1. Most harm arising from recreational illicit drug use does not arise from the drug itself but arises from drug policy abuses – the drug laws and policies that do much more harm than good.
2. Whereas chronic problematic drug use and/or addiction are largely caused by personal, social and political dislocation (Alexander 2008), and those struggling with drug centred lifestyles also have to endure considerable harm from drug policy abuse.
I was delighted to be cited by the much respected Owen Jones in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class -an honour, but let me explain further the way I see drug dependence and drug use. Drug taking is not of itself a ‘problem’, so we should have no particular concern on learning about a person using drugs (apart from understandable concern arising from the considerable risks posed by drug policy abuse such as criminalisation), any more than we would upon learning someone was using the legal drugs caffeine or alcohol.
So our concern should be for a small minority who struggle with chronic problematic drug use, (estimated to be only 3-6% of the people who regularly use drugs), who also further suffer considerably from drug policy abuse, such as stigma, discrimination, criminalisation, enforced abstinence, no access to clean, reliable and quality controlled drugs, degrading and poor services.
While anyone can lose control, it is worth noting that most people who do lose control successfully regain control without professional help or medication, however, there are a small group who lack the resources, support networks, agency or life experience, and for this group addiction can become a fixed state which they struggle to move on from. Indeed, for this chronic group ‘addict’ becomes an all embracing internalised identity, a label that defines them, tells others all they need to know about them and all we need to know about how they should be treated.
Problematic drug use (and indeed drug use) should never have been constructed as a crime problem, but neither should it be particularly seen as a medical problem or a disease. Chronic problematic drug use is largely caused by personal, social, cultural and political pain and suffering (and at times will may also include psychological, physiological and legal issues). This is something I observed working on Merseyside in the mid 1980s as a probation officer and drug worker, and for subsequent decades researching the topic as an academic.
Experience as a drug worker and academic research tells me chronic problematic drug use is largely driven by enduring personal and structural alienation, factors that were serious issues long before drugs became a problem.
Here are six articles/book chapters you can download where I explore these issues further:
- Buchanan, J. & Young, L. (2000) ‘Examining the Relationship Between Material Conditions, Long Term Problematic Drug Use and Social Exclusion: A New Strategy for Social Inclusion’ in J. Bradshaw & R. Sainsbury (eds) Experiencing Poverty, pp. 120-143 click here
- Buchanan J & Young L (2000) Problem Drug Use, Social Exclusion and Social Reintegration – the client speaks Understanding and responding to drug use: the role of qualitative research Greenwood G & Robertson K (eds.) pp155-161 EMCDDA click here
- Buchanan, J. & Young, L. (2000) ‘The War on Drugs – A War on Drug Users’. Drugs: Education, Prevention Policy, 7(4), 409-422 click here
- Buchanan, J. (2004) ‘Missing links? Problem drug use and social exclusion’ Probation Journal, 51(4) click here
- Buchanan, J. (2006) ‘Understanding Problematic Drug Use: A Medical Matter or a Social Issue?’. British Journal of Community Justice, 4, (2) click here
- Buchanan J (2005) Problem Drug Use in the 21st Century: A Social Model of Intervention in Social Work in T. Heinonen & A. Metteri (eds.) Health and Mental Health: Issues Developments and Actions. click here
- Buchanan, J (2015) ‘Ending Prohibition With a Hangover’ British Journal of Community Justice, Vol. 13, No.1 pp.55-74 click here
References: Alexander, B.K. (2008). The globalisation of addiction: A study in poverty of the spirit. Oxford: Oxford University Press.