February 07, 2014

No, Russell Brand, draconian drug laws didn't kill Philip Seymour Hoffman

I applaud the British Atheist Jesus, Russell Brand, talking about his own addiction, in this piece.

However, while he's personable there, and thoughtful in other things, or thought-provoking in his piece about not voting, and certainly intelligent, sometimes ...

Brand is just wrong.

And he is here, in claiming that America's draconian drug laws killed PSH. 

Before we start, a stipulation that I support decriminalization of marijuana, and am even OK with full legalization. I absolutely agree on "leveling" current sentencing on crack and powder cocaine. Beyond that? Most experiments with legalizing, or even decriminalizing, "hard" drugs have been done in countries with a lot smaller population, and with less racial and ethnic diversity, than the US. Their results don't necessarily translate here. Nor do I believe the standard libertarian argument that all drug problems disappear with legalization.

Next, one thing specific to Brand's diatribe.

His claim that many countries have legalized heroin is true only in a narrow sense. They have, instead, legalized its officially prescribed use. In other words, countries like Switzerland treat heroin like methodone here. Or stricter. It's "legal," but I take Brand as meaning something more like "street legal." And, that's simply not true of about anywhere.

This is true,  yes:
If drugs are illegal people who use drugs are criminals. We have set our moral compass on this erroneous premise, and we have strayed so far off course that the landscape we now inhabit provides us with no solutions and greatly increases the problem.

That said, the solution is not to legalize, but to do more on the rehabilitative side, especially for users of smaller amounts, to lessen legal sanctions on users of smaller amounts, but without giving a free pass to coke or heroin.

Then there's this:
This is an important moment in history; we know that prohibition does not work.
True enough, but the false implicit conclusion that full legalization will magically make things better doesn't follow. Modus tollens.

That's even more true of this:
People are going to use drugs; no self-respecting drug addict is even remotely deterred by prohibition. What prohibition achieves is an unregulated, criminal-controlled, sprawling, global mob-economy, where drug users, their families and society at large are all exposed to the worst conceivable version of this regrettably unavoidable problem.
For the first decade or two, here in the US, we'd probably have massive turf wars between drug gangs, an increased global mob economy with tax evasion, bribery, and more.

Now, back to the details of Hoffman's death.

First, as noted above, very few countries in the world have legalized or even "just" decriminalized heroin.

Second, even if it were legal, that still wouldn't guarantee that PSH wouldn't have gotten some tainted supply, unless you had "inspected" heroin.

Third, per No. 2 and my above statement, Hoffman could have wound up buying tainted heroin even with a tax stamp on it or whatever. International cigarette smuggling is proof of this. (I'm not saying that smuggled cigs are "tainted," just that government tax stamps are often fraudulently duplicated.)

Fourth, it doesn't guarantee that somebody might have tried turning him on to mixing heroin and fentanyl, either. Given that Hoffman's relapse reportedly started with what he took as an "innocuous" drink of alcohol, but escalated, he may have been at the point where he wanted to push envelopes.

Fifth, even if I remove 2 and 4, it doesn't guarantee that he wouldn't have OD'd on plain old heroin, perfectly legal.

Sixth, back to prescribed heroin again. People here in the US steal, forge scrips and otherwise do all they can to get their hands on legal, but prescription restricted narcotics of all sorts of stripes. I'll bet the same is true in Britain. Maybe even in Switzerland or Portugal.

Again, I'm not against at least a somewhat more libertarian attitude on drugs in the US. But, let's not pretend that loosening, let alone legalizing, drugs is a panacea for addiction, including for what can be the final result of addiction. After all, alcoholic, sadly, still die all the time.

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