Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Avoision as an alternative to the Brunstrom drugs approach? 

A different light to shine on the current Chef Constable Brunstrom uproar.
Check out an article in SLATE (The online magazine in the USA) on the ‘other’ US drugs legalisation movement. The process of avoision is giving US drugs consumers legal alternatives to most illegal drugs so they can get the effects without doing the time. Not magic mushrooms but magic market?

……. over the last two decades, the pharmaceutical industry has developed a full set of substitutes for just about every illegal narcotic we have. Avoiding the highly charged politics of "illegal" drugs, the pharmaceutical industry, doctors, and citizens have thus quietly created the means for Americans to get at substitutes for almost all the drugs banned in the 20th century. Through the magic of tolerated use, it's actually the other drug legalization movement, and it has been much more successful than the one you read about in the papers……. Over the last two decades, the FDA has become increasingly open to drugs designed for the treatment of depression, pain, and anxiety—drugs that are, by their nature, likely to mimic the banned Schedule I narcotics. (partly this is because of) the widespread public acceptance of the idea that the effects drug users have always been seeking in their illicit drugs—calmness, lack of pain, and bliss—are now "treatments" as opposed to recreation. We have reached a point at which it's commonly understood that when people snort cocaine because they're depressed or want to function better at work, that's drug trafficking; but taking antidepressants for similar purposes is practicing medicine.

This other drug legalization movement is an example of what theorists call legal avoision. As described by theorist Leon Katz, the idea is to reach "a forbidden outcome … as a by-product
of a permitted act."…. In the drug context, asking Congress to legalize cocaine or repeal the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is a fool's errand. But it's far easier to invent a new drug, X, with similar effects to cocaine, and ask the FDA to approve it as a new antidepressant or anxiety treatment. That's avoision in practice.

In the context of the US health system, this avoision is basically available to wealthier people who can pay high prices for prescription drugs and who can cultivate the attention of a sympathetic prescribing doctor. So the wealthy escape the legal consequences of the draconian legislation underpinning the War on Drugs while poorer people self-medicate on illegal drugs or just get drunk.

What is the score-card on this avoision in our NHS-blessed shores? Should we concentrate on this route rather than the out-of-head-butting acts of straight legalisation politics?

Incidentally those curious about the claims made by chief constable Brunstrom on the impact of different drugs both legal and illegal might like to look at the US site EROWID which ‘documents the complex relationship between Humans and Psychoactives’. (I haven’t followed up the precise Brunstrom claims yet though – maybe a job for better qualified LibDem Scientists?). The pages on ‘spiritual uses’ may put some people off this source however.

The EROWID ‘experience vaults’ are a bit of a mind-blow in their own right. Check out for example this report on a bad trip from using Caffeine.

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The other great resource site is the Schaffer Library of Drugs policy research.

Particularly the detailed information about the economics of the opiate trade which really proves that there's no way you can stop it (eg you can now concentrate the active components of heroin such that you can fit enough to last an addict a month when reconstituted under a postage stamp).
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