Illicit Drug Use Not Always a Problem

Here are three articles about illicit drug use pointing out that the drugs themselves aren’t always a problem (and many also come in prescribed versions).

It is the criminalization of drug use that causes chaotic and destructive behavior and imposes such high costs on society (court system, incarceration, law enforcement).

Except for the legality, using illicit drugs is not much different than using alcohol. Some cause far less physical or social harm than alcohol and some are even less addictive, so we cannot claim “illicit drugs are bad for you”.

The Invisible Majority: People Whose Drug Use Is Not Problematic – Filter – BY Tessie Castillo – Sep 2018 

For years, Mark* woke up each morning, made breakfast for his two young children, and dropped them off at school before continuing to his own job as a pre-school teacher in Baltimore, Maryland.

His life was ordinary—except that each day before breakfast, he went into the bathroom and injected black tar heroin into his veins. He took another shot at lunchtime, one after work, and a final hit before bed. Now 33 years old, he has been injecting heroin for six years.

Alice* is a health educator from Denver, Colorado, who works primarily with people living with HIV and hepatitis C

Alice, who is 40 years old, has lived on the same tree-lined street for 15 years. She attends neighborhood association meetings, stays involved in local politics and spoils her cats. She also injects heroin 5-7 times each day.

Popular wisdom tells us that all illicit drug users teeter on the brink of collapse.

The media depicts them as scavengers in a desperate, perpetual search for the next fix—liars and thieves who are incapable of maintaining steady work and families.

But the evidence tells a very different story.

Double Standards

One comprehensive evaluation of dozens of them published the following information on addiction rates among the overall population of U.S. adults:

  • Eating—2%
  • Gambling—2%
  • Internet—2%
  • Love—3%
  • Sex—3%
  • Exercise—3%
  • Illicit drugs—5%
  • Shopping—6%
  • Work—10%
  • Alcohol—10%
  • Cigarettes—15%

Note that only one item on this list is preceded by the word “illicit.” Despite approximately half of us being affected by addiction of one kind or another in any 12-month period, the other substances and activities on this list are not only legal, but often actively encouraged.

…the prevalence of illicit drug addiction—5 percent—is on par with addictions to other substances and behaviors.

the very stigma against drugs prevents people from accessing safer forms of substances or safer modes of ingestion—and is therefore directly responsible for many of those deaths.

Many functional illicit drug users are forced to live a double life, under constant threat of losing everything because society has decided to scapegoat their particular activity.

For many, a job loss due to a random drug test unrelated to performance, an unsupportive family member, or a stint in jail could precipitate a decline in overall health and coping skills, which could fuel chaotic drug use.

When I was working in high tech in the 80s and 90s, it was an open secret that many of the most productive engineers found their recreation in rock concerts, raves, and various illicit substances.

If there had been random drug testing in Silicon Valley back then, most of the brightest and most productive technical workers (I don’t know how it was in management) would have been fired. No one wanted to do that, so drug testing didn’t happen.

Dr. Carl Hart, a neuroscientist at Columbia University, has studied and published books on drugs and addiction. He notes that illicit drugs are physiologically no different from equivalent licit drugs on the market—and that both can be used responsibly to benefit people.

It makes no sense to criminalize methamphetamine while marketing its sister drug, Adderall—chemically almost identical—to people with ADHD.

Similarly, fentanyl is legal or illegal depending on where it is manufactured—or who profits off its sale.

An Entrenched and Harmful Myth

According to data from the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2016),

  • 48.5 million U.S. residents ages 12 and older report using illicit drugs in the past year (about 15 percent of the population).
  • Of these, 7.4 million (15 percent of illicit drug users) exhibit possible signs of dependence (more than half of these—4 million—to marijuana).
  • And of these, 2.1 million (4 percent of the total) meet criteria for “abuse.”

Put another way, 85-96 percent of people who use illicit substances do not develop problematic behavior.

According to the anti-drug United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, a little over 10 percent of worldwide drug users are “problem” drug users—which leaves almost 90 percent who are not.

This reality does not tally with our portrayal of drug users as slaves to a poison that hijacked their brain.

pop culture enormously exaggerates the percentage of people who develop chaotic behavior through drug use, while ignoring the same symptoms when they develop through legal activities

We obsess over the 2.1 million people who “abuse” illicit drugs, while forgetting the other 46.4 million users who quietly blend in with the rest of us.

Blaming drugs for our problems detracts the public from other factors such as job loss or a broken mental health system,” Dr. Hart tells Filter. He notes that this allows politicians to vilify people who use drugs rather than focus on solving larger problems. Demonizing drugs also directs resources towards law enforcement, the prison-industrial complex, and more recently, “treatment” centers that often lack any basis in evidence.

Perhaps reasonable drug policy will someday arrive, but in the meantime, it is difficult to reverse decades of fear, hype and false information. With exhaustive media coverage of opioids, a death toll that continues to climb,

it can be easy to disbelieve that the overwhelming majority of people who use illicit drugs do not develop problematic behaviors. But the numbers don’t lie.

