Drugs and Denial: Society Soaked in Chemicals
Clever little blighters us human beings, very pushy at getting what we want, and now with the skills of science and chemistry, employed in the pursuit of profit, we can make all manner of ‘stuff’; easily and conveniently
Use of chemical ‘stuff’ has quietly crept up on us, especially during the last century or two, though it has always been there historically. Our cultural history is rife with potent potions and cures, brewed and distilled from all manner of unlikely ingredients; animal parts, poppies and wild plants, patent remedies, sacraments and poisons too. But now, the extent of the ‘stuffs’ is colossal but is very often veiled in semi-secrecy or, indeed, completely denied.
The simple fact is that we live in a drug-soaked chemical society; prescription drugs, drugs for leisure and hedonism, harmful and curing drugs, chemicals added to food and drink, sweeteners, flavourings, preservatives, organic and natural or synthesised in laboratories and factories. Both legal and illegal substances are commonplace, used for beneficial and/or indulgent purposes. Surely, the only rational and sensible policy is to be honest and open about the risks and dangers in all these areas? As Professor David Nutt, former drugs advisor to the UK government wanted, we have to regulate drugs used for pleasure or indulgence on a scale according to their risk to health, the same as we do for chemical additives to food, or with medicines. Read reviews of Ocean Breeze rehab in Pompano Florida, for the risks of drug abuse.
Simplistic prohibition has failed just as it did with alcohol in theUSA. It is no longer just backroom laboratories, like the ‘Operation Julie’ LSD producers of the seventies, or even just the cannabis farms as they currently exist, but legal third world factories with industrial technology, manufacturing for export. Mafia-type corporations form cartels in South andCentral Americato cultivate large poppy and coca plantations and are rich enough, and well-connected and skilled enough, to suborn security forces and even governments.
The most harmful drug, heroin, was a tiny problem before prohibition. The number of addicts known to the Home Office (mostly heroin addicts) grew from 2,400 in 1979 to around 18,000 in 1990 and to almost 45,000 by 1996. The drug became associated with poverty and unemployment but soon expanded into all social classes. Acquisitive crime and local low level dealing increased as poor heroin users sought to support their habit. Today, there are estimated to be close to 340,000 problematic users of heroin in the UK and these numbers are likely to be an underestimate. It is now well beyond any argument that legal prohibition has failed utterly.
Those of us who want an end to the increasingly corrupting, damaging and irrelevant twentieth century drugs prohibition are beginning to feel we may be pushing on an opening door with editorials like The Observer from 08.04.12:
“All wars end. Eventually. Even the war on drugs – resilient for so long – is starting to show signs of exhaustion…. A regulated market would move the market out of the murderous, barbarous hands of the cartels and into the free market. It would facilitate the introduction of the type of public health programmes that have been so effective in reducing smoking. And it could regulate the strength and even safety of many drugs.”
We all take drugs but rarely keep a record, or even notice our personal drug use, by which I mean all self-administered, usually small, doses of chemical substances known to be psychologically or physically active. Most provide more or less effective solutions to our perceived need, as with painkillers. We all recognise as familiar phrases: “I could really use a nice cup of tea”, “I cannot start the day without my coffee” and “Goodness knows I could use a drink” meaning alcohol. Never mind the illicit: “Want a puff, a snort, a trip?” or “Fancy a line?”. Their roles in our lives are undeniable,
The extent of general drug use is enormous. The USgovernment’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, known as Nhanes, shows prescription drug use alone soared in the past decade – according to Nicholas Bakalar (Published by The New York Times on October 18, 2010). The report cited data findings that spending on prescription drugs more than doubled over the last decade, even after accounting for inflation. In constant dollars, Americans spent more than $234 billion on prescription drugs in 2008, up from $104.6 billion in 1999.
There are also over-the-counter remedies – pills for a purpose: Cold cures, hangovers and digestive complaints, dietary supplements, sweeteners and the infinite exoticas Damien Hirst exhibits as art. The New York Times reported on June 14, 2008 that, “Legal Drugs Kill Far More Than Illegal”. As well, take Miami,Top of FormBottom of Form from “Scarface” to “Miami Vice”, Florida’s drug problem has been portrayed as the story of a single narcotic; cocaine. But for the locals, prescription drugs are increasingly a far more lethal habit. An analysis of autopsies in 2007 released recently by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission found that the rate of deaths caused by prescription drugs was three times the rate of deaths caused by all illicit drugs combined.
Law enforcement officials said that the shift toward prescription-drug abuse, which began here about eight years ago, showed no sign of letting up and that the state must do more to control it: “You have health care providers involved, you have doctor shoppers, and then there are crimes like robbing drug shipments,” said Jeff Beasley, a drug intelligence inspector for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which co-sponsored the study. “There is a multitude of ways to get these drugs, and that’s what makes things complicated.”
The report’s findings track with similar studies by the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has found that roughly seven million Americans are abusing prescription drugs. If accurate, that would be an increase of 80 percent in six years and more than the total abusing of illegal substances including cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, ecstasy and inhalants.
We are aware of the bifurcation, the division, between the legal drugs and the common prohibited substances like cannabis, LSD, amphetamines and heroin. The latter have their strength and purity untested, dealers ‘cut’ and adulterate them in pursuit of profit, generating horrendous health risks. On the other hand, there are the totally legal drugs, allowed and mass-marketed, branded caffeine and alcohol delivery systems, on TV, sponsoring sport and which are almost invisible because they are ubiquitous. This bifurcation seems to distract and blind us to an actually seamless reality, inducing a general blind spot over how we live now bathed in a sea of pharmacologically and physically active substances.
This is, in mental health terms, called denial. Generally in psychology, this is understood to be a state-of-mind marked by a refusal or an inability to recognize and deal with a serious personal problem, but we have it on a socio-political level. In such debate, as exists, the focus gets distracted by the prohibition/legalisation argument but it is much wider than that. The fact of drug use is huge and everywhere; in the world of sports, in the pop/rock music world, and in health. And, it is instrumental in massive death rates, as in the tens of thousands of deaths in the drug smuggling ‘wars’ of Central and South America.
In the same issue of the Observer quoted above,Otto Pérez Molina – the president of Guatemala, who as former head of his country’s military intelligence service experienced the power of drug cartels at close hand – urged his fellow Latin American leaders to use an upcoming summit with President Obama to endorse a new regional security plan that would see an end to prohibition and thus the profitability of smuggling:“The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated.”Yet, Molina concedes that moving beyond prohibition is problematic:
“To suggest liberalisation – allowing consumption, production and trafficking of drugs without any restriction whatsoever – would be, in my opinion, profoundly irresponsible. Even more, it is an absurd proposition. If we accept regulations for alcoholic drinks and tobacco consumption and production, why should we allow drugs to be consumed and produced without any restrictions?”
If we move beyond denial, beyond simplistic even risible prohibitions and ‘wars’, and admit it is a common and seemingly eternal part of our humanity to use our wits and apply to ourselves such chemicals as ease our passage through this mortal life, then being in possession of the ‘bigger picture’ might, as it does for the individual in therapy, enable a more constructive engagement and better solutions. We can then reduce harm, including law enforcers and victims, diminish pain, and prevent much death and injury. Surely we can do better than the irrational, illogical, dangerous piecemeal patchwork of laws and regulations we have cobbled together over the passed decades?
In the preface to his worldwide survey Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication (2001)Stuart Walton says: “Intoxication plays, or has played, a part in the lives of virtually everybody who has ever lived, and yet throughout the entire Christian historical era in the West, it has been subject to a growing accretion of religious, legal and moral censure. These days, we are scarcely able to whisper its name for fear of falling foul of the law, of compromising ourselves in the eyes of others…”
Not facing squarely up to this present reality, which has grown from a long history of human use is simply denial. The UK Parliamentary Science Select Committee said the present system was based on historical assumptions, not scientific assessment. The designation of drugs in classes A, B and C should be replaced with one more closely reflecting the harm they cause.
This article was written by Old Fen Boy: http://oldfenboy.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/oldfenboy-2/
The NY Times report: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/14/us/14florida.html