Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Guest post: Mandatory treatment for drug users

As part of a continuing series that I just started and will repeat whenever I feel like doing so, below is a guest post from a reader who takes a position contrary to my own on at least one topic -- in this case, mandatory treatment for drug users who are perceived to have crossed a line and so necessitated government intervention. The author is Denny Chapin, Managing Editor at AllTreatment.com.

Wait with eager anticipation for my response.

'Leave My Drugs Alone'
by Denny Chapin

As citizens of the United States, we want two things: first to be protected against the Hobbesian Leviathan of governmental power and second, to be protected by that governmental power when other citizens are threatening our freedom. We ask our government to stay out of matters that don't concern them, while demanding they protect us from irate citizens that diminish our quality of life.

In practical terms, we want freedom from government oppression when we want to do something our government does not allow, like taking drugs, and we also want protection from the government when a drug addict breaks into our home to fuel his addiction. The question we must ask is this: when, how, and what actions should our government take to ensure the protection of its citizens? and when is this protection oppressive and negative? How do we weigh these two forces against one another? Is there a satisfying solution, or is will this balancing act always produce argument and dissatisfaction?

Real World Example: Drugs

Alan I. Leshner, Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, defines addiction as "uncontrollable, compulsive drug seeking and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences." Drug addicts, by their nature, act in uncontrolled, compulsive ways, having a negative impact on their health and the social atmosphere around them.

Many drug users desire to be protected against governmental prosecution for using illegal drugs. They say "let me smoke marijuana in peace, it's my body I'm hurting, not anyone else's!" or "I'm less crazy when I take a hit of heroin, otherwise I'd be messing up even more peoples lives". And to a degree, there is some merit to their arguments, since many drug users casually use drugs without negatively impacting those around them.

But what about those drug users who cannot--does the government have a responsibility to step in and demand some form of action when an alcoholic completely ignores, or worse, physically abuses their children? Does our government have a responsibility to get heroin out of households? "They're my kids, so what if they see a few needles or a joint around? I'm not forcing them to do anything." This disposition is far more dubious, with the potential to truly harm the future generations of Americans, our youth.

Landing in Jail

In America, many criminals are forced into treatment programs because their crime was caused by, or related to their addiction, resulting from their uncontrolled, compulsive, and harmful behavior. When it gets to the level of incarceration, our government has a duty to intervene, not for the sake of an addict, but for the sake of the people that addict is surrounded by. It is at this extreme degree of action that we must enforce mandatory drug treatment, irregardless of the intentions of the addict. At their worst, an addict won't benefit from treatment, simply going through the motions. But hopefully, at its best, treatment will give them some perspective, showing them a window of sobriety to look through and see the world as they've built it up, and the world they could have.

There will never be a satisfying answer. People will always abuse drugs, always disrupt families, and always harm others in pursuit of a high. And people will always defend their abuse, deny its effects, and bring themselves and others down with them. If we accept this reality, we can still act for a future of change, bring hope to families, and shake the dirt from career drug addicts. And to that degree, we must take action. Never is it 'just their problem'; it's ours.

My response is here.

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