Part two of the drug myths series.
Myth: Drugs Lead to All Sorts Of Crime
A plethora of sources will tell you drug use leads to crime. However, like most things, the situation is more nuanced than how it’s often presented.
Shima Baradaran Baughman, the Associate Dean of Faculty Research and Development Professor at the University of Utah College of Law, argues that the overlap between drug use and crime has been overstated. The professor says that while drug addicts commit more crimes, they actually commit them at low rates.
Fearmongering has also presented drugs as a precursor to violent crime. For example, many Americans will tell you that PCP leads to violent crimes where the perpetrators develop superhuman strength and must be stopped with extreme measures.
However, Dr. Carl Hart, an American psychologist/neuroscientist says that this is false. He does concede that drug use causes violence in people who are already violent. Dr. Hart also states that the pharmacological effects of drugs rarely lead to crime in general. He says what is largely to blame is environmental issues, among other factors, and not the drugs by themselves.
Additionally, decades ago, a British report argued that drugs don’t make people turn to crime; and criminals had been criminals before they became addicts. Finally, there is the analysis that was presented to the Canadian senate. The analysis concludes that the so-called definitive cause-and-effect relationship between drugs and crime is tenuous.
It’s tempting to argue that while drugs may not lead to crime, they are undoubtedly harmful to the individual. But even this argument isn’t supported by the facts.
Myth: Drug Use is Always Harmful and Addiction is Always Debilitating
We again turn to Dr. Hart. The professor states that the vast majority of people who take drugs do not become addicts. In his estimation, 80 to 90% of crack or methamphetamine users don’t become addicted. Dr. Hart also throws a glass of cold water on reactionary and outdated beliefs surrounding drug use:
“Here’s the bottom line: over my more than twenty-five-year career, I have discovered that most drug-use scenarios cause little or no harm and that some responsible drug-use scenarios are actually beneficial for human health and functioning”https://www.gq.com/story/imagining-a-world-where-all-drugs-are-legal-carl-hart
We also need to look at what constitutes “addiction.” Dr. Hart tells us that of the dozen-ish symptoms of addiction, you only need two symptoms to be classified as an addict. He argues that it’s more a matter of how your drug use compares to everything else in your life.
While this pertains to the micro level, let’s pull back to examine it from the macro level. Or, what happens when drugs are decriminalized?
Myth: Drugs Need to be Criminalized to Keep Society From Crumbling
It has been over 20 years since Portugal decriminalized having small amounts of all illicit substances, and the country hasn’t turned into hell on earth. In fact, HIV and Hepatitis C infection rates, diseases associated with injection drug use, fell dramatically. Opioid-related deaths also dropped.
Further, drug use in Portugal has diminished rather than increased. While the US government says such a conclusion may be premature, the Transform Drug Policy Foundation finds this assertion contentious.
Other sources point out that the radical policy has resulted in more people seeking treatment for substance abuse, a method that is more productive for curbing drug abuse than incarcerating the users. It is also worth mentioning that decriminalization was just one part of the new drug policy. Portugal also focused efforts on harm reduction strategies, such as needle exchanges and treatment services.
While Portugal’s drug policy is not a panacea, it is inarguable that the country has not gotten worse from the revolutionary policy.
But That’s A Different Country…
Over a year ago, Oregon decriminalized small amounts of “hard drugs” such as LSD, cocaine, and heroin. While some sources point out that drug use has gone up in that one-year span, it’s important to remember it has only been a year. Over a year or so, Portugal’s stats fluctuated as they adjusted to their new normal as well.
What’s also significant is that the state is moving closer to harm reduction policies, which help destigmatize drug use and allows those with a problem to seek help. Other states have also been considering similar policies.
Drug Myths Speed round
- Hallucinogens can make people “go crazy”: False. Hallucinogens may cause hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). However, this happens rarely and is not affected by the frequency of hallucinogen consumption.
- LSD stays in your spinal cord forever: False. Even recovery websites admit this.
- Ecstasy punches holes in your brain: only if you’re ingesting it via shotgun.
No one is saying drug use cannot be harmful. But drugs don’t lead to the downfall of society. How do we know this? Because the idea that most people don’t do drugs is categorically false. Most people consume some substance classifiable as a drug, and society isn’t running amok with debauchery and crime. Drugs have been weaponized as an easy scapegoat for society’s ills before an academic exploration even started. Drug myths exist because they’re a convenient way to exert control over society. That doesn’t mean we still need to believe in them.
Let’s return to the drug expert, one more time:
“I think that every society should have intoxicants. We need intoxicants. And every society has always had intoxicants.”https://www.democracynow.org/2014/1/6/drugs_arent_the_problem_neuroscientist_carl