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The Costs of Perpetual Wrong Thinking About Addiction

Politicians often make the same mistake responding to the latest drug scare.

In preparation to run for President, the New York Times notes, you have to make your mea culpas.

Here was Joe Biden’s apology for the way he handled crack:

“It was a big mistake that was made [the 1994 crime bill Biden helped to write built around getting tough on drugs],” Mr. Biden said of the measure, which has been criticized as disproportionately affecting black Americans. “We were told by the experts that ‘crack, you never go back,’ that the two [crack and powder cocaine] were somehow fundamentally different. It’s not. But it’s trapped an entire generation.”

Let’s be clear about what Biden is apologizing for, and what he (and society) still fail to comprehend:

  • Getting legally tough on drugs penalizes poor people, putting millions in jail uselessly

This is what Biden doesn’t address:

  • The crack scare was one in a long history of drug scares/panics that demonize a particular drug
  • Focusing on supposedly bad drugs fails to address the sources of problematic drug use

I believe that Biden may not understand these points for two reasons. He seems to believe that drugs addict people, causing them to misbehave and ruin their lives. Although he now says he was wrong in saying crack did this, he still believes that opioids do this. Keep in mind that, in 2007, Biden introduced the “Recognizing Addiction As a Disease Act,” which made exactly the point for which he is apologizing about crack: opioids (e.g., heroin) make you lose control and turn over your life to a drug in a way that you can’t avoid.

In 2014, Biden was forced to acknowledge that the underlying drug in crack, cocaine, doesn’t overwhelm people because his son, Hunter, was caught using it, getting him booted from the U.S. Naval Reserve.

But Biden still believes this “bad-drug” profile holds for opioids (even though the overwhelming majority of opioid users have no problems with the drug), and so whatever he wanted done to crack users in 1994 he presumably would be willing to do to opioid users today (or illicit opioid users, or fentanyl users, or whomever) for the same mistaken offense (using an overwhelming addictive drug), however normally the person actually behaves (like Biden's son).

Because opioids are addictive, bad, control people, and people can’t be allowed to use and must be punished for using them, as Biden claims: “lives, families, and communities have been destroyed by opioid addiction all across America. Opioid addiction is a crisis ripping the heart out of our country.”

Old ways of thinking die hard, no matter how mythical.

P.S. (Jan 23)

If addiction is a disease.

Submitted by Ravi on January 22, 2019 - 9:46pm

According to the DSM-5, addiction is a mental disease (Substance Use Disorder). Why are we putting anyone in jail for having a disease? If we want to be true to the medical standpoint on addiction, we should not put anyone in jail for using. Prison for drug users only perpetuates the situation. People that have a substance use disorder need treatment not prison. Treatment cost a quarter of what it costs to imprison a person.

Reply to RavI

Ravi, check

Submitted by S. Peele on January 22, 2019 - 10:18pm

DSM-5 doesn’t say addiction is a disease (or that anything is a disease); DSM-5 doesn’t say that drugs are addictive.

Reply to S. Peele

Of course, my whole point in writing the article is that viewing

Submitted by Stanton Peele Ph.D. on January 23, 2019 - 11:59am

addiction through a mythical addiction prism has caused, still causes Biden, wIll always cause Americans to make biased, hurtful, clinically and socially dysfunctional decisions — I think Ravi is saying, “Let’s use the definition of addiction I imagine to be in DSM-5,” which I’m guessing for him is the same as Biden’s definition.