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Pros and Cons of Decriminalizing Drug Addiction

Pros and Cons of Decriminalizing Drug AddictionWorldwide public health officials debate whether decriminalizing substance abuse disorders helps lower drug abuse problems.

Arguments for Decriminalizing Substance Abuse Disorders

Proponents of decriminalization argue that people are better served when they are treated for a substance abuse problem than when they are incarcerated. They argue that society as a whole benefits when addicted individuals receive treatment, because crime rates go down, and treatment is often cheaper than imprisonment.

A real world example of this argument plays out in Portugal, which decriminalized the use and possession of all illicit drugs in July 2001. While many feared the move would increase use of illicit drugs, an analysis of trends conducted in 2007 and 2009 showed a decrease in problematic drug use, drug-related injuries, and prison overcrowding, according to a 2010 article in the British Journal of Criminology.

Meanwhile, Mexico is moving toward policies intended to improve public health by publically funding methadone clinics to help individuals with opioid addictions and offer clean needles and other services to cut down on HIV infection rates. The policies, according to a 2010 article in Lancet, are part of a greater movement to reduce harm while focusing instead on drug dealers and traffickers. For example, a law that went into effect in 2010 deregulates possession of small, specified amounts of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana for personal use. Mexican police are undergoing education programs that emphasize drug demand reduction, harm reduction, and human rights.

Reasons Behind Criminalizing Substance Abuse Disorders

Proponents of criminalizing drug addiction note that usage of illicit drugs, which are illegal across most of the world, is far below use of alcohol and tobacco, which are legal, according to a 2009 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Individuals who support criminalizing drug use believe it works by taking drug users out of society and preventing them from encouraging other people to take drugs. In addition, they believe criminalization should act as a deterrent to drug use, according to a 1993 article in Dissent.

Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, says in the report that illicit drugs should remain controlled. He goes against several proposed reasons for decriminalizing drugs with the following arguments:

  • Legalizing drugs, as a way to produce increased tax income, is unethical because of the high cost it would have on public health.
  • State regulation of drugs would not improve health because only rich countries could afford the regulation and illicit drugs are still harmful to a person’s health.
  • Drug controls should be kept and penalties against drug traffickers should be made stronger to protect overall public health.

Costa, however, notes that drug addiction is a health condition and addicts should receive treatment instead of imprisonment.

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