The Human Rights Model of Drug Use and Drug Problems

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.” – John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

It is the proper role of our government to prevent and curtail drug related harms, not drug use. People have every bit as much right to ingest any substance which they chose as they have to choose their sexual identities and consenting partners. Surely if a man has a right to insert his penis in a consenting male’s anus, he also has the right to insert a syringe full of heroin into his arm.

It is neither drugs nor drug use which causes crime; it is drug laws and unreasonably inflated black market drug prices which cause crime. Heroin is not expensive to manufacture; in Iran heroin is cheaper than chewing gum. America’s federal drug laws are not only immoral, inhumane, and anti-humanitarian; they are unconstitutional under the tenth amendment of the constitution of the United States.

The Right to Use Drugs

People not only have a right to use drugs recreationally, they also have a right to use them dependently without criminal sanctions or coerced treatment. This is because neither recreational nor dependent drug use necessarily causes crime nor harm to users or others.

In 1965, 42% of all United States citizens were cigarette smokers, but this huge amount of nicotine dependence did not induce rampant crime. This is because cigarettes were affordable and no one had to rob grandma for the price of a pack of cigarettes.-Kenneth AndersonThink of the number of persons in the United States who are nicotine dependent. Evidence shows that nicotine dependence is harder to overcome than heroin dependence. In 1965, 42% of all United States citizens were cigarette smokers, but this huge amount of nicotine dependence did not induce rampant crime. This is because cigarettes were affordable and no one had to rob grandma for the price of a pack of cigarettes.

Drug dependence does not cause crime. High drug prices due to the drug war cause crime. In fact, excessive cigarette taxation has led to increases in cigarette related crime in New York City and New York State. If possession of caffeine carried a prison sentence and a teaspoon of instant coffee cost $100 then our prisons would be filled with caffeine-related criminals.
Let us also remember that nicotine does not cause cancer; Tobacco Specific Nitrosamines (TSNAs) cause cancer. Given a safe delivery system such as an electronic cigarette or Swedish snus, nicotine use is essentially as harmless as aspirin.

The Sway of Ineffective Treatments

As long as we believe in the violation of basic human rights of drug users, inhumane and ineffective treatments will hold sway. During the periods of United States history when homosexuality was considered either a crime or a disease and not a human right, inhumane treatments such as aversion therapy and chemical castration were considered appropriate. Prison was also considered appropriate for homosexuals and in earlier centuries it carried the death penalty under the Buggery Act of 1533.

Now human rights activists are working to outlaw conversion therapy for homosexuals. When homosexuality and drug use were either considered criminal behaviors or diseases, aversion therapy was considered a good treatment for both. Now, we believe that aversion therapy is harmful for homosexuals yet it remains popular for the treatment of addictions, as we can see from the Wikipedia entry on the topic aversion therapy, in spite of the fact that decades old research by Alan Marlatt demonstrated that those undergoing aversion therapy for alcohol dependence did no better than a control group.

The reality is that we believe it is good to punish the scapegoat and pariah class because it justifies us in taking away their basic human rights. It is a case of punishment reinforcing the punisher.

NIDA insists on telling medical doctors that all non-medical drug use is abuse in spite of the fact that SAMHSA tells us that over 80% of non-medical drug use is not abuse; the majority of drug users use recreationally and do not qualify for a DSM 5 diagnosis of substance use disorder (abuse or dependence per DSM-IV).

The Strategy of Disempowering

Calling drug use a “disease” is a strategy for disempowering drug users and forcing them to undergo treatments which in most instances have the effect of punishment and generally violate their first amendment rights to freedom of religion by lying to them and telling them that they will die unless they accept a “Higher Power.” The disease model is used to stigmatize active drug users while simultaneously de-stigmatizing ex-drug users. However, neither active nor ex-drug users deserve stigma. Drug use, whether dependent or recreational, is neither a crime nor a disease. It is a basic human right. It is only drug related harms which may constitute diseases or crimes.

It is a crime to kill someone with your automobile – whether you are drunk or not – and it deserves to be treated as such. Lung cancer is a disease whether you got it from smoking cigarettes or cooking over a wood stove.-Kenneth Anderson

Using the Disease Concept Angle

The disease concept is very useful if you are creating an organization which people will never be able to leave – like AA. It is the exact opposite of what is needed if you want people to be free and psychologically healthy. What is needed in this case is to teach people that they have the power within themselves to overcome their addictions and the tools to help them unleash it. Healthy people do not need to transfer their dependencies on substances into dependencies on religious cults.

