Speaking at a New York press conference organised by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson likened the 50-year-old war on drugs to a business that has failed miserably. He said that had he operated a business suffering similar failures over such a long period, he would expect someone to have taken him to a ‘psychiatric hospital’ for examination.
Branson’s comments were part of a meeting of the Global Commission, a group Branson is an active member of. The group is calling on government leaders and the United Nations to work toward new strategies that treat drug use as a health problem rather than a criminal issue. Branson says the rest of the world could learn from the example set by Portugal.
Portuguese lawmakers decriminalised drug use in 2000. Rather than being incarcerated or otherwise punished, those found possessing or using drugs are now referred to a national agency able to provide the necessary treatment. Portuguese officials say that changes in the laws have resulted in a significant reduction in the number of overdoses and HIV infections. They also say the number of people seeking treatment has dramatically increased.
On the other hand, drug use in Portugal has not been reduced substantially. In fact, the EMCDDA’s Frank Zobel suggested it has actually increased when he told the International Business Times that Portugal’s strategy “is working … drug consumption has not increased severely.”
A Complete Solution
Those who favour treating substance abuse as a health issue do have a point to some degree. However, it seems we need a complete solution if we are ever to eliminate the scourge of drugs and alcohol on modern society. It is one thing to treat substance abusers as patients rather than criminals, but it is a completely different matter to stop substance abuse from beginning.
On the treatment front, Portugal’s solution only works if effective treatments are used. And here in the UK, that is not happening right now. Government-sponsored programmes are either treating only the physical portion of addiction or not treating anything at all – i.e., putting addicts on substitute medications that allow addictions to continue for years.
In order to reduce substance abuse among current users we need a more focused treatment approach that treats the whole individual in body, mind, and spirit. Addiction is more than just a physical problem. It also involves thought patterns, emotions, and the individual’s free will.
The other part of the solution is in dealing with the root causes of alcohol and drug use. As you know, no addict wakes up one morning and suddenly finds him or herself hooked on drink or drugs. Addiction is a slow and steady process that begins with a single drink or hit. Just as abstinence is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancy, so it is also the best way to prevent addiction. As uncomfortable as it may be, modern society needs to seriously consider promoting the idea of staying away from drugs and drink altogether.
We also need to seriously look at the breakdown of the traditional family and the loss of self-control governed by morality. Both of these things have certainly contributed to the increased use of drink and drugs over the years. Not until we strengthen the family and return to some semblance of morality can we truly address the root causes of substance abuse.
Addiction Helper is here to assist you if you are struggling with drugs or alcohol. Please call our 24-hour helpline to speak with one of our counsellors today. We offer free evaluations, advice and treatment referrals. We will provide you with information about addiction politics and available options.