program, etc. Becoming addicted to illicit drugs is no different. The more we take of the drug the more our bodies crave it and the higher doses we must take to get the desired effect. Szasz goes onto assert that these habits can also be broken- “and without medical assistance”- as long as the person wants to break it.
Americans dislike the thought of the legalization of drugs because it would go against our principles and traditions. We are a society that believes that everyone must work and that idleness is only tolerable if a person is unable to work and support their self. It is feared that if there was a free trade of narcotics there would be “vast masses of our population spending their days and night smoking opium or mainlining heroin, rather than working and taking care of their responsibilities.” But, if generation after generation engaged in the act of drug use, it would be an acceptable practice.
“The war on addiction is not only astronomically expensive; it is also counterproductive,” writes, Szasz. Drug legalization makes sense because it is more economical. In 1967, New York launched an addiction control program that cost $400 million over three years. During the time that the program was in place the number of addicts in the state quadrupled. The cost for caring for each addict in those years was $12,000 per year. It would have cost only $3,300 to support their habit. Szasz further claims that incalculable sums would be saved by reducing crimes now created by the illegal traffic in drugs.
Szasz declares that just as freedom of speech and religion are regarded as fundamental rights, so should be the right of self-medication. This right however, should only apply to adults and it should not be absolute. The limiting condition with respect to self-medication should be the inflicting of “actual” harm on others. Children should not be allowed to take any drug they want. Just as children aren’t allowed to drive, drink, or marry until they reach a certain age of maturity, the right to self-medication should be withheld until such maturity is attained as well.
The basic moral dilemma underlying the problem is whether or not a person has the right to take any drugs, whether it is to cure an illness or just because he wants to wants to take it. The Declaration of Independence states that we have the inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Can this be interpreted as we are free to take drugs if that is what is going to make us happy? The Constitution and the Bill of Rights say nothing about drugs. Szasz takes this to imply that the adult citizen has, or should have, the right to medicate his own body. John Stuart Mills said in On Liberty “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”
What Szasz said in his article makes sense. However, just at he said that those who try to prohibit drug use propaganda to support their views so does he. Szasz fails to recognize many of the problems that drug legalization would create. The benefits that he maintains drug legalization would have are exaggerated as well.
Szasz neglects to look at the fact that legalizing drugs would increase the crime rate. Legalization would decrease drug distribution crime because most of those activities would become lawful. Legalization would reduce the cost of drugs and thus addicts might commit fewer crimes to pay for their habit, but less expensive drugs might also lead to feeding their habit even more. More drugs means more side effects like paranoia, irritability, and violence. Currently seventy percent of inmates were on illegal drugs when arrested. If drugs were made more readily available, it is easy to assume that that percentage and the number of inmates would likely increase.
The myth that illicit drugs are no worse than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco is not true. A given dose of cocaine is far more dangerous than a drink of alcohol. A joint of marijuana is far more carcinogenic than a cigarette. A study in Drug and Alcohol Dependence said that marijuana users react very slowly in performing motor tasks and suffer disability in personal, social and vocational areas. The study also indicated that marijuana users had a higher score for neurotic and psychotic behavior.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that there are 113 million current alcohol users and sixty million tobacco users. While alcohol’s addiction rate is ten percent, cocaine’s addiction rate is seventy-five percent. The main reason cocaine and marijuana use is currently much lower is because they are illegal. If all drugs were made legal the number of marijuana and cocaine users would be similar to that of tobacco and alcohol. The National Families in Action found that during the decade when eleven states decriminalized marijuana, regular use tripled among adolescence, double among young adults, and quadrupled among older adults. So Szasz is wrong when he tries to say that drug addiction is no different than any other addiction.
At present time our government only spends around three percent of our national budget on treating drug abuse and drug prevention programs. The DEA says that legalizing drugs will cost society between $140 and $210 billion a year in lost productivity and job related accidents. Insurance companies would pass on those accident expenses to consumers. As for how much the government spends each year on drug addiction rehabilitation, that amount would only increase due to the fact that the number of addicts would vastly increase. This doesn’t seem very economical to me.
Other nations have tried to legalize drugs and they have failed. Egypt allowed unrestricted trade of cocaine and heroin in the 1920s. An epidemic of addiction and AIDS soon followed. In the Netherlands, official tolerance has led to significant increases in addiction. Amsterdam’s officials blame the significant rise in crime on the liberal drug policy. The city’s 7,000 addicts are blamed for eighty percent of all property crime and Amsterdam’s rate of burglary is now twice that of Newark, New Jersey. Sweden legalized doctor prescriptions of amphetamines in 1965. During the first year of legalization, the number of speed addicts rose 88.5 percent. This Swiss opened a “legalized drug” area in Zurich several years ago. Local addicts were given drugs, clean needles, and emergency medical care. This resulted in a surge in the number of addicts and violence. “Needle Park,” as it was called became known for open conflict among rival gangs, police were subject to gunfire, and cars were attacked and overturned.
Should the use of drugs be made the choice of the individual? Thomas Szasz thinks that the government should lift its prohibition on drug use. He says that drugs are not as dangerous as we have we have been lead to believe. Because addiction is part of human nature, drug addiction is no worse different than our addiction to orange juice in the morning. A major reason that drugs are not currently legal is because legalizing it would fly in the face our customs and ideals. But mainly Szasz views the right to self-medicate as a fundamental and constitutional right.
To me there are more logical reasons to keep drugs illegal. Legalizing drugs will escalate the crime rate, increase the number of addicts, and raise the amount money society spends on drug abuse. Drugs are dangerous substances that should be kept as far away from a society as possible. Countries have tried to legalize their use and nothing but problems followed. Sure you can say that drug use should be an individual’s choice, but people do not live in a bubble. One person’s choices have repercussions on all those he comes into contact with.
Maginnis, Robert. “Legalization Of Drugs: The Myths And The Facts.” Familly Research Council.
November 10, 2002.