Myths and Realities of Drug Addiction, Consumption, and Crime

The third installment in Dalrymple’s series of anti-drug legalization columns at the Library of Law and Liberty has been posted here. He will write one final installment on this topic.

There is no pharmacological reason why people who take heroin should commit crimes; the case is rather the reverse. Heroin has both euphoriant and tranquillizing properties, neither of which one would expect to lead to the commission of crime. And yet many heroin addicts do commit crimes, often repeatedly and in large number. Why? The standard answer: to “feed their habit,” to use an expression I have heard hundreds of times. According to this view, taking the drug renders them incapable of normal, legitimate work; but such is their overwhelming and irresistible compulsion, their need, to take the drug once they have become addicted to it that they must obtain it somehow. Crime is their way of squaring this circle.

Among the flaws in this view is its implicit explanation of how and why people become addicts in the first place. In fact, most heroin addicts choose to become addicted and indeed have to work at it. Not only do heroin addicts on average take the drug intermittently for 18 months before becoming physically dependent on it, but they have a lot to learn—for example where and how to obtain supplies, how to prepare the drug, and (if they inject) how to inject it. Most people have a slight natural revulsion against injecting something into their veins, a revulsion that has to be overcome. This speaks, then, of determination, not of a condition fallen into by accident.

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