Norway’s decision to push drug felons through treatment is a huge step forward.
The question of whether to punish criminals or attempt to reform them is not new. While some are for maximum enforcement, including solitary confinement and the death penalty, others take the more humane route of trying to rehabilitate criminals to integrate back into society.
This question is especially heated when discussing drugs. America’s war has been a continual failure, from crack in the eighties through to opioids today. Defining what a drug is, how it can and can’t be used, and who can use it has proven to be more about politics and corporate interests than biology. Sugar is the most potent and deadly drug on the planet today, yet it is widely available, cheap, and celebrated.
So integrated into the fabric of society has sugar become that even the mention of it as a “drug” is certain to incite scoffs and sneers. We know alcohol is a drug, yet since it’s also wildly sanctioned (and wildly taxed) we consider it not to be that bad. Ditto cigarettes, even if those two kill hundreds of thousands more people a year than marijuana. Pull back far enough and everything we ingest is a drug, since everything results in a chemical reaction in our bodies.
Some countries are realizing this. Norway recently voted to completely decriminalize illegal drugs, as well as send offenders through treatment instead of prison. While parliamentary support for this bill has passed, it still must find its way through the government.
Sveinung Stensland, a deputy chairman of the Storting Health Committee, commented on the decision:
The change will take some time, but that means a changed vision: Those who have a substance abuse problem should be treated as ill, and not as criminals with classical sanctions such as fines and imprisonment.
This is no sudden decision; Norwegian politicians have been debating this for years. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized drugs, which has resulted in a drastic reduction in HIV infections, overdoses, and drug-related crime. In 2001, for example, HIV infection affected 104.2 new cases per million; by 2015 that number had dropped to 4.2 cases.
Another big reaction was in social stigmatism. As The Guardian reports:
The language began to shift, too. Those who had been referred to sneeringly as drogados (junkies)—became known more broadly, more sympathetically, and more accurately, as “people who use drugs” or “people with addiction disorders.” This, too, was crucial.
João Goulão was one of two men behind Portugal’s first CAT (Centros de Atendimento a Toxicodependentes, a rehab facility) in 1988. He helped draft legislation for decriminalization in 1997. He notes that Portugal is a conservative country. The decision was more financial and social than about liberty and freedom. But drug use in the eighties and nineties had spread to affect every family in the nation:
There was a point when you could not find a single Portuguese family that wasn’t affected. Every family had their addict, or addicts. This was universal in a way that the society felt: ‘We have to do something.’
Twenty years later American families are struggling with an opioid epidemic that is still gaining force—fentanyl deaths increased 540 percent between 2014-2016. The 2017 data so far are not promising.
It is well known that Richard Nixon tied addiction to crime in order to suppress minorities and political radicals in the seventies. That mindset forced American legislators—and the American public—to relate certain substances as bad and others as good, or least benign. Since opioids are tied to the white working class, there has been much criticism of opioids being treated as an opportunity for compassion and understanding while crack, an inner city problem, was seen as a blight to be eradicated.
Full decriminalization might be the only way to sift through the scattered and conflicting reports on how substances act in our bodies. By understanding what drugs do and how they are either helpful or harmful, we can make appropriate decisions on how to treat their users.
Psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA, and LSD—all considered Schedule One substances, meaning they supposedly have no medical value—are proving to be clinically relevant for treating anxiety, depression, and end-of-life care. Marijuana is quickly becoming decriminalized on a state-by-state level as the positive effects of cannabinoids continue to roll in.
Norway’s decision to push felons through treatment is a step forward, though hopefully more detailed consideration of what drug each person is caught with will be taken into consideration. Heroin makes for a good candidate; marijuana, not so much, unless abuse level is truly crippling. That’s the problem with blanket regulations on disparate substances: you’re unfairly equating dissimilar drugs.
That said, progress is progress. Let’s hope America follows suit. First decriminalization, then a government-funded increase in technology and sugar addiction centers to combat our two main culprits.
One can dream.
Derek Beres is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
An expansive new study makes clear the extent of the problem and the importance of parents in avoiding teen drug use.
If you remember your days as a teen or have a teen in your life, you are probably aware of the role drugs play at that age. In fact, there’s a good chance your teen is using illegal drugs.
A new 3-part investigation by addiction educator ProjectNow offers some remarkable statistics on the drug use by American teens. The survey conducted by the University of Michigan centered on the practices and attitudes towards drugs by about 40,000 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grades.
If you’re wondering whether drug use is a widespread issue, the survey confirms that about 50% of 12th graders have used illicit drugs at some point in their lives. This number has held somewhat steady for the past 5 years, but is higher than it was, for example, in 1992 when it was at 40%.
You can see the yearly statistics of the drug usage here:
What kind of drugs are the kids using?
Alcohol is the drug of choice, with 39.9% of the teens in 8th thru 12th grades using it in the past year. It’s not actually an illegal drug, but alcohol is certainly illegal for the underage kids who appear to have little trouble in getting it. What does 39.9% really mean? As of 2014, this would have come out to about 2.33 million kids between 12 and 17 years old.
Marijuana is the next most popular at 23.7%. Drugs like ecstasy, LSD, cocaine and heroin are used marginally, but an estimated 117,000 young cocaine users should sound alarming.
Check out the past-year usage chart here:
The relative popularity of the drugs being used is reflected in the attitudes of the kids towards how dangerous they are. Heroin is perceived to be dangerous by close to 85% of 10th graders and is one of the least used drugs. You can see in the chart below how the perception of cigarettes changed over time, with over 70% of the teens thinking it’s dangerous, topping LSD and ecstasy in this category. Conversely, the view on marijuana experienced a drop in the other direction. 20% fewer teens think it’s risky than did just 15 years ago. It’s considered the least dangerous drug, even beating out alcohol.
Here’s the risk-assessment chart:
What conclusions can we draw from this fascinating information?
One further piece of the survey considers the possible reasons for the drug use by teens. It focuses on their home life and finds that the lowest drug usage is by kids who live with both their mother and father. Interestingly, kids living with only their father had higher drug usage rates than those living with only their mother. Those living without any parents had higher rates across the board, with the most significant difference being in heroine usage - that number shot up 6 times!
Certainly, such statistics point clearly to the importance of parental presence in the lives of their kids.
In a further focus on the role parents can play, another part of the survey demonstrates how well disciplining your children works. If you don't allow them to go out on school nights, make sure they do their homework and chores, and don’t let them watch too much tv, your kids are much less likely to get drunk.
And if you think none of this matters much as "kids will be kids," we should consider the impact this behavior has on the academic performance of students. Teens who smoked cigarettes or marijuana and got drunk were much less likely to receive an A than those who didn’t. In fact, cigarette smokers fared the worst, being 5 times less likely to get an A than their abstaining counterparts.
Of course, as we see, a number of factors team up to affect a kid who uses various types of drugs. Drug usage may be a symptom of larger issues as much as a problem in an of itself. But as 8th through 12th grades comprise such an important portion of an adolescent’s path towards becoming a functioning adult, we must consider how adversely the future of the drug-using kids can be affected.
You can see here a clear correlation between drug usage and various “deviant” behaviors:
A much larger percentage of teen weed smokers got into fights, ran away from home and stole. Again, did they do so because of the drugs or were the drugs simply masking larger issues (perhaps related to their home lives)? While it's important to find out this answer, it's very visible how related is drug use to anti-social behavior.