Drug Policy

You Can Have Free Drugs, but Only If You Don't Behave Yourself


Vancouver, which already has "a free needle exchange, a methadone maintenance program, a drug injection site where nurses supervise as heroin addicts shoot up, and a clinical trial testing whether chronic opiate addicts can be helped with prescribed heroin," is now experimenting with "maintenance treatment" for stimulant addicts. Under the new program, reports The Globe and Mail, heavy users of cocaine and methamphetamine will receive oral doses of legally prescribed stimulants in the hope that they "might decrease their use of illegal drugs and improve their social and physical health." Both of those outcomes are plausible, assuming the "patients" stop injecting, snorting, or smoking black-market drugs and start swallowing legal, quality-controlled pills instead.

But it isn't really "treatment," is it? Or I guess I should say that it's treatment in the same sense that chewing nicotine gum or wearing a nicotine patch is "treatment" for nicotine addiction, even though many smokers use them as long-term substitutes for cigarettes. These smokers are healthier for making the switch, but the "disease" (addiction) remains.

More troubling is the Vancouver model of free needles, free methadone, free heroin, and free amphetamines, all courtesy of the taxpayers. This strikes me as exactly the wrong way to achieve drug policy reform, guaranteed to alienate people who might be willing to let others use drugs but don't want to pick up the tab for it. The message should be freedom coupled with responsibility, not government-subsidized drug addiction.

The rhetorical and policy contortions produced by prohibition are something to behold. Instead of allowing adults to obtain oral stimulants for whatever purpose they like (which was the situation in the U.S. until the government started requiring a prescription for amphetamines in 1954 and even for a decade or so afterward, when prescriptions were easy to come by), the government drives them into the black market and then allows the select few who are sufficiently fucked up to get oral stimulants at taxpayers' expense. Meanwhile, doctors commonly prescribe stimulants to people who have trouble focusing and paying attention, a condition that used to be self-treated but nowadays is recognized as a disease requiring professional diagnosis. If you take these drugs without that diagnosis, you also have a disease—drug dependence—that one day, if we're lucky, may be treated by giving you the drugs.