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The Diseased Theory of Addiction

Dear Drug Policy Reform Advocates,

I would like to see us use another term for addiction other than disease.

Pathogens cause diseases.  Drugs are not pathogens.  

I do not call drug use a disease. I avoid calling addiction a disease.

  • Do some people with diseases use drugs?  Yes.
  • Can injecting-drug-users contract diseases from shared needles from those who are infected?  Yes.

Clearly, people called, or calling themselves, addicts can definitely feel uneasy, ill-at-ease, and so forth, even dis-eased, but I am certain that labeling drug users as diseased and drug use as a disease is playing into the hands of the wrong crowd.

  • Prohibitionists want you to think drugs are contagions.
  • Prohibitionists want you to think drug users are diseased and infectious, this gives them the excuse to break down doors with screaming violence in order to isolate them — lock them up — to “quarantine” them, so they can be treated like social lepers.
  • Prohibitionists want you to think drug users are contagious in harmful ways. If this was true then nearly every undercover officer would also become a drug addict.
  • Prohibitionists want you to think drugs can make you dirty. If this were true then Jesus would not have said it’s not what goes into a person that makes that person unclean, but what comes out of the person’s mouth. [Matthew 15:10-20, Mark 7:14-23]

What diseases do people contract where their pain, suffering, and/or symptoms go away when exposed to more of the pathogen? None that I’m aware of.

They may try to act caring, but from the inception of drug “control” laws many prohibitionists have been deceitful about their intentions and cruel in their actions. Here is a quote from the Consumer Union Report, Licit and Illicit Drugs, Chapter 8, pp. 49-50, the Harrison Narcotics Act (1914).

On its face, moreover, the Harrison bill did not appear to be a prohibition law at all. Its official title was “An Act to provide for the registration of, with collectors of internal revenue, and to impose a special tax upon all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca leaves, their salts, derivatives, or preparations, and for other purposes.” The law specifically provided that manufacturers, importers, pharmacists, and physicians prescribing narcotics should be licensed to do so, at a moderate fee. The patent-medicine manufacturers were exempted even from the licensing and tax provisions, provided that they limited themselves to “preparations and remedies which do not contain more than two grains of opium, or more than one-fourth of a grain of morphine, or more than one-eighth of a grain of heroin … in one avoirdupois ounce.” Far from appearing to be a prohibition law, the Harrison Narcotic Act on its face was merely a law for the orderly marketing of opium, morphine, heroin, end other drugs — in small quantities over the counter, and in larger quantities on a physician’s prescription. Indeed, the right of a physician to prescribe was spelled out in apparently unambiguous terms: “Nothing contained in this section shall apply … to the dispensing or distribution of any of the aforesaid drugs to a patient by a physician, dentist, or veterinary surgeon registered under this Act in the course of his professional practice only.”  Registered physicians were required only to keep records of drugs dispensed or prescribed. it is unlikely that a single legislator realized in 1914 that the law Congress was passing would later be decreed a prohibition law.

The provision protecting physicians, however, contained a joker hidden in the phrase, “in the course of his professional practice only.”

After passage of the law, this clause was interpreted by law-enforcement officers to mean that a doctor could not prescribe opiates to an addict to maintain his addiction. Since addiction was not a disease, the argument went, an addict was not a patient, and opiates dispensed to or prescribed for him by a physician were therefore not being supplied “in the course of his professional practice.” Thus a law apparently intended to ensure the orderly marketing of narcotics was converted into a law prohibiting the supplying of narcotics to addicts, even on a physician’s prescription.

Many physicians were arrested under this interpretation, and some were convicted and imprisoned. Even those who escaped conviction had their careers ruined by the publicity. 

Needless to say I encourage you to read the rest of the chapter, and the whole book! :-)  But I want to be crystal clear that intrinsic to prohibition is twisting things in whatever way to oppress and exert as much control as possible over others.  

First, they say addiction is not a disease, it’s evidence of moral decay, thus the righteous must stamp it out! So immediately all addicts were outlaws and no doctors could see them as patients to prescribe maintenance doses to them; although those doctors clearly knew their patients had need of medical oversight vs. languishing in coerced confinement.  

Now some Drug Warriors and Prohibitionists (ahem, John Walters) are saying addiction is a disease, but what are the constants that haven’t changed? 

  • Using shame and punitive measures.
  • Despising an intelligent system of regulation.
  • Ignorantly conflating all drugs.
  • Completely ignoring the realities of the underground market.
  • Ignoring the other multitude of intrinsic flaws of Prohibition.

For the time being I don’t have a word that makes me say “this is it, spot on!” And for the most part I even try to avoid using the label of addict or addiction. 

What suggestions do you have?