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November 02, 2011

A Revealing Handbook

The more I study American drug policy, the more I consider the new specialty of Addiction Medicine to be its creature, the very existence of which depends on mistaken policy beliefs about "addiction." That view was strengthened by reading a publication intended as a Handbook for the practice of Addiction Medicine. I freely admit to my own bias; since I decided US policy was seriously flawed many years ago and have had no reason to change that opinion, I had become more interested in understanding just how such a bad policy had survived for so long. What I learned from reading Addiction Medicine didn’t change my opinion of the policy, but it did enhance my understanding of its acceptance. Although its sub title asserts that it’s “evidence based,” the Addiction Medicine Handbook is an archetypal policy-friendly exercise of the type that began accumulating rapidly in Psychiatric and Behavioral Science literature shortly after passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. The CSA can best be understood as a homologue of the infamous 1937 Nuremberg laws used by Adolph Hitler to arrogate total control of society in a nation made resentful enough by the Treaty of Versailles to accept his preferred assessment of its malaise (betrayal by the Jews) and its necessary therapy (the Final Solution), which, amazingly, was still being implemented in April 1945; even as Germany was being gobbled up from the East by the Russians and from the West by the Allies .

To pursue that analogy a bit further, the drug war’s bureaucracies (The DEA and NIDA) have been permitted to wage the expensive war that sustains them despite its record of failure because it is mostly metaphorical; whereas Germany’s 1945 enemies were using live ammunition. Beyond that, the nuclear weapons we were motivated to produce by Japan’s threat of mass suicide, has yet led to lead our species into nuclear winter (although there have been at least 2 close calls).

As for the Addiction Medicine handbook, its support of our failing policy is disclosed more by what is not explained than by what is, a tactic that has been been critical to the drug war's durability as policy. Once drugs were made illegal, users were placed beyond the reach of unbiased study, whereas self-interested policy supporters within government were given total control of the agenda on the basis of their largely unsupported claims about “drugs” and their noxious effects. Worse; those opposing the policy could be tarred with the same brush as clueless hippies at best and criminals, at worst. That our media simply amplified those claims by accepting them at face value from 1972 on is a matter of record, as is the proliferation of policy-friendly "studies" purporting to show that cannabis functioned as a "gateway" drug.

John Mitchell’s Controlled Substances Act was the legislative master stroke that brought that situation about. By rolling the Harrison and Marijuana Tax Acts into one package, it provided the policy with a single plausible enemy (the addiction of children) and gave the nation enough time time in which to forget the fiasco of (alcohol) Prohibition. Not only had another world war intervened between the criminalization of “marijuana,” and the start of our drug war, but America had rediscovered its taste for booze while women were entering the work force and a new youthful demographic (the Baby Boom) were discovering the blandishments of alcohol and tobacco. In other words, generational amnesia had set in between passage of the the MTA in 1937 and the discovery of “weed” by young “hippies” in the Vietnam-Nixon era.

Rastegar and Fingerhood’s short chapter (11 of 17) on marijuana is especially revealing; both for its brevity- 6 pages of a 295 page book- and for the issues it does not try to address: the history of cannabis prohibition, its sudden popularity with youth, its user demographics, and the claimed medical benefits that have led to medical marijuana laws in 16 states. That both authors are prominent in the new specialty of “Addiction Medicine” and on the Hopkins faculty is both revealing and discouraging.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at November 2, 2011 04:08 AM