Volume 96, Issue 70
Tuesday, February 4, 2003

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Illicit drugs: harm reduction and prevention

Re: "War on Drugs a Failure," Jan. 23

To the Editor:

The authors of the report published in the CMAJ regarding the ineffectiveness of supply-side attacks on illicit drug use, suggest a "shift in emphasis towards alternative strategies based on prevention, treatment and harm reduction." I couldn't agree more. Perhaps the laws surrounding illicit drug use should be liberalized. Much of the problems associated with drug use are also associated with the fact that illegal drugs are expensive, and that the supply of them yields high profits. To top it off, the fact that their usage is illegal pushes the associated behavior underground, making problems difficult to detect, discuss and treat.

There exists a substantial amount of philosophical literature suggesting that the criminalization of drug use is a violation of human rights. Generally, arguments supporting criminalization of drug use often focus on utilitarian arguments, which can include "slippery-slope" concerns.

Utilitarian arguments are loaded with value judgements. They attempt to assign a proportional positive or negative value to an action, dependent on the degree of happiness produced. This process results in imposing the values of the majority upon minority groups and subcultures. Human rights arguments, on the other hand, suggest that humans have the right to "improve" their lives by whatever means necessary, provided that others are neither harmed nor unnecessarily annoyed or disturbed in the process. Of course, with decriminalization, education regarding drugs becomes even more imperative.

I am not encouraging illicit drug use. I am humbly suggesting a strategy of prevention and harm reduction.

David Huxley
Medicine II

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