DRCNet Activist Guide 10/96

War on Medicine and Public Health

War on Pain Control | Needle Exchanges Advancing Under Fire | Making Sure Drugs Kill
California Narcs Oppose Ballot Measure With Force | Prop. 215 Campaign Optimistic
War on Motherhood | A Patient Speaks

The War on Drugs and Prohibition are often defended on the basis of the danger of drugs and the damage they do to physical, mental, and social health. But the cruel reality is that our drug policy itself exacerbates the harms of drug abuse, creates new harms, and hinders the practice of medicine. This issue of The Activist Guide focuses on the abuse of health and medicