Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Capitalism, Pain and the War on Drugs

Here is a piece I did for Winds of Change when Joe was just starting to have guest bloggers.


Let me start this little essay with an idea. A very simple idea. An idea that strikes at the very heart of the drug war and its moralistic foundation. The very idea that those who use unapproved drugs are the lawful subjects of religiously motivated government persecution.

What we call addiction is in fact self-treatment of undiagnosed pain. I know from experience that this idea is hard to accept, so let's talk about some concrete examples.

Take this article, for instance: "Experts say U.S. soldiers likely will suffer emotional trauma." This article discusses the shell shock (now called PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome) that will need to be dealt with in the aftermath of the war. This issue has never been a factor in the post war reconstruction from previous wars. In so many ways, we are doing much better in this war than previous wars. What this article fails to mention is that a lot of PTSD sufferers turn to drugs such as pot, heroin, or alcohol to ease their pain. The Israelis get it and are trying to do something about it.

Soldiers aren't the only ones with this problem. We also have victims of sexual abuse. About 70% of female heroin users are victims of sexual abuse.

Police have this problem as well. It causes drug use, alcoholism, and divorce. It is a huge problem for them.

This whole drug enforcement and anti-tobacco regime amounts to a kind of genetic discrimination against pain sufferers. Some people get over their PTSD in a short amount of time. For others the problem is life-long. The time it takes for pain memories to decay depends on the severity of the trauma and the genetic make up of the individual. About 20% of the population can have long term problems.

Here are some good articles on the decay of pain memories. It varies with the level of pain and the genetic makeup of the individual. All humans show fear reactions to dangerous situations. However, in the case of one out of ten people (surprisingly the same percentage of people who are susceptible to substance addiction) the fear does not die down in the absence of the dangerous situation. The fear stays at debilitating levels even in the absence of danger. These people have a definite, if ordinarily invisible problem.

Here is what the professionals think. What they think is that there are two components of addiction (as opposed to habituation which is a short term phenomenon and is fixed by a detox regimen) trauma and genetic susceptibility.

Of course, if as I posit addiction is just another form of self treatment for pain, then what the DEA is doing is simply malicious rather than helpful. That concept comes through most clearly when The DEA makes war on sufferers of physical pain to "protect" them and others from addiction... for example, their prosecution of "medical marijuana" cases where the drugs are used by cancer and AIDS patients. I contend that the difference between these cases and "ordinary" addiction is merely one of circumstance.

Look at what people other than drug addicts do for their pain. Think endorphins. Think runners high. Think food. Greasy sugary food. It ain't pretty.

On Wednesday, you heard what a police officer familiar with all the above material had to say about the drug war.

The drug war is unwinable. People in pain will do almost anything to relieve their pain. That's why torture gets confessions. Even untrue confessions.

Drugs are about relief from pain. Any one who believes that after 80+ years of fruitless effort we can now succeed in reducing the flow of drugs is delusional. All we accomplish is to provide a price support mechanism for drugs, which by its very nature funnels significant funds to all kinds of criminals and terrorists.

The whole drug business is a perfect example of socialism vs capitalism. The capitalists are winning. Supply always meets demand at a price. No surprise there. What is so surprising is that so many pro-capitalists support the socialist system of prohibition. Ironic. Do they misunderstand the nature of drugs, or the nature of capitalism?


Final Historian said...

You fail to mention, however, the escapist nature of more powerful drugs, and the long term damage to society that may result from their broad acceptance.

Soma is not that far into the future.

M. Simon said...

People in chronic pain wish to escape from that pain.

Those not in pain have no interest in drug taking.

Heroin was thought to be non-addictive because the first ten people it was given to had no interest in continued use.

If drugs cause addiction it is wise to keep them tightly regulated or even prohibited.

If drugs do not cause addiction (as a DEA pamphlet on pain stated - before the pamphlet was withdrawn at DEA insistance to the chagrin of the team of Doctors who wrote it) then this whole fighting drugs is non-sense.

We are gaining knowledge about drugs. That knowledge is pointing to a two factor theory. Chronic drug use is caused by severe trauma and a genetic susceptability. Protiens in the amygdala.

If that is the case we are fighting something that does not exist. If the common explanation that drugs cause addiction is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Interesting viewpoint. Self medicating to ease pain, physical or psychic, seems plausible. Prohibition certainly has failed, and brought in its train crime and corruption, and misery.

Anonymous said...

First of all, in order to prove that drug addiction is inherited, one would need to identify the gene responsible. So much for that theory. My opinion: bullshit.

Second, just because people with problems tend to have drug problems says nothing about drugs themselves. Logic is not commutative, unless one is willing to assume that cause and effect are interchangeable. Then again, conservatives often rely on religious mysticism for intellectual guidance, to the chagrin of physicists around the globe.

Third, PTSD is such a novel concept that there is no reliable information about it, never mind a genetic test for susceptibility to it. My opinion: those who are repeatedly traumatized become more susceptible. So much for 'spare the rod and spoil the child', unless one is intent on raising a family of emotional cripples.

Fourth, most 'graduates' of AA go on to become responsible social drinkers. Some day I must find out how they managed to alter their genomes. Did asking Christ into their hearts do it?

Empowerment of the addict would be a given in the course of curing addiction. Inventing fictional genetics disempowers and pre-ordains addicts to a life of misery, as well as waving a red flag in the face of all those potential eugenicists out there.

My opinon: addiction is both a chemical and a social condition that anyone in trouble can fall into. I noticed that no one mentioned escape from stress itself as a primary motivation for drug abuse. It is my opinion that this is the primary motivation behind the current antidepressant fad.

No one mentioned the damage to our economy (and our brains) that a 10% dependency rate on antidepressants is doing to us. Antidepressants, like cannabis, are also weak moderators of chronic pain, except they are legal. Does everyone taking an antidepressant also have undiagnosed chronic pain? IMNSHO: bullshit.

In my opinion, with the advent of 'safe' SSRI's, the baby boomers have institutionalized their drug habits into mainstream medical science. It would be far more productive to address the root causes of stress, such as the over-reliance on fossil fuel and technology coupled with inequitable distribution of wealth and ever-increasing militarism that unrestrained breeding has encouraged.

But then, I am just a radical lefty liberal, with no credibility, so go ahead and ignore me.

M. Simon said...


Some of the genes have been identified.

Genetic Discrimination

In addition the NIDA says addiction is a genetic disease.

Addiction Is A Genetic Disease

So right away you are on weak ground. i.e. the government says you are full of it.

PTSD is not a nebulous concept:

Fear memories, the amygdala, and the CB1 receptor

PTSD and the Endocannabinoid System

In addition a genetic test is being developed for it:

A Test For PTSD

As usual for a lefty you are weak on science and strong on opinion. My condolences.