Drinking alcohol is not like cancer. Regardless of how much conscious effort you make to stop a tumor from growing there is no effect. You really are powerless over the growth of tumors and need to rely on a surgeon to excise them. Whereas the only way one can drink alcohol is to exercise choice and use one’s voluntary muscles to buy the alcohol, carry it home, raise it to one’s lips, and swallow. These are all actions of conscious choice, not a disease.

Although when actions like drinking or smoking cigarettes or shooting heroin are highly habituated, it requires more effort to avoid doing them than to do them, the reality is that this is merely difficult, not impossible. It requires effort, not divine intervention which does not exist.

It is only after we have established the right of people to use intoxicants that we can discuss humane and science based interventions for those who choose to change their intoxicant use by pursuing goals of safer use, reduced use, or abstinence. We will only be able to have good addiction science and good treatments for drug use problems after the repeal of all drug prohibition laws and all prescription laws. Adults have a basic human right to buy any drug they like from heroin to Prozac over the counter. Prohibition laws exist only to cause harm to a minority and prescription laws are nothing but collusion between doctors and pharmacists to jack up the price of drugs. Here’s to a humanitarian future where we can order our heroin and the syringes to inject it with from Amazon. And perhaps if we shift our derision away from drug users as a pariah and scapegoat class we can redirect it to a more deserving target. Like politicians, who are the ones who created this whole mess in the first place.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Rehabs.com. We do believe in healthy dialogue on all topics and we welcome the opinions of our professional contributors.

What Are Your Thoughts on this Topic?

  • Kenneth Anderson

    I am not sure if rehabs dot com cut my final paragraph on purpose or by accident so I include it here in the comments

    “It is only after we have established the right of people to
    use intoxicants that we can discuss humane and science based interventions for
    those who choose to change their intoxicant use by pursuing goals of safer use,
    reduced use, or abstinence. We will only be able to have good addiction science
    and good treatments for drug use problems after the repeal of all drug
    prohibition laws and all prescription laws. Adults have a basic human right to
    buy any drug they like from heroin to Prozac over the counter. Prohibition laws
    exist only to cause harm to a minority and prescription laws are nothing but
    collusion between doctors and pharmacists to jack up the price of drugs. Here’s
    to a humanitarian future where we can order our heroin and the syringes to
    inject it with from Amazon. And perhaps if we shift our derision away from drug
    users as a pariah and scapegoat class we can redirect it to a more deserving
    target. Like politicians, who are the ones who created this whole mess in the
    first place.”

    • Rebecca Bee

      Great article and thanks for including the final paragraph. Very well said.

  • http://www.thefreedomtorecover.com/ Rolf Ankermann

    Hey Ken, great article and as usual I agree with most of what you say, particularly in regards to the uselessness of AA and all things 12 Step.
    Two things I might have to disagree is where you say “It is a crime to kill someone with an automobile-whether you are drunk or not-and it deserves to be treated as such.”
    Correct me if I’m wrong but it almost sounds as if your stance on it is, “Hey, drunk driving is fine if you’re good at it and don’t get caught killing anyone. Until then live and let live.” LOL
    Other than that the only other thing that I would have concern about would be making heroin available on Amazon for pennies. If the shit were as cheap and readily available as “chewing gum” you don’t think that we would have a mass increase in heroin use? Ok and if only 20% become dependent, that’s still a hell of a lot of people who will be in nod-land all over the place. I’m all for decriminalization and maybe even legalizing everything but it needs to be a little better thought out than 5 cent heroin and syringes available to every 7th grader at their local candy store.

    • Kenneth Anderson

      Rolf, I would like to see the breathalyzer ignition interlock standard on every car sold just like seatbelts I also think legal heroin would reduce rather than increase use and dependence.

      • http://www.thefreedomtorecover.com/ Rolf Ankermann

        Cool, glad to hear that. Living in the city you don’t see all the crazy assed people stumbling out of the bars and into their cars. Drunk people walking in the city is one thing and who cares, 3 ton death traps with wheels quite another-lol
        Still disagree on point #2 but that’s what makes the world go around.

