Pubdate: Thu, 29 Mar 2007
Source: International Herald-Tribune (International)
Copyright: International Herald Tribune 2007
Author: Richard DeGrandpre
Note: Richard DeGrandpre, a past fellow of the National Institute on 
Drug Abuse, is the author of a history of drugs in America, "The Cult 
of Pharmacology."
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


AUCKLAND, New Zealand: A new report by British researchers in The 
Lancet argues that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than some 
illegal drugs, including marijuana or Ecstasy.

The study, based on evidence of actual risks and harms associated 
with drugs, suggests that alcohol and tobacco be legally reclassified 
as among the top 10 most dangerous drug substances. The report 
follows an independent commission by theA Royal Society of 
ArtsA  that described Britain's drug laws as driven by "moral panic."

This "rational scale" for assessing harm and misuse has been hailed 
as a breakthrough. But the idea of reclassifying drugs legally in 
terms of harm is not so easy.

After all, several of the drugs that top the revised list are 
prescription drugs, such as barbiturates, benzodiazepines and 
Ritalin. Are we really to believe that users of these substances 
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What this research really demonstrates is that the tangled idea of 
classifying drugs as good or evil has put society in knots.

As "patent medicines," A  including cocaine and Heroin (a brand sold 
by Bayer pharmaceuticals), fell from grace early in the 20th century, 
the American Medical Association merged with the pharmaceutical 
industry to create a notion of "ethical" drugs. This meant in turn 
that psychoactive drugs expelled from the medical pharmacopeia were 
deemed "unethical."

As the white market of prescription, "mind-altering" drugs developed, 
from benzedrine to barbiturates to benzodiazepines, a black market 
also emerged. This put into place a social rubric for understanding 
drugs based not on pharmacology, but on a drug's social history.

By the end of the 20th century, this differential prohibition had 
evolved into a shameful situation in which those with access to legal 
medicines could become legal drug abusers while those purchasing 
drugs on the street were deemed criminals and incarcerated.

This was especially true in the United States. A As the opiate abuser 
Rush Limbaugh, the popular conservative radio talk-show host, kicked 
up his feet in rehab after years of railing against addicts, 
thousands were lying in prison after committing more or less the same acts.

The million little pieces of America's drug problem was not to be 
found in rehab centers across the nation, but in the state and 
federal prison system.

Also woven into knots in the 20th century was the concept of 
addiction. Alcohol is indeed comparable in its addictiveness to 
heroin and cocaine, as the British study suggests, but we do not 
realize this because of the different lenses we wear when looking at 
different drugs.

These lenses are so powerful today that we do not even refer to 
alcohol as a drug. Nevertheless, alcohol is similar in harm to these 
other drugs, and this is not just because it is used by so many people.

When cocaine and morphine were used by the masses a century ago, 
people knew about them what we know about alcohol today: Most users 
do not develop addictions, although some people are more likely to 
develop them than are others - for developmental, personal and 
biological reasons.

A rational systems of drug classification is a good idea, but it must 
not only reclassify drugs. It must go further by tearing down the 
myth that some drugs are inherently good, bad, powerful or addictive.

The cult of pharmacology must be replaced, in other words, by a cult 
of reason, and one that emphasizes that drugs are us. What good or 
bad drugs do is first and foremost a social issue, not a 
pharmacological one, or a medical one.

Richard DeGrandpre, a past fellow of the National Institute on Drug 
Abuse, is the author of a history of drugs in America, "The Cult of 
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman