Pubdate: Thu, 09 Feb 2017
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Gordon Gibson
Page: A11


Making drugs illegal and unsafe has fuelled the toll, says Gordon

Why do we have laws which guaranteed that hundreds of British
Columbians committed involuntary suicide last year - unwisely but also
unintentionally killing themselves by injecting unknown substances?
Legally assisted death is highly controlled, and yet we let drug
deaths run rampant.

By contrast, any adult can go to a store and buy alcohol of known
potency and lawfully drink all day.

The users of other recreational drugs cannot obtain safe supplies of
known potency to do the same thing. They have to play the Russian
roulette of unknown chemicals. Yes, they "win" most of the time (if
being wasted without dying fits that description), but they lose all
too often. And then they die, recently from fentanyl and who knows
what next.

Why cannot safe supplies be legally obtained? Because it is against
the law, that's why. And why so? Because it is. Is it not time for a

Applause for the huge and growing efforts to help by safe injection
sites, antidotes for overdoses, education and the debate about "root
causes" such as mental illness, housing and so on. These things are to
be supported and more needs to be done.

But why have we chosen to create this problem in the first place, by
making many substances illegal for adults? Underline adults. An
absolute prohibition on youth use must be maintained and, as has been
so successful with tobacco, this has to be buttressed with pervasive
and intense teaching of the young. But for adults? Some say it is a
"health" problem, and in a way it is. Heavy use of alcohol will kill
you, usually slowly. A tiny fentanyl dose, unsuspected, will kill you
right now. That is not a health problem. That is a public safety problem.

I do not suggest decriminalizing drugs is an easy discussion in our
society. It has taken years to just begin with the relatively trivial

For some, the issues are moral. "Pleasure needs to be earned, not
bought", they say - bought pleasures being inferior to the real thing.
The same kind of thinking demands methadone maintenance (not
pleasurable), rather than heroin maintenance, which doesn't cause suffering.

For some, the issues are economic. How can a society that easily
permits drifting off into La-La land via drugs possibly maintain the
incentives that are needed for people to work hard, be productive, and
pay the taxes that look after those crippled by substance abuse?

Good question. But alcohol poses much the same question and society
survives just fine. No doubt harder stuff is more addictive for some,
but in many cases productive lives can be led as long as all of the
user's time is not taken up in the petty crime needed by most to
acquire chemicals that are wildly inflated in price because of illegality.

Next line of defence - the disapproval effect. That which is banned by
society is less likely to be widely adopted.

A lot of strength in that argument. Returning to tobacco - the
amazing, wonderful decline in usage is because it is now agreed to be
a very, very bad thing. So would it not be very risky to allow for
availability of safe recreational drugs? What kind of world would it
be if untold millions spent their time in a dreamy state looking at
small screens and playing games?

Portugal has shown that something like general decriminalization can
work. Switzerland does heroin maintenance. Maybe there is a good
Canadian middle way to stop the carnage and minimize negative social
and economic effects.

It took us nearly two generations to work our way through the
marijuana thing. We don't have that kind of time now. The world is
moving a lot faster. The rise of robots, decline in job market
participation, withering away of organized religion and gradual
hollowing out of the middle class (which must be stopped though no one
knows how) has left more and more people at loose ends. Drugs are one
way out and so people die.

As with tobacco, education is the long-term answer. It always is. In
the meantime, we really have to talk about the involuntary suicides.
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