Artifact: Cancer, Schmancer—As Long As I'm Not a Drug Addict

Credit: Reason MagazineCredit: Reason Magazine

A new ad campaign from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America announces that "drug addiction is a disease." In fact, say the ads, addiction is worse than a disease, because people are not inclined to sympathize with addicts, viewing excessive drug use as voluntary behavior rather than a condition requiring medical attention. The "Hope, Help, and Healing" campaign tries to correct that perception: In a TV spot and a series of print ads like this one, shirtless addicts of various ages, sexes, and colors declare they'd be "better off" with a brain tumor, cancer, AIDS, or heart disease.

People with brain tumors, cancer, AIDS, or heart disease might disagree. As Thomas Szasz has observed, one hallmark of a true disease is that people are not constantly insisting it's a disease. Even the prohibitionists who say addiction should be treated like an illness do not seem entirely convinced. After all, police do not arrest people for having brain tumors, cancer, AIDS, or heart disease. Doctors do not treat people against their will for brain tumors, cancer, AIDS, or heart disease. People with brain tumors, cancer, AIDS, or heart disease are not disqualified from various professions because the government refuses to license them. Perhaps the Partnership for a Drug-Free America's next ad campaign will take on those policies.

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