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October 2008
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Use versus Abuse

There’s an interesting article in the Irish Examiner about a speech by Father Peter McVerry at an Addiction Training Institute conference.

The Jesuit priest, who has worked with homeless young people for 30 years, said he had seen the “devastation” caused by illegal drugs, particularly heroin and cocaine.
“I spend much of my time helping young people to come off drugs. As a priest, I bury, on average, one young person a month who has died from a drug overdose, some of whom I would have been very close to.”
But he said there was a massive difference between drug user per se and drug misuse.
“I do it along the lines of alcohol. Many people use alcohol but it doesn’t have any dire consequence for themselves or for anybody else and people can use drugs without it having any dire consequences for themselves or anyone else, whereas the misuse of drugs is where drugs have consequences for oneself, one’s family or one’s community.”
He said 98% of those who experiment with drugs do not go on to misuse them.
“If you want to find out why young people take drugs, go into any pub any night of the week and ask the adults why they take alcohol. The reasons are the same. Adults would say we take alcohol in order to relax, as a focus for socialising, in order to escape from the pressures of life and to alter our moods. We take alcohol because we enjoy it. Young people take drugs for exactly the same reasons.”

Here is someone who has seen devastation from drug abuse and understands that it is critical to not only understand the difference between use and abuse, but to understand that criminalization isn’t the answer.

Fr McVerry said public discussion of drugs was dominated by either a climate of fear or a moral climate.
“It would appear to me that the legalisation of drugs must be, at the very least, on our list of policy options to be discussed. If we accept that drugs are here to stay, as I think we must, then our priority ought to be ‘controlling the supply of drugs’.”

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