Letter: The real reason for addiction

Editor of the Reformer:

This is a response to your recent editorial, "New prescription painkiller rules a good start."

The editorial states that according to the Vermont Department of Health, 80 percent of heroin users started by misusing prescriptions, and only 6 percent of people prescribed opiates become addicted. Ninety-four percent of patients prescribed opiates that relieve the symptoms of legitimate medical conditions shouldn't have to suffer unnecessary pain because the other 6 percent got addicted.

Furthermore, the users only turned to heroin because of drug prohibition. In "Chasing the Scream: The first and Last Days of the War on Drugs," Johann Hari devoted a chapter to the prescription opiate crisis, specifically writing about Vermont's epidemic. He and Meghan Ralston of the Drug Policy Alliance, Bruce Alexander of Simon Fraser University and Hal Vorxse, a doctor in Oklahoma City, concluded problems from prescription drug addiction only occurs after an addict is cut off from their prescription. When an addict is forced to turn to the streets to seek out his or her fix, heroin often becomes their go-to drug. Not by choice, but because during drug prohibition, criminals smuggle and sell them most potent form of a drug, even though most users would prefer something milder.

Another common misconception about addiction is what causes it. According to the U.N. Office on Drug Control, 10 percent of drug users become addicts while 90 percent use drugs without any serious problems. The Partnership for a Drug Free America funded a series of ads in the 1980s stating substances were the cause of addiction, citing experiments conducted on rats. Nine out of 10 rats, when given the choice between water or water laced with cocaine and heroin, chose the drugged water and consumed it until it killed them. But Professor Bruce Alexander has a theory that addiction is caused by isolation and unhappy, unfulfilling lives. To prove this, he did his own experiment. He repeated the old experiment with a solitary rat in a cage and got the same results. Then he had a cage with multiple rats that could interact and play with toys. Given the same choice, they hardly consumed any of the drugged water, while the solitary rat did.

The idea that addiction is caused by an individual's particular circumstances has been embraced all over the world; Canada, Switzerland and Portugal have all taken a radical new stance on fighting addiction. They provide addicts with a safe place to inject under medical supervision; they treat the addict with compassion, helping them find work and housing, and they offer counseling, helping to fill the void in their lives that drugs are filling. Drug use has been cut in half in these places, and drug related crimes are almost non-existent. We can learn from these examples — America needs to stop fighting the War on Drugs and start cleaning up its casualties.

Chet Woodruff,

Jamaica, May 13


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