  • http://AddictionMyth.com/ AddictionMyth

    I like the extremism here, but I think you go a little off the rails in the following ways:

    Yes we should have every right to take whatever drugs we like. But until 12 Step doctrine has been fully extirpated (including drug zombification theory), a free market in drugs will be disastrous. The addiction bullies will continue to brainwash people into powerlessness, overdose, and suicide (and claim “I worked hard to beat my addiction”). And the government will continue to teach our children: “Drugs and alcohol will make you do things you’ll regret.” LOL

    The fact that you are still a bit of a zombificationist is shown by your recommendation of mandatory breathalizers in cars and you still use language like “overcome their addictions”. And of course your own dangerously unhealthy ‘planned drinking’ sprees. That’s fine, you’re getting warmer.

    ‘Free to use drugs’ doesn’t necessarily mean you can buy them at Walmart. For example, Denmark has safe injection sites. That might be a good place to start.

    And I like that you blame crime on the drug war, not ‘addiction’. Still, people don’t commit crimes to buy drugs any more than they commit crimes to afford movie tickets and video games and trips to their local amusement parks with their friends or beauty products (which you would know if you ever had your credit card stolen). They commit crimes because it’s fun and drugs make it funner.

  • Silver Damsen

    Great comparisons and observations on the disease model found in AA. I find it interesting that I want to baulk (especially funny because of the AA in-joke on bualking) over the idea that it should be legal to take heroine. Before exposure to Anti-AA ideas, my automatic response was that taking heroine is like selling your soul to Satin. I still have no intention of doing opiates and as I have commented elsewhere do not even like codeine for pain, so might not like stronger opiates even if I tried them. But I’m now seeing how my previous views were more or less brainwashing. I asked myself how I knew that heroine was so awfully, awfully bad and the answer that flashed through my mind was all media images of the dangers of heroine. I know that what the media has said about AA is incorrect. The disease model is wrong and dangerous. I also know that Prohibition of alcohol created organized crime, increased corruption in government on a variety of levels, and didn’t do what one would hope it would do in terms of controlling consumption. Prohibition did mean that social drinkers were less likely to drink, but it also increased the danger and excitement of the slightly heavier user. If someone wanted to drink they had to break the law, which made breaking the law more glamorous. No doubt these choices increased use for some groups even if they eliminated use among groups that rarely used alcohol at all. However, the end result was no use or unhealthy use. Heroine has existed a very long timer; Its existence isn’t the problem. How it is used is the problem. Thus, yes rather than encouraging more dangerous usage the saner thing to do is make use safer and not something that is understood as one time and you damned for life, which is the disease model. What we know about the human psyche is that if it thinks it is damned it will behaved as damned. Thus, we have to stop thinking that way and working towards a healthier attitude towards all drugs or all types. This article and other writings of Anderson are helping me towards this goal, just as I hope they help others.

    • Kenneth Anderson

      Silver, I think people have good enough sense to make good decisions if given accurate information instead of drug war lies. I wouldn’t be using heroin if it were legal and I doubt many people would.

      • Silver Damsen

        Exactly, misinformation on dangerous drugs is the bulk of the problem. People are aware that they are not getting the truth but they find out the real truth after they already have a drug problem. Ironic, but disgusting that the methods of the War on Drugs fuel the War itself.

      • Kyla Norton

        Its quazi-legal, creating “addicts” via the system everyday. The most devastating demographic are the ones that start out with legal opioids (or other chemical cousins to dangerous schedule 1 substances) Via brands like Percocet, Vicodin, Oxytocin, Hydro, ext…Given to thousands of PATIENTS everyday. Even to children, don’t even get me started with all of the forms of legal speed specifically marketed to already troubled kids (Ritalin, Vyvanse, concerta, phentermine ext…). Addiction/ “the addict” is a man made disease and concept. However, there is chemical dependency from continuous substance use of anything potentially addictive. That chemical dependency can manifest itself in illness however, which I still think is something we all need to be sensitive of. Because it comes from the most “innocent” of places.
        The brand and the source is enough for most to think its okay. And that’s just one root of the problem. In nearly every rehab there’s dozens of drugs available behind the nurse’s counter, standard for every patient. Given out like candy, for anything from headaches to insomnia to anxiety… Its taught in addiction treatment centers (and everywhere basically) that what the professionals give you are not only “safe” but often necessary for your success in the program and in life. Its not just the religion, its the life-long subscription to prescriptions too. Health insurance costs, additional prescription costs, and mandatory appointments… At least AA is free.

