Pubdate: Mon, 04 Oct 1999
Source: Ogdensburg Advance News (NY)
Copyright: 1999 St Lawrence County Newspapers Corp.
Address: P.O. Box 409, Ogdensburg, New York 13669
Author: Gene Tinelli ( Addiction Psychiatrist)
Note: Accepts LTEs by mail only! Must be signed w/phone#


To the editor:

As an addiction psychiatrist, I find it necessary to respond to a
number of points in your drug policy editorial, "Who Is Dangerous?"
(The Journal, Sept. 23).  The editorial chides St.Lawrene County
Legislator Peter FitzRandolph for questioning whether recently
arrested drug dealers are truly dangerous.

You state drugs given under a doctor's supervision, used in the wrong
way, in the wrong amounts. can be dangerous.  The actual data is even
more frightnening.  Over 100,000 people per year die from accurately
prescribed medications, taken as prescribed in known amounts, under
the supervision of a physician.  Compare that to 6,000-10,000 deaths
per year caused by all illicit drugs, drugs that have little to no
quality control and are taken in an unsupervised manner in unknown
amounts.  The only logical conclusion is that all drugs, prescription
medications included, are potentially dangerous.

Your editorial also states that drug dealers are dangerous because
they are associated with crime and violence, never considering the
separate effects of drug use vs. the drug business and its huge,
untaxed profits due to drug prohibition.

The only drug whose use is statistically associated with violence is
alcohol.  While it does not increase the frequency of violence, it is
strongly associated with the intensity of violence once violence is an
acceptable form of communication.  Cocaine use can cause violence in
individual cases but when statistically averaged, it is neutral as it
can cause either fight or flight and its paranoia is balanced by its
ability to cause euphoria.

The drugs associated with a decrease in violence and aggression with
use are marijuana and opiates like heroin.  Interestingly, in a
society allegedly concerned about drugs and violence, alcohol is legal
and marijuana and heroin are not.

There is no question that violence is associated with the illegal drug
trade, mainly due to the lack of regulations and the huge illegal
profits. This has nothing to do with drug use and everything to do
with drug prohibition.  For example, during alcohol prohibition, Al
Capone did not kill people because he was a drunk.

As for the crime committed by addicts to fund their habits, the high
price of illegal drugs caused by drug prohibition fuels burglaries and
thefts. For example, a severe heroin habit can cost $200-$400 per day
yet the actual cost of daily clean needles and pure heroin is $3-$7
per day.  In Switzerland, the government now supplies heroin and
injection equiptment to their citizens with a severe heroin addiction.
 The results of this program are less crime, less other drug use (such
as cocaine) and increased health and social functioning of the
addicts.  The Swiss also have calculated this saves their taxpayers
money.  In the U.S., we incarcerate heroin addicts at a cost of
$500,000 per person (cost of arrest, conviction and five years

Your edtorial also mentions teens and drug use.  Our current "just say
no" drug education policies write off the group most at risk for drug
harms, those teens that choose to use drugs.  Instead of preaching at
them, we should be encouraging them to at least delay drug use and if
they choose to use drugs, we should be teaching them the difference
between high risk and low risk drug use.

Who is dangerous?  As someone who works in the trenches of the drug
war, treating its casualties and paying for its collateral damages, I
know who is dangerous.  It is those who continue to promote our
current drug policies, policies that produce crime, corruption of our
law enforcement personnel, an underground economy, increased disease,
loss of civil liberties, an increasing number of incarcerated
citizens, and a disrespect for government due to the hypocrisy of our
drug policy. We need to end the drug war now.

Addiction Psychiatrist

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