David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

End the War on Drugs and Find a Better Solution

Brandon Sun, February 27, 2017 – David McConkey

The current fentanyl crisis is a reminder of the fiasco that is the War on Drugs. And reminding us of the need to rethink our whole approach to alcohol and drugs are two new Canadian books. One, by Ontario neuroscientist Marc Lewis, is The Biology of Desire. The other, by Saskatchewan lawyer Harold Johnson, is Firewater.

First, can we stop pretending that the War on Drugs is somehow working? No matter how we understand addiction, branding addicts as lawbreakers does not help them. And making drugs illegal only empowers criminals who then flood our society with more drugs.

Can we acknowledge that there is no ideal solution, but that legalization and regulation is the best possible option? That legalization and regulation offer us the best chance to reduce the power of criminals and to keep dangerous drugs out of the hands of children?

Addiction can be treated as a medical issue, not a legal one. Provide those addicted to drugs like fentanyl with a prescription for the least harmful form of the drug while helping them overcome their addiction. (Such programs are in place in Europe.)
 
Furthermore, can we acknowledge that we have much to learn about drugs, alcohol and the nature of addiction? We can start by ending all taboo subjects and by talking honestly. (For example, I noted here during the last provincial election that politicians from all parties want to be “politically correct.” So, they are all afraid to say: fetal alcohol syndrome.)

Biology of DesireMarc Lewis is not afraid to tackle taboos in The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is not a Disease. Lewis, a neuroscientist, has been a professor of developmental psychology at institutions like the University of Toronto.

His book is based not only on the science, but also on his own and others’ stories of addiction. His research included “reading thousands of comments and e-mails from former and recovering addicts and interviewing dozens of them for hours at a time.”

Lewis provides much neurological explanation to his assertion that addiction is not a disease. When a person has an addiction, Lewis states, their brain changes. But these changes are not the result of having a disease, he says, but because of an ingrained habit. He notes that “most addicts eventually recover permanently.”

Furthermore, Lewis says that “calling addiction a disease is not only inaccurate, it’s also often harmful.” Instead of seeing “themselves as helpless victims of a disease,” he says, addicts benefit from feeling empowered. They then can learn better habits by incorporating new narratives of their lives progressing to a better future.
      
The stories we tell about ourselves and others is the theme of Harold Johnson’s book Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours). Johnson is of mixed immigrant and indigenous background. He has seen the disastrous effects of alcohol both personally and professionally as a defense lawyer and Crown prosecutor in Saskatchewan.

FirewaterJohnson describes a stark – but often ignored – Canadian reality: one-half of the deaths of indigenous people are related to alcohol.

Like Lewis, Johnson also rejects the label of addiction as a “disease.” Johnson says, “The problem with calling alcoholism a disease is that it takes control away from the alcoholic.” And he identifies another disempowering idea: indigenous people as the victims of historical trauma. That perspective, Johnson says, “takes away our ability to do anything about it for ourselves. We can’t fix colonization.” 

For centuries, the narrative about indigenous people in Canada has revolved around alcohol abuse, Johnson says. Alcohol “became the dominant story about us.”

Johnson concludes, “We have to change the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves and about alcohol.”

The Biology of Desire and Firewater are well written and should command our attention. Both books present professional insights, gripping personal stories, and Canadian perspectives. These books are also a reminder that – while the fentanyl crisis makes the news right now – we face great underlying problems concerning drugs and alcohol. 
 
To address these problems, we need a multi-faceted approach. Let’s dismiss taboos and discuss all subjects. Let’s recognize that we have much to learn about drugs, alcohol, addiction and treatment. Let’s look at best practices from around the world, including programs here that successfully reduced the use of tobacco.

And let’s end the War on Drugs. 

* * * *
See also: 

The Biology of Desire on Amazon.com         (on Amazon.ca)

Firewater on Amazon.com         (on Amazon.ca)

Review – The War on Drugs: A Failed Experiment

Reflections on the War on Drugs

Retired Brandon Judge Speaks Out

Citizen Active

Other Reviews

 



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