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Does Legalisation Work to Prevent Drug Addiction?

In the early 19th century, explorers chanced upon a mind altering substance, called Iboga, that Africans used in spiritual ceremonies. The compound was then isolated and today, Ibogaine is being used to treat severe addiction. It essentially rewires the brain and resets—meaning means reduced withdrawal symptoms for heroin addicts—such as in the case of Howard Lotsof.

This anti-addiction treatment has successfully rehabilitated drug addicts, however, it has also proven to be fatal, especially in cases where patients have an underlying heart problem or are taking other medication. It is currently illegal in America and is only available in a few other countries, such as Canada, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, and South Africa. This is why many rehab centers that use Ibogaine in their treatment plan are often found outside of the States. While it is one of the more intense treatments, the effectiveness of Ibogaine treatment is hard to overlook.

However, with a multitude of treatment options available, we continue to look at treatment as the solution. And, while treatment is absolutely necessary, the problem is based in the drugs and the addiction itself. Treatment is only one side of the spectrum. There is a massive cry for help, and learning from other countries that have had created successful drug policies would help.

Right before 2017 drew to a close, Mexican economist Pedro Aspe and Former United States Secretary of Labor, George P. Shultz, published an article in New York Times claiming defeat against the war on drugs. They outlined how society has tried to combat drug abuse, from the ‘Just Say No’ campaign to current legislations. The overruling voice screams for justice by criminalizing possession, trade, and manufacturing. However, there is one alternative that gets very little public attention: legalize all drugs.

When Portugal was ridden with a drug problem, instead of spending billions incarcerating addicts and dealers, authorities decided to do the opposite of what American has done; decriminalizing all drugs and starting a public campaign to curb addiction. Over 15 years later, it is clear that their approach has yielded positive results.

According to New York Times, “The number of Portuguese dying from overdoses plunged more than 85 percent before rising a bit in the aftermath of the European economic crisis of recent years. Even so, Portugal’s drug mortality rate is the lowest in Western Europe—one-tenth the rate of Britain or Denmark—and about one-fiftieth the latest number for the U.S.”

The government has also made methadone vans available to the public, free of charge. The opioid substitute allows addicts to regulate their withdrawal symptoms and lead normal lives. Conversely, in the States, methadone treatments are highly expensive and unattainable for many who need it.

Combining treatment options with successful drug policies plays a major role in dealing with addiction. Not every individuals addict will respond the same. However, helping addicts find treatment, without fear of prosecution, not only helps to reduce the number of addicts, but also helps keep addicts safer by avoiding diseases and high risk behaviors that are normally associated with an illicit addiction.

Critics might feel tempted to pull up the data on opioid addiction in America, claiming that legalizing drugs would only increase the numbers of addicted individuals. However, one must bear in mind that painkillers have been marketed strongly through mainstream and is readily available as a quick fix. It was a major decision on Portugal’s part that they did now allow opioids to be prescribed for regular use.

One of the main reasons for overdose deaths is that many addicts do not seek help for fear of being incarcerated. Imagine that, people who are more afraid of going to prison than death. In order to reverse that mindset, drug users need to be reassured that they will not be prosecuted. Once that fear is replaced, addicts can better help themselves by seeking medical attention rather than hiding themselves from society and using until their drug of their choice eventually ends their life.

A little over a year ago, Canada was also suffering from high levels of opioid addicts. They have since legalized heroin in an attempt to bring those numbers down. However, it is not the same model as Portugal uses –whereby dealers are still treated as criminals and are the only option for users to obtain drugs—but that it gives “physicians the freedom to treat severe cases of heroin addiction with a prescription form of the drug known as diacetylmorphine.”

Similarly, with the situation that plagued Portugal, officials felt that the rate of addiction was so high that they had nothing to lose by trying a new tactic in an attempt to stop addiction. However, the medical treatment is significantly more stringent than those in Portugal, forcing their outpatients to receive medical care from clinics thrice a day and a failure to do so would result in disqualification from the program.

Regardless of whether it was the legalization of heroin that made its impact in Canada or the laws policing recovering addicts in medical centers, the numbers do not lie and the reports from 2017 were optimistic with at 51% success rate at overcoming addiction.

It is clear that their prison system does not work on addicts and has become a strain on their economy. Furthermore, Portugal reportedly spends an approximation of $10 dollars per patient – which is how society has learnt to address and view addicts – whereas billions are poured into correctional facilities in the States. Perhaps it is time for America to try something different and new, rather than to depend on what has always been done. After all, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

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