Having finally closed the Wired story that sent us out to Kenya last fall, we’ve moved on to another big project for the magazine. This time the focus will be on addiction, which means you should expect plenty of drug-policy posts in the coming months. We’ll kick off the fiesta today by noting this paper out of Britain, in which the authors make a truly contrarian claim: that heroin use needn’t always lead to abuse:
Our findings suggest that sustained heroin use does not inevitably lead to dependency, and that dependency will not always cause users significant problems – particularly involvement in crime and personal degeneration. We have demonstrated that, for some people, using heroin does not strip them of the ability to make conscious, rational and autonomous decisions about their drug use. The descriptions of heroin use presented here contradict the stereotypes that are to be found in the media’s treatment of the topic and political statements about it. They almost certainly conflict with popular beliefs about the drug.
The authors are careful to note that they’re not trying to infer that heroin is harmless, or that it can be used rationally by every addict. But as their case studies reveal, there is a large population of British heroin users who do not lose everything to the narcotic. Rather, they manage their use by remaining aware of its power. Several of the users surveyed, for example, strictly adhere to rules when dabbling in heroin—they force themselves to spend only a certain amount on the drug each month, for example, or they refuse to use until other priorities (such as work or family) have been taken care of.
None of this is to suggest that these people wouldn’t be better off heroin-free. But as the paper concludes: “If debate about drugs is to be rational, it is important that this fact is recognised, and that constructive lessons are drawn.”
Chapters 3 and 4 are particularly recommended if you’re in a rush.