Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pope to drug addicts

I was very pleased that the Bishop of Rome visited a hospital for drug addicts, pleased too that he said the Church was with drug addicts and pleased that he felt able to say that though difficult it is possible to break addiction. Here, not a few of my parishioners are recovering addicts of one sort or another, faith, repentance, a sense that "there is a Power greater" than them and their dependency helps.

Never the less death by overdose, death by suicide are pretty common in Brighton amongst the young, as is the involvement of addicts in crime to feed their addiction. Prostitution, theft, broken relationships, damaged children are very much part of the lives of addicts. The whole course of drugs from there production in places like Afghanistan in the third world, through to their transportation and distribution by smugglers and dealers is about exploitation of the poor. Tin pot regimes, failing economies, organisations from the IRA to the Taliban, and various Mafias all exploit drug users, all prey on their weakness. Invariable the dealers themselves are addicts, dependant on exploiting others and encouraging theirs friends to become addicts in order to pay for their fix.

 In Portugal there is a social experiment to treat drug addiction as a 'health issue' and to decriminalise users, to treat them as victims of organised crime in need of the mercy of the State, various South American governments have been looking to follow a similar programme, Yesterday the Holy Father, like Pope Benedict when he visited another Brazilian facility for recovering drug addicts, said he was not in favour of such a course of action, he knows the South American situation better than me, but I am uncomfortable with his apparent blanket condemnation of decriminalisation.

My experience is that a habit which can easily cost a thousand pounds a week or more in Brighton, places the addict in a situation in which he or she is enthral to organised crime either pushing drugs themselves or in theft and prostitution or smuggling drugs from country to country. It is the huge expense that causes the problems. The Portuguese experiment makes drugs available on prescription which means that addiction is separated directly  from the murky underworld of crime and also means that addicts can be treated. The major success of the Portuguese experiment seems to be that addicts are not turned into pushers and dealers and the pyramid selling scheme which makes international drug crime so profitable is undercut at its root. It takes the prophet out of it.

I would have been happier if Francis had taken an overview of the international drug scene starting from the exploitation of impoverished poppy growers by local warlords. He might well be right that in South America taking a more liberal attitude to drug addiction might not work but in the rest of the world simply doing what we are doing does nothing for those whose lives are destroyed by those who make vast amounts of money from the broken damaged, frequently early ended lives of addicts. I am actually sick of the suicides, overdoses and misery in the lives of the addicts I come across.

Pray for the addicts in Brighton.


Thomas Wood said...

Opting to take a drug in the first place is a choice; a choice made easier to reject if drug-taking is criminalised.

Wilful self-annihilation - which covers both the use of these drugs and suicide - is a sin. Drug addicts are victims to some extent; but they are also criminals and sinners. They are only enslaved to drugs because they have wittingly chosen that path.

If you use the law to make it easier to resist the temptation to get into drugs in the first place, it stands to reason that you will have fewer drug addicts. As the law presently stands, it hammers drug dealers (at least in theory), but leaves users virtually untouched; where there is demand, someone will be willing to run the risk to supply it. Punish drug use and you will drive drug suppliers out of business.

Pope Francis is bang on on this one, I believe.

Deacon Augustine said...

"It takes the prophet out of it."

Peace be upon him... ;)

I am in two minds about decriminalization, Fr. While it might remove the junkies from the orbit of organized crime, the signal that this would give to society would be very deleterious. We live in a world where most people's sense of right and wrong extends no further than the question "Is it legal or not?" We have seen how the decriminalization of homosexuality in the 1960's has led to the perversion of our country with recent legislation.

If drugs were decriminalized it could well lead to increased casual use by many more people - some of whom would then go on to become addicts with all the attendant social problems that produces.

Getting "out of your head" will always be evil no matter what the law says about it, however, I admit that not all sin can be, or should be, controlled by the criminal law.

Perhaps it would be sensible for objective studies to be done on the outcomes of the Portuguese experiment, before other countries rush to judgment either way. Even if we did go down that route it would be objectionable in the extreme if the narcotics were subsidized by taxpayers through the NHS.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Frankly, I would be happy for the most draconian of punishments for organisers of drug distribution.
It is very short sight to see in terms of those on the street or involved in low level crime, what the Pope had to say about dependence is important but there are massive organisations behind each fix.

The initial results of the Portuguese experiment are positive a reduction in drug use, whether this continues is unknown but as most crime in a city like Brighton is drug (or alcohol) related there are knock ons.

Alan said...

The Portuguese system sounds very like what I understand to have been the system in the UK until 1971. It was very successful, I believe, with use of opiates restricted to a few hundred "therapeutic addicts" (people who had become addicted following the prescription of opiates as heavy-duty painkillers). There is an argument, at least that criminalisation of an activity perceived as undesirable as "crime" will attract criminals. This was, I believe, the case with the USA's prohibition of alcohol.

nickbris said...

I was talking to a drug addict who had just completed a short term in gaol and he said it was the best thing that ever happened to him because he came out with a list of contacts that he would never have got; he would probably have done just the same if he'd been sent to Hospital.

Nobody really knows what to do about the problem in a civilised way

Gungarius said...

In the end the stuff grows on trees. I would legalise posession of the lot which would put the cartels out of business as they would be available and taxed,just as tobacco is.

I would instead criminalise causing a nuisance or danger while under influence of drugs with the offenders sent to a secure rehabilitation centre not a prison.

I suspect if it was legal much of the allure to the young would disappear. Remember what happened to CB radio when it was legalised, it virtually vanished.

Independent said...

Taking the "prophet" out of drug supplying would cut off the supply from those areas of the world where fostering the drug addiction of the West is seem as a means of weakening the infidel, It is indeed a potent means of ideological warfare.

Matthew said...

Although this is a serious subject I couldn't resist a smile when I saw your headline, in which the word 'drug' appeared at first as a verb: Pope to administer opiates to addicts.

RJ said...

I would be concerned that supplying addicts with drugs would be formal cooperation with an evil act.

Che Yeoh said...

Drugs are complicated. We have methadone on prescription just now and I know people who are having addiction problems with methadone. Part of me feels that it's being dished out for the benefit of others, ie so that the addict doesn't go out and steal and cause trouble, but very little is actually being done to cure the addict - they're simply addicted to another drug. We already have two legalised drugs in this country - alcohol and tobacco and between them they account for a huge number of deaths every year. Would legalising other drugs really help the addicts? I'm not sure it would - I think it's just going to become a problem in the same league as alcohol or tobacco. Anyway, interesting post.