Drug addiction and abuse will not stop if drugs are legalised

Sigrid Rausing argues that drug addiction should be treated as an illness, and I agree – but I don’t believe prohibition is what makes drugs dangerous

Sigrid Rausing, sister of Hans Rausing, has written movingly of her thoughts on drug addiction, following the death of his wife, Eva. Eva’s body was found in a bedroom in the couple’s house after he was arrested on suspicion of possessing class A drugs. She was two months dead of an overdose. Rausing pleaded guilty to delaying burial of a body, and got a 10-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. He is now in rehab.

Rausing argues that her experiences with the couple’s addiction has led her to believe that addiction is a mental illness, and that drug addiction should be treated as a disease, not a crime. I find it amazing that the idea that substance abuse is a form of obsessive self-harm should be controversial, but it is.

However, the reasons people think drug use should be considered a moral failing, not a mental health issue, are writ large in Rausing’s response. She says the “war on drugs” is what hampers the ability to help addicts. She’s wrong. That war is destructive and unwinnable, yes, but alcohol being legal doesn’t make alcoholism any easier to treat, or less likely to occur. Ditto for drugs.

The real problem is that many people think a “psychosomatic” illness is not “real” illness – it’s “all in your mind”. But it’s our minds that help us define our identity and place in the world. In a world as complex as this, it’s no surprise many people have problems dealing with who they are and what their lives are for. A world in which mind-altering substances weren’t wanted would be a better world. One in which they were more easily available might be more sympathetic to such problems. But it wouldn’t solve them.

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