      • Kyla Norton

        Great article by the way Kenneth! What you said about substance abuse disorders and how most drug consumption is not “abuse”, merely just labeled that way because of the classification of the substance was spot on.

  • William

    Kenneth Anderson, I do enjoy your brilliance. I have taken the liberty to unpack some of the messages that I would hope the readers would see, digest, accept and understand.

    “People not only have a right to use drugs recreationally, they also have
    a right to use them dependently without criminal sanctions or coerced
    treatment.”

    If anyone can appreciate this notion that a right to use or not use is basically stating the fact that use or not use is a choice. When we have rights, we have the right to choose to exercise or not exercise that right and that involves without doubt the concept of Choice. Great statement. You point out the following…

    “As long as we believe in the violation of basic human rights of drug users, inhumane and ineffective treatments will hold sway.”

    I would hope that the readers would notice the cognitive dissonance created by utilizing the notion of choice and “ineffective treatments”….because it is fact that in reality there is no such thing as treatment since as you later point out there is no disease. No disease equates to no Recover, Recovering or in Recovery. It involves choice and change. There is on The Fix a posting about jettisoning this language and this sentence, although not specifically stating that fact explicitly implies the fact that Disease/treatment/Recovery are all part of the Disease paradigm and the sooner that language is discarded then the sooner “effective methods” will develop and be applied to re-establish the sane and safe exercise of human rights that would include choices as you say. You further clarified this…

    “Calling drug use a “disease” is a strategy for disempowering drug users
    and forcing them to undergo treatments which in most instances have the
    effect of punishment and generally violate their first amendment rights
    to freedom of religion by lying to them and telling them that they will
    die unless they accept a “Higher Power.”

    There is a clear association with disease, treatment, recovery and coercion. There is no question that true freedom involves freedom from Recovery/treatment/Disease. The world would be better off when the language that involves this paradigm is discarded. True freedom is Freedom From Recovery and acceptance of the Freedom to Change that involves Choice as you say.

    The sad part, and I know you know this, wanting the readers to search into their knowledge bank, The Harrison Act. This act should be known and reviewed by everyone that opposes the present system you decrie. It is ironic that after the passage of that law you would find something like this.

    ” After passage of the law, this clause was interpreted by
    law-enforcement officers to mean that a doctor could not prescribe
    opiates to an addict to maintain his addiction. Since addiction was not a
    disease, the argument went, an addict was not a patient, and opiates
    dispensed to or prescribed for him by a physician were therefore not
    being supplied “in the course of his professional practice.” Public Law No. 223, 63rd Cong., approved December 17, 1914.

    A disease that is not a disease. How ironic. Your conclusion embodies all that I have pointed out…Brilliant, Mr. Anderson, just Brilliant..

    “And perhaps if we shift our derision away from drug users as a pariah
    and scapegoat class we can redirect it to a more deserving target. Like
    politicians, who are the ones who created this whole mess in the first
    place.”

    Please, please, everyone should look and read the history of the Harrison Act that the Politicians used to create this whole mess. Please stop talking about Disease/Treatment/Recovery…….for when you use any of these words they are tied to the entire notion of believing that you are Powerless over Alcohol, nonsense and to believe that you can only find relief by asking for a HP to aid you. The freedom of choice, the freedom from recovery, embodies an intelligent, unselfish, approach to this problem and Mr. Anderson has brilliantly explained it.

    True freedom involves Choice, the right to choose and the right to change. Good Job and more to come I am sure Mr. Anderson….thank you…

    • Kenneth Anderson

      Thank you for the kudos. Yes, better than the word “treatment” is to talk about teaching people strategies and techniques to control or stop their use if that is what they choose to do.

      • William

        Thank you for your persistent and caring messages. You truly represent the Via Media from use to non use or some use through choice. Thank you again for the link to Patt Denning, Phd and Jeannie Little, LCSW and Harm Reduction. It is safe to say that you believe and practice other than I did it this way and you should follow me….you truly have evidence, knowledge, training and experience. This should be the standard for those wishing to promote help.

  • Keith McAdam

    Great article Ken. We do part ways on the medical model, but I’m of the belief that like any other disease, addiction can go into remission with the right treatment. Unlike most diseases though, effective treatment has to be individualized.

    • Kenneth Anderson

      Thanks Keith!