Sunday, May 11, 2014

High politics

If this story did not come from a usually trustworthy news source, I would have a hard time believing it.

About 40 percent of Punjabis 15 to 25 years of age were addicted to some kind of narcotic, and 48 percent of farmers and laborers are addicts, according to a 2011 government report.
It is difficult for me to conceive of a society with addiction rates that high (though I am not clear exactly what "addiction" means here; it has been demonstrated, for example, that people who are addicted to heroin can work steadily, as long as they do not have to spend all their time getting more heroin).

I had recently  read a persuasive argument for legalizing drugs, but am not yet convinced.

My argument, in simplest form, goes thus:

If a hit of crack cocaine/heroin/whiskey/name your poison costs less than a pack of cigarette, then what is it that prevents nearly everybody from using the poison? At least in America, when crack got down to $2, usage did not then become as common as chewing gum. (It is irrelevant to the proposition what comparison is used; when I first began thinking along these lines, a pack of smokes was around $3. Cigarettes are relatively higher now, but I don't see the smokers I know giving up. They try, lately by vaping. Most have ended up giving up  vaping, but a few now vape and smoke both. This applies even to those for whom buying tobacco means not eating regularly.)

The barrier is not religion or fear of the law, for the most part. A hundred years ago, when addictive drugs (except alcohol) were hardly regulated in the U.S., I don't think addiction rates got as high as 48% even in heavily addicted sectors.

It seems clear to me that a big factor in addiction is a personal propensity for risk-taking. I have a friend who used to be addicted to snorting coke. A spell in prison and a near-death overdose got her off snow but not off excitement. She started running up bills she could not pay, for the thrill of evading bill collectors.

Not appealing to me, but to some people.

It is also true that social pressure has a lot to do with it. Perhaps this is what happens in Punjab.


  1. Hold the presses! Harry and I agree on something, even well down into the details!

  2. So why do you think you and I don't buy bindles? We can afford it.

  3. I had to look up "bindle" which at first glance was a hobo's sack, but more careful research reveals it for this context as a small container that holds drugs, or more specifically for this context, I assume a small container actually holding some sort of powdered drug?

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not all that ignorant about drugs, I either just hadn't heard that term or it had been so long since I'd heard it that I'd forgotten what it meant.

    I'm not going to ever admit to personal drug use, but I will say that I saw an awful lot of people use an awful lot of (supposedly) very dangerous and addictive drugs with not a single long-term ill effect, and, in fact, nearly all of those people simply tired of the drugs and stopped using them with no noticeable conscious effort as they matured and got older. If I had ever used drugs, I'm pretty sure I would've fit in that category. There were a couple of short term issues with the person needing to take a semester off for medical leave, but surprisingly even short term few issues.

    Yet it's clear that these same drugs are often (usually?) incredibly damaging to many or most people. Why the difference? I don't know, but it seems that those I know who used drugs without ill effect were all very intelligent, very hard charging, disciplined, success driven people who simply wouldn't let a little thing like drug addiction get in their way. (You might wonder why they took drugs at all and the answer would be some mixture of curiosity and entertainment and perhaps oneupsmanship.) Those who are badly affected may not be as disciplined and driven. That's my guess, anyway.

    So what's a society to do? Even my libertarian self finds it a tough call to say no government intervention. Yet it's hard, even for many non-libertarians, to see the current half-century "war" on drugs as being overall beneficial. Yet, I can't think of a different solution that's workable in this country.

    Let's see how the marijuana thing goes in Colorado. More data points are always good.

  4. If a hit of crack cocaine/heroin/whiskey/name your poison costs less than a pack of cigarette, then what is it that prevents nearly everybody from using the poison?

    I can think of a better way to make your argument: sin taxes on alcohol.

    There are enough one per centers to form a statistically valid population. To them, the cost of alcohol, sin taxes included, as a proportion of their disposable income, is so small as to approach zero.

    So how come they don't drink themselves silly? I'm not saying none do, only that the proportion seems completely unaffected by disposable income.

    It seems clear to me that a big factor in addiction is a personal propensity for risk-taking.

    I know that anecdote is no substitute for data. Nonetheless, I shall insert first hand experience here.

    As a guess, I'd say I'm at about the 90th percentile for risk-taking. And I have never touched an illicit drug. I personally know very few addicts, but of those I do know, the only risks they take are a consequence of their addiction.

    IMHO, the stand one takes on legalizing psychotropic drugs (Full disclosure, I am on my second generous glass of scotch as I type this. Perhaps that means I deserve bonus style points for a) coming up with "psychotropic" and b) typing it correctly twice in a row.) must rest on an axiomatic assumption: the basis of addiction.

    If your entering argument is that some proportion of the population is prone to addiction, then it is only a matter of what they will become addicted to. If that is true, then the war on drugs is completely pointless.

    On the other hand, it is possible that for every person there is an addiction. Which means that, as costly as the war on drugs is, it is less expensive than societal collapse.

    I think the former is true. I don't know the former is true.

    That leads to precautionary principle thinking. Which means all warmenists should be against drug legalization.

    I'll bet the opposite is the case.

  5. My experience is largely with alcoholics and many killed themselves. Few quit drinking.

    Risk-taking is perhaps compartmentalized. Bret belongs to the group that lauds taking financial risks but that does not transfer to psychic risk; Skipper to physical risk but not to some types of psychic risk.

    Aside from watching several colleagues announce they would drink themselves to death and then do it, I have been deeply impressed by 2 things:

    1. My uncle was head of employee relations at the world's largest cotton spinning mill. He had about 500 alcoholics working there. He told me all alcoholics are lonely. I was skeptical but over the years have come to think he was right.

    2. Some years ago, during a Green Harvest crackdown on marijuana, a friend who runs a head shop printed bumper stickers claiming that, denied pot, the island's young people would switch to batu (smokable methamphetamine). I was skeptical (because the effects of the two drugs are so different, it stands to reason they would appeal to different audiences), but to a degree I think he was right. Some people are so uncomfortable in their own heads they cannot stand being "alone."

    So I don't think the truly motivated can be deterred; 'just say no' is silly for them.

    OTOH, the cultural expression of use of mind-altering drugs can be directed. I \n the South, if you are drinking, there is a high expectation that you will go on a tear, rather than quietly go comatose. If I were going to end regulations, I would simultaneously encourage socially peaceful expectations of users.

    I am also strongly tempted to join legalization to ending taxpayer support of rehab. 'Go ahead, but you are on your own.'