Trey Radel, Rob Ford Should Make Us Ask: Why Exactly is Snorting Coke Worse Than Drinking Booze?

When conservative Florida Rep. Trey Radel got
busted for cocaine possession, he made the right move from a legal
and p.r. point of view. He pleaded guilty and announced he was
entering rehab. He was more honest than most, though, in that he
acknowledged his real substance abuse problem was with alcohol.
Indeed, he told the press that his buying cocaine was an effect of
his drinking problem.

Writing at earlier this week, I noted the recent case
of Radel and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford – who was long known for
drunken oafishness but only really got in trouble when it turned
out he’d also smoked crack – and asked the question, “What’s
wrong with casual drug use?

Given that two states have already legalized pot beyond the
medical variety (with more sure to follow), it’s a question whose
time has come. We should be focused less on what sorts of
intoxicants people use and more on how they act when under the
influence. Cocaine and even heroin are not “addictive” in any
obvious way. Most people who try them never try them again and even
those who use regularly are not enslaved by them. A landmark study
of returning Vietnam vets in the early ’70s found that even heroin
addicts mostly dropped their habits when they came back stateside,
even though they were able to find junk easily and many tried it
after coming home without falling back into dependency:

As my Reason colleague Jacob Sullum has
documented, such take-it-or-leave-it findings are common in drug
research. In his 2004 book Saying
 and other places, he’s detailed work in which
researchers find a surprising range among heroin users, including a
study that concluded,
“It seems possible for young people from a number of different
backgrounds, family patterns and educational abilities to use
heroin occasionally without becoming addicted.”

It’s also true that regular drug users can often
function quite well. Sigmund
 used cocaine habitually for years, and his first
major scientific publication was about the wonders of the drug (he
eventually forsook it). Another pioneering late 19th and early 20th
century man of medicine, William Halsted, was dependent on cocaine
and morphine during an illustrious career that revolutionized and
modernized surgical techniques.

None of this is a brief for snorting cocaine, shooting heroin or
smoking marijuana (a substance that 58%
of Americans
 think should be legal for recreational use)
any more than it is a plea for drinking single-malt whiskey or
pinot noir.

But in an age in which we are expected to use legal drugs (like
beer) and prescription medications (Adderall) responsibly, it’s
time to extend that same notion to currently illegal substances
whose effects and properties are widely misunderstood. Indeed, the
effects of coke, heroin and the rest are a mystery partly because
their outlaw status makes it difficult both to research them and
have honest discussions about them.

Read the whole Time story here

What do you think? Are certain substances so inherently
addictive that they must be banned? Or should the proper scope of
policy be focused on behaviors?

from Hit & Run

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