Thursday, April 30, 2009

Buz on Drugz

Buz left a brilliant comment a while back that deserves a bump. Buz has changed our minds on decriminalization, at least when it comes to the white drugs. We still think they should sell pot out of washtubs at the farmer's market. Anyway:

"...if drugs were somehow "decriminalized", these groups, would not stop declaring territory, and not stop doing illegal things, including black market selling of the now decriminalized drugs? Why should they stop? Oh, I suppose, depending on how one decriminalizes, the legal market would cut into their sales; Buz remains skeptical. A large factor in gang belonging is protection from the "other"-whoever that is.

I read some about Switzerland's heroin treatment program, and some aspects of it have a certain charm. The Lancet article of 2006 was generally supportive, but it did note that heroin maintenance was long-term, and for those who engaged in the program and stopped, virtually all re-entered the program within 10 years. It did, however, have the effect of heroin being now viewed as a drug for "losers" and "junkies". Who woulda thunk? Oh, and only 1300 of Switzerland's 30K heroin addicts are in the heroin prescription program.

Clearly, young folks like yourself and Abstract and Cham are trying to come to terms with this issue for the future. I did not notice in my short look any reference to other criminal activity or other measures of social health. One article lauded a guy who gets his heroin, goes to work, and plays dad on weekends. I guess that's possible; in fact, I've heard of "working addicts", but have yet to meet an actual one. In my experience as a vocational caseworker, the general rule of thumb is that persons currently using hard drugs will have extreme difficulty getting jobs, and if they do manage to get hired, will rarely keep the job for long ... Of course we know that addiction has been declared a disease by folks more highly educated than I could ever hope to be. And I can understand that it is difficult to stop using some drugs, but you know, they gotta want to. After my law enforcement career, I have worked at 2 non-profits, both seeing a high incidence of drug users of all kinds.

At the one I still work at part-time, 70% are court-ordered. So, I have talked to many addicts, and DWI offenders face-to-face and try to help them find employment. And, I must say: the ones that have been to DOC are much more motivated than those who have learned to game the system. I know it's anecdotal, but there it is: if you want to succeed in treatment, you often can. And, sometimes punishment or the threat of punishment is a motivator.

It seems difficult to follow your logic, at times. While you say that drug use is not an excuse for other crimes (besides possession), you seem to believe/feel that they should "get treatment", and not jail. Well, suppose they refuse to follow through with treatment? And they continue to commit crimes against the rest of us, larceny-from-auto; burglary; shoplifting, etc.? As P points out, the success rate of treatment is highly problematic in many programs; relapse rates for heroin are often 95%.
In my several year experience being around drug programs, two phrases often are heard: "he/she is not ready" or "persons who are SERIOUS can turn their lives around". These phrases are used both in conjunction with treatment and gaining employment. If you're not serious, it ain't gonna work.

So, if they say they are not responsible for committing crimes against the rest of us, yet they don't/can't stop, should we just throw out the laws for them? While I appreciate your compassion, and am not lacking it myself (believe or not), my lack of bleeding-hearted liberalism is tempered by hard-headed compassion of experience.

One experienced therapist, a Vietnam veteran, who works in a treatment program told us: "ain't no addict around here who doesn't know where they need to go for detox." This same program has floor-to-ceiling mirrors in its common areas of the residential treatment facility. When I asked what's the deal with the mirrors, the answer was: "everywhere you look, there's a problem". Many of the folks I talk to who are current, recent, or struggling users are deeply troubled people. The drugs, and as you point out, the illegality of the drugs, just exacerbates their problems. For the most part, if they were just given the drugs, they would still have trouble finding and keeping employment, with relationships, and with keeping out of legal trouble. Treatment is not a pill like an antibiotic; it's a long-term psycho-social process of personal change.

Almost no residential program will allow their patients to use illicit drugs while there; detection usually results in immediate expulsion. And these programs are run by what some might call bleeding heart liberals, and ex-addicts.
Perhaps we should keep Guantanamo Bay open and use it for addicts who claim they can't stop, but also can't succeed in treatment; however, they can't stop/won't stop committing crimes against the rest of us?

And though some folks feel sorry for the addict who presents in court and says the theft was because of addiction, I wonder why don't we feel similarly sorry for the drunk drivers who kill people (usually innocent people), who often are repeat offenders, but can't seem to stop drinking-and driving.

And yes, I think the illegality of heroin and cocaine does deter a fair amount of people from going out and buying it, and trying it, particularly young people.

This problems is a serious one that folks such as yourselves will struggle with to make public policy about. But any wholesale "decriminalization" which may occur, must occur in the context of society agreeing to accept a huge increase of use, addiction, accidents, and other maladies. Perhaps that is better than jail, but life is full of tradeoffs."

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