We have tried naming and shaming it. We have frightening deterrents and torturous punishments for it. We have tried preaching and praying it out of existence. Even the threat of death does nothing to slow it down. Drug addiction is immune to all of it.

What we do not offer enough of is medical treatment. We are still slave to the primitive mindset insisting that the best way to stop someone from doing a bad thing is to threaten to do an even worse thing to them. The problem with that primitive mentality is that it works so well for so many things. Our lizard brain tells us that if we ratchet up the deterrent and punishment high enough, it just has to work for drug addiction. Here is why it never will:

no drug addYou Can’t Punish Disease

Drug addiction is not a bad behavior. It is a physical disfunction. You can’t punish a diabetic into not being a diabetic. The best we can do is try to limit access to illicit and harmful drugs. If we can stop people from getting the first taste, we might can prevent the addiction from occurring.

There can be little progress in the battle against drug addiction until the nature of drug addiction as a medical problem fully enters our consciousness. The problem is that it is hard to think of something that we actively do as a disease. We think of a disease as something that is done to us. When we see someone taking another drink, or shooting up IV drugs, we think of that as something they did to themselves. All they have to do is stop. 

But that is not even close to the reality. Completion has nothing to do with will. An addict willing himself to stop taking drugs is like you willing yourself to stop eating. Other than short, insignificant bursts, you can’t do it. There are physiological reasons you are compelled to eat. In the same manner, there are physiological reasons why an addict can’t just put down the crack pipe.

Death Is No Deterrent

Death is supposed to be the ultimate deterrent. But survival is clearly not the strongest human drive there is. Everyday, doctors tell diabetics to lose weight and cut the carbs. Everyday, diabetics pack in the carbs and gain weight. They know an untimely death is the end result of this behavior. Yet that knowledge is not enough. It will not be will power, but pharmaceuticals that end diabetes.

Most every drug addict knows that the drugs are killing them. They do not necessarily want to die. But that does not stop them from reaching for ever more deadly drugs. If that does not deter them, no outside threat of death will.

Issues of Drug Abuse in the Middle East persist despite some of the deadliest consequences of being caught:

  • In Iran, 500 people a year are given the death penalty.
  • In Saudi Arabia, transporting drugs is punishable by public decapitation.
  • In the UAE, trace amounts of marijuana landed a person in jail for four years

Punishing the Victim Never Works

In some cultures, the woman who is raped is the one who is punished. Most civilized nations have a visceral understanding of how wrong that is. We punish drug addicts because we do not see them as victims of a crime, but as criminals. The real crime occurs when people scheme to make money by growing a dangerous substance that can ravage a human till dead, all for the sake of profit. That is not merely a crime. It’s evil!

The purveyors of drugs only profit when people are victimized. Yet our prisons are filled with more drug addicts than drug providers. In 2006, marijuana was America’s number one cash crop. 80% of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan. The manufacture of illegal drugs is what props up the economy in many places. It seems rather hypocritical and counterproductive to produce the victim makers while punishing the victims.

Fighting addiction is far from hopeless. But it requires us to stop trying to punish disease in those already victimized by something far worse than death.