The Secular Humanist Approach to Drugs

narcotic /na’kɒtɪk/ n. Any of a class of substances that blunt the senses, relieving pain, etc., and inducing sleep.

The modern interpretation of the term inaccurately defines its etymology and signifies negative connotations. The political ideology on the matter is apparent immediately from the definition compared to its common usage in discussion.
This entry aims to explore the hesitation impeding a drug liberated Australia, to entertain a drug liberated future, and to discuss the ethical implications to restrict individual substance consumption.

But first, some definitions and interpretations:

  • Secular Humanism: A philosophy that advocates human reason, ethics, and justice, and the search for human fulfilment; expressly rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience or superstition as the basis of morality and decision-making.
  • Drug Liberated: Social theory of a populace freed from traditional substance prohibitions, especially those with ideological rather than rational foundations.
  • Autonomous Liberty: Principle referring to an individual’s right to own personal freedom within their primary actions and responsibilities, i.e., to have unimpaired means to act within one’s own interests without imposing on another’s personal freedom.

Shortly after Australia’s Federation came the first bills to enforce drug prohibition. By 1905 several such bills had been passed, initially targeted at the opium usage of Chinese Australians, speculative as purported racism as Anglo-Australians alluding to the Chinese Australian users as a danger to health and morals.
In 1910 Australia’s Minister of Home Affairs guided prohibition laws through parliament to address unruly behaviour linked to alcohol and Australia’s Capital Territory became the first Australian jurisdiction to enforce prohibition – these laws would be repealed in 1928.

Ethical arguments aside, prohibition will always be a double-edged sword; for those it might help to keep a portion of the population unexposed to the substance, it also creates opportunity for organised crime and shuns substance abusers in need of aid.
A clinical approach to drugs may have psychological and sociological benefits as it dissipates stigma, placing users at ease to accept whether an addiction exists and to seek help, rather than having fear of persecution and/or prosecution. Government regulated recreational substance programs may prevent irresponsible drug use and proposed medical prescriptions that practice administering diminishing dosages to safely combat addiction (weaning) could prove effective, compared to total and immediate abstinence, which accompanies severe and heavy withdrawal symptoms that often discourages a drug user’s rehabilitation.

A government’s stalwart preconceived reluctance on the matter of amending tactical drug programs serves only as a retardant in medical scientific progression; all the lives it hopes to protect via naivety by proxy are in turn endangered as the inevitable consumers of these illicit substances are pushed into the shadows. With so many users turned abusers, in part thanks to a system that defaults to condemn and deeming understanding as unnecessary, the consumer base of these substances can only remain obscure and any method developed to support the abusers is at best constructed on assumed rather than acute estimations.

Even with absolute legalisation of drugs there would still be abusers; no doubt there will be irresponsible users that will cause political and community backlash, but this is because there are irresponsible people.
The levels of susceptibility to addiction vary from person to person for different reasons (psychological, psychiatric, sociological, age, etc.) and there would still be a need for rehabilitation in a drug liberated Australia.
Discussion about how hard or soft marijuana usage is ideological as the investigation into the correlation of diminished mental health and cannabis usage is ongoing and remains inconclusive. Because cannabis is a psychoactive drug, problems are more pronounced (if not exclusive) in users who have a pre-existing or developing psychiatric disorder – alcohol consumption applies to this situation as it is also psychoactive.

Drug abuse is more apparent in the lower classes of any given society. What is being observed isn’t a problem but a symptom.
In Australia a kilo of heroin can be sold on its black market at a price anywhere between tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars pending on its quality and purity. Yet the production of a kilo of heroin is purported to be approximately equal to the cost of producing a kilo of flour, sugar, or any other generic household staple food.
What is sold on the streets is more often than not of poor quality – it is “cut” with other substances to make it go further. The gravity of tampering with the substance’s purity is deceiving; being uncertain about the quality of a purchased dosage places a user in danger of overdose. A lethal dosage of heroin ranges between 75mg and 500mg for an average-sized (75kg) person – though cases exist of addicts having a higher tolerance for the substance and requiring larger doses to experience the opiate’s influence.

Considering this information coinciding with the lower class, being the class plagued with the most emotional anguish (financial stress, feelings of inadequacy), organised crime has a reliable consumer base that craves the opiate in order to escape the daily grind.
With the high price of illegal drugs, and the combination of desperation to make ends meet and increased likelihood of mental health issues, a user becomes an abuser and resorts to crime to pay for the goods, or a life of squalor in order to be conservative with their money.

Creating a drug liberated Australia will not be as simple as refraining from arresting people for possession. It will require an intensive reconstruction of laws and regulations, awareness campaigns much like the campaigns for smoking, drink driving, and speeding, government health warnings on all packaging, call centres for information on use and how to quit, prohibition on the advertising of these products and political funding, and improved drug testing practices.

Lifting prohibition laws could seriously inhibit organised crime; both syndicates and freelance. With government regulation of opium crops grown in Australia the price of a kilo of heroin could be sold pharmaceutically at the same price as a kilo of sugar.
An increase of users may be observed, but this observation could be askew by the emergence of existing users becoming more open about their habits post-drug liberation. In the same vein, occurrences of abuse may drop as reduced cost could see a decline in consumers resorting to theft or paying for dirty heroin from a dealer. Consumer safety could be better ensured if currently illicit substances are prescribed as pharmaceuticals because the location of where it is sold will be unambiguous, rather than trafficking to suburbs with a reputation for such dealings.
Although there is a stigma attached to all forms of addiction, having no fear of prosecution would mean abusers might be more open to receiving help before their lives are ruined by the addiction. Health issues might be curbed as transparency about drug use would make safe injection practices common knowledge, reducing consumption of impure or contaminated unregulated heroin, preventing the contraction of ailments such as endocarditis, venous sclerosis, abscesses, etc.

Ending prohibition could see law enforcement moving away from dealing with the abusers and instead having the lesser problem of irresponsible users performing tasks that they shouldn’t be under the influence, such as driving.

The ethical question remains: what right does anyone have to another’s life?

Australian society grants that at the age of eighteen a person is declared independent and entirely responsible for their own actions. A liberated society would grant the adult individual to consent to his or her own activities provided that they do not disturb the peace or impede on the liberties of other individuals.
For example, an individual may choose to drink alcohol and become intoxicated. This intoxicated person is within their right to indulge in alcohol as this person is deemed mature by a governing body to both decide and be familiar with the consequences. The individual may cause self harm through drinking, but assuming that the individual is of sound mind, autonomous liberty expressed that it is up to the individual to decide whether there is a problem and whether help is needed.

It is only when other individuals are brought into the equation that the problem extends beyond the realm of the individual and any rights they might have to intoxication.
Such situations would be using a vehicle, public nuisance, aggressive behaviour; anything that brings someone else into a negative circumstance. The right to be intoxicated must yield to another’s right to be free from harassment or harm, such as the right to feel safe on public roads by prohibiting intoxicated individuals from driving.

Governments should have every right to direct funding at discouraging destructive behaviour. The Australian government has dispensed lavish amounts of funding to make the hazards of tobacco smoking common knowledge. But a government that claims ownership of an individual’s autonomous liberty cannot claim to be any better than a police state – such appalling flaws exist in Australia’s liberties with the continuing illegalisation of voluntary euthanasia.

Costs for managing a drug liberated Australia are argued to outweigh the benefit. However the freedom of twenty-two million Australians is given a price tag only when it suits an ideology; questioning the immense cost to keep a terminally ill person alive is taboo.
If autonomous liberty is to be revered in Australia then the cost of freedom cannot be a grey area anymore than the evident black and white answer that cost cannot be a factor in caring for the terminally ill. The costs to bear the burden of the terminally ill aren’t a factor because the government, ironically only in this instance, does not claim the rights to an individual’s life, or termination of.

It is accepted that it is unethical to cut off funding and support to individuals on the grounds of their capacity to function in society. This makes it hypocritical of Australia’s government to assume control of the consumption habits of an individual who isn’t hurting anyone. Instead of employing court ordered suspensions or bans on substance abuse in individual cases, such as repeat offenders of causing harm or nuisance to others, the government makes an assumption for each individual within the whole of the population. Australia’s government erodes at autonomous liberties for the convenience of a blanket solution.

Anti-smoking campaigners are moving to illegalise tobacco and they are using the argument of cost to support their stance. Concerning what is ethical, arguments concerning healthcare costs and revenue taxes intended to curb said healthcare costs are irrelevant.
It is impossible to ethically cherry pick social costs.

To address such parochial mindsets it is ideal to present comparatives in pursuit of clarification: is it anymore ethical to place a cost on a smoker’s freedom than it is to place a cost on sports injuries?
Just as beer drinking is equated to virility and often utilises blatant jingoism in its advertising because of Australia’s cultural setting, sport is also given special treatment, a blind-eye, because of its cultural significance.
Australian society tolerates violent games such as football and boxing, extreme sports, and even less violent sports, which still pose an elevated risk to injury.

Concerning cost, Medibank Private commissioned a report in July 2003 stating that sports injuries (professional, amateur, or recreational) are costing Australia $1.5 billion annually. The report concedes that the health benefits of physical activity outweighs the risks and hazards, but it only appears to address direct costs to injury, not loss of productivity within Australia’s economy due to individual downtime.
There appears to be no consideration of illnesses that can occur from sporting – skin cancer.
The Cancer Council reports that during 2000 to 2001 the total treatment cost for non-melanoma skin cancer was $264 million “making skin cancer, in financial terms, the most costly cancer burden to the health system.”
An additional $30 million was spent on melanoma treatment.

A counterargument to this proposal could be that sunlight is an unavoidable risk whereas smoking is a habit that is avoidable. Second-hand smoke might also be addressed. But just as measures are taken to limit exposure to UV radiation, measures have been taken to remove exposure to second-hand smoke.
Smoking is a source of pollution, and unlike drinking, there are complications to containing its airborne influence. It is only fair concerning autonomous liberty that other’s have the right to not be exposed to its fumes. But with designated smoking areas provided away from non-smoking zones, there can be no ethical grounds to impose prohibition due to concerns about second-hand smoking – smokers have given the right of way to non-smokers in that regard.

Another counterargument may be that sports are no comparison to smoking because its primary objective is to maintain physical health. But to be more accurate, participation in sports is primarily for its enjoyment.
For the enjoyment of athletes and spectators (and a salary for professional athletes) the costs for injuries and rehabilitation are ignored.

A healthy behaviour with any substance is for the enjoyment rather than the addiction; but just like athletes endure wear-and-tear over the course of their career for the sake of an income, or a good time for themselves or a spectator, so will substance users develop issues with their own health.
But one cannot ethically emphasise on the cost of medical treatment for an individual being reckless with their bodies in sports simply because one holds a low opinion of sports, running too high a risk of injury, which dips into one’s taxes, which one would rather see spent on something held in a higher opinion; this bias is incompatible with a free and socially secure society.

Liberty is an absolute – sacrificing or compromising freedoms only permits totalitarianisms to spring forth.


From my cold quill,
Erebus Nekromantia

Our freedom gone up in smoke...

2 Responses to “The Secular Humanist Approach to Drugs”

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