For the people who do become chaotic users, we should increase our resources for mental health, education, training, coping skills and economic development to help build positive relationships and fulfilling lives that may or may not include drugs.

The drugs themselves aren’t a problem for this author with an unusual viewpoint:

I Chose Functional Heroin Use. Here’s How It Works for Me. – by M.L. Lanzillotta – Apr 2020

Recovery from addiction is different for everyone.

In my case,

  • abstinence from heroin didn’t work.
  • Neither did medication.
  • Anonymous meetings, which often felt like an excuse to tell War Stories, just gave me cravings.
  • Suboxone, I found, took away my ability to feel joy;
  • Subutex kept me from sleeping for nights on end.
  • And as for methadone…well, I couldn’t wake up in time for any of the nearby clinics.

So none of the mainstream methods worked for me for more than a few weeks or months. I’d spend far too much time moping—sobbing hysterically, missing dope—and rarely completing assignments on time. Freelance writers can’t afford to be gloomy, depressed wrecks.

I began to lose money and eat unhealthily.

Eventually, I realized that I’d been happier and healthier when I still used.

That’s why, at age 19 and after more than a year of trying to quit, I stopped trying to force myself to be sober. Instead, I decided to focus on staying as healthy and stable as possible whilst continuing to inject heroin.

People may choose to dismiss my story because of my age, but most drug use, of any kind, is non-problematic. In my case, I don’t just use heroin for fun. It serves a purpose.

Ever since preschool I’ve suffered from insomnia, fits of depression and the occasional meltdown. The stress of living with a mentally ill mother (she suffers from severe anxiety and occasional delusions) only made matters worse.

I spent most of my childhood being ferried from doctor to doctor. None seemed to know what was wrong with me. Most recommended a variety of heavy medications.

It took 18 years for all of these alleged professionals to realize I had autism—not a personality disorder.

I’m still not exactly sure why I first decided to try opioids at the age of 18. Boredom, maybe? Was I trying to cure my insomnia with a soporific drug?

I immediately discovered one thing: Opioids made me truly happy for the first time in my life.

Pure joy wasn’t something I’d ever known. That’s why I ended up spending most of that summer—my first post-high school—smoking heroin and reading paperbacks.

The dope and pills seemed harmless and benign—especially compared to all the drugs I’d been prescribed. They merely made me tired in a cheerful way, and took away the worry.

In hindsight, now that I know more about addiction and dependence (two very different things, contrary to popular belief), I feel embarrassed. Stupid, even. Looking back, I was clearly physically dependant after the first two months.

But addiction just didn’t seem likely back then. After all, I wasn’t injecting. Smoking heroin seemed so trivial.

Paradoxically, I felt wonderfully free while using. Though I soon began to feel odd if I tried to take a break from smoking.

As my life evolved—taking college classes, cutting my ex out of my life, moving out of the family home, beginning my journalism career—heroin, which I soon began injecting, was always a key factor.

My many attempts at abstinence—through inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, NA, AA, going traveling to avoid my dealer, replacing heroin with ballet or painting—ended in relapse.

It was when I began reading about harm reduction that an alternative idea began to form. What if, despite the stigma against heroin and the negatives it brought to my life, abandoning this drug didn’t have to be my goal?

Productivity wouldn’t be a problem. By then, I’d learned to write and work while high

Mercifully, my habit has never cost me more than $10 or less per day, adding up to about $250 per month.

Heroin itself, I began to realize, is not the problem. It’s just a chemical that happens to be very likable—as well as illegal and deadly if ingested in vast amounts or combined with other substances.

Why do some people with opioid addictions becoming dysfunctional? Often, because they run out of money and begin doing desperate things for dope.

I try to eat well, cooking meals with fresh ingredients. I eat fruit and veggies, as well as taking over-the-counter fiber supplements, to combat opioid-induced constipation. I try to avoid salt and processed foods

I also exercise almost every day, staying in shape through daily walks and ballet-inspired workouts. Looking after my body helps my circulatory system and decreases my risk of getting sick. I’ve actually gained muscle since shifting my attitude from “must quit, no matter the cost” to “staying as healthy as possible whilst using makes the most sense.”

But physical health is only a part of it. You also can’t let heroin become your wife and your life and your everything.

I dance, collage, read, cook, paint, embroider and write in my spare time.

My art occasionally references heroin, sure, but I try not to become obsessed. Yes, I’m dependent on diacetylmorphine, but that doesn’t mean I let it run my life.

Being dependant on heroin, unlike my early honeymoon with the drug, certainly isn’t enjoyable or pleasant. It’s a damned nuisance, in fact. I’m not here to recommend unprescribed opioid use to anyone. But I have learned to live with using heroin in a way that makes sense to me.

Large numbers of people who use heroin do not in anyway resemble those “junkie” stereotypes, and we need to remember that. And “recovery”—in which I do include myself—looks different for each and every one of us. And that’s okay.

Author M.L. Lanzillottais a writer located in the Washington, DC metro area. She’s the author of a number of novels. In her spare time she paints, dances, directs, acts, cooks and embroiders.

Then I found this next article from the same author with another unusual viewpoint:

Why Dark-Web Drug Marketplaces Can Be a Refuge – M.L. Lanzillotta – Apr 2020

Whether because of fentanyl adulteration or the present pandemic, buying drugs from the “dark web”—a term for sites in the unsearchable “deep web” part of the internet that require specific software to access—has never looked so appealing.

I’ve heard from friends and drug-user forums alike that dark-web drugs tend to be of better quality, and that buying in this way reduces some risks. In short, dark-web markets could be a form of harm reduction.

Canadian software engineer Marie, on the other hand, never even bothered with offline purchasing. Her decision to begin buying drugs online came at an extraordinarily trying time in her life, in 2016. She’d just escaped an abusive relationship and lost most of her support network in the process. And despite being in psychiatric treatment, Marie didn’t feel as if she were improving.

“At some point, I was bargaining with myself, trying to find a reason to live, and I thought: Of all the drugs they’ve given me, they’ve only targeted a few areas of my brain. What if the problem is somewhere else?” she told me.

Having heard that ketamine can relieve symptoms of depression, she decided to try it herself. She had never purchased drugs in the conventional way—and, at the age of 28, still hasn’t. Her background in computers and information security gave her an advantage when it came to navigating the dark web.

Dark web marketplaces aren’t the lawless Wild West many newcomers might assume them to be. Comprehensive review systems hold vendors accountable.

Buyers can typically give overall ratings (on a scale of one to five), as well as seperate ones for qualities like price, stealth and delivery speed. They’re also able to write out reviews the way one might on a mainstream shopping site.

when you buy online, you can read reviews and look at the forums. You’re able to do the research before you buy—just as you might with a new blender or lawnmower. This adds a layer of safety.”

People who sell through the marketplaces have a much harder time ripping buyers off. They can’t, for example, sell fake or weak dope without getting called out by reviewers.

Marie, who no longer uses, found that buying from dark-web marketplaces did cost more than buying from the street in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. But in her view, the relative safety of online purchases, as well as the increased purity and sheer variety of drugs available, more than made up for it.

While the purity of coke and heroin that she bought varied somewhat, it was much easier to avoid fentanyl.

The anecdotally reported lower presence of unwanted fentanyl in dark-web drugs is an attraction for many in an era when opioid markets have been flooded with it. And if unwanted fentanyl does crop up online, buyers can easily warn each other by way of the review system or the forums.

That’s not to say that fentanyl is absent. According to Cory, only one online dealer in North America sells truly fentanyl-less heroin anymore.

Still, my sources agree, unwanted fentanyl is found in lower levels in drugs bought online compared with street drugs. Marie credits this with saving her life.

Being able to order drugs for self-medication so easily and discreetly, Marie continued, also kept misguided friends from trying to force her to quit.

Contrary to popular belief, making a loved one become abstinent (even if you can) won’t cure the underlying issues that may have led them to use in the first place.

Some people really are better off using drugs (especially if their use helps them cope with serious trauma—and it often does).

Without dope, I’m too hopelessly depressed to work, study or even eat regularly. “I hate to imagine where I’d be without it,” said Marie of her use during a traumatic period of her life.

No method of acquiring illegal substances is perfect. Still, some happen to be safer than others. Dark-web markets do have their risks. But reviews and forums give buyers more power, as does the escrow system.

Author M.L. Lanzillotta is a writer located in the Washington, DC metro area. She’s the author of a number of novels. In her spare time she paints, dances, directs, acts, cooks and embroiders.

1 thought on “Illicit Drug Use Not Always a Problem

  1. canarensis

    If they included addictions like ‘power-mad capitalist or politician’ in that list, the addiction rates would be about 70% in this country, I’d wager. All those “Type-A workaholics” who destroy their families & the lives of the people they crush to get ahead sure make that seem like a very destructive addiction.

    I know someone who’s started the day with a few snorts of meth…every day for the last 40+ years. The person hasn’t been CEO of a major corp or some such, but worked & functioned just fine, & currently is more physical functional than I am much of the time (& I’ve never done any type of illicit drug, ever).

    Great trio of articles! Just for grins, I noodled around to see if what I was remembering about what happened after Portugal decriminalized drugs was true…this seems to support the possibility that I may not be completely brain dead from lack of sleep or food:

    Too bad the likelihood of this anti-sense, Puritanical country ever decriminalizing drugs is about on par with me having Karl Urban show up on my doorstep, begging me to run away with him. They’re clearly determined to persist in & expand the War on Drugs (“it hasn’t worked since the 70s, so we must do it more & harder!!”) & the War on Pain Patients (ditto, bar the date). Changing course would require that many, many people in power admit that they completely, savagely, murderously screwed up…& that’s as likely as having Karl & Michael Sheen show up together.

    Liked by 1 person


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