Here’s a letter I’ve just sent to Forth.ie:
I read with interested your article ‘Losing our minds on drugs’ which discussed the recent furore surrounding the now controlled recreational substance mephedrone. Your article correctly identified that much of the reporting concerning mephedrone’s harms was inaccurate and that subsequent government policy owed more to moral panic than level-headed analysis. The rest of the piece bemoans that drug use is not the ‘relatively straightforward issue of civil liberty’ that it should rightfully be and criticizes doctors who would wish for medical expertise to override politics.
Whilst it may be attractive philosophically to consider that drug use is a ‘private behaviour’ and ‘no business of the state’, I would question whether this position is workable in practice. The legalisation of all drugs that this supposes would have some benefits. For instance a drastic reduction in crime might be expected. For users there would be freedom from criminal dealers and purity of product. However many drugs of abuse have effects on physical health which would presumably be addressed by state run healthcare systems. Addiction is also a cause of unemployment. Drug use can hardly be described as a ‘private’ matter if users are supported on benefits and after use care is socialized.
If we can agree that there should be some restrictions on substances of abuse then the question is how this should be settled upon. The current UK Government approach is muddled. The Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (AMCD) exists to advise the Home Secretary about drug policy. Recent form suggests that the Home Secretary is happy to listen so long as the AMCD is saying what he would wish to hear. Drs Taylor and Carlin had been incorrectly informed that their opinions were of interest and rather than chastised for their ‘demand that medical expertise override politics’ might be forgiven for expressing their dismay at discovering otherwise. The UK Government appears to have a moral agenda but one which they have wished to present as a having scientific credentials.
Finally, is it reasonable to invoke of the harms of legal drugs in the discussion of illegal ones? You appear to think not. It’s certainly simplistic to dismiss the need to control currently illegal drugs on the basis that alcohol is much more hazardous. But can it be possible to make a true assessment of the harms of illegal drugs without comparison to those which many people currently know and use? This presumably is an equation into which a user of illegal drugs enters regularly enters.
Stephen Ginn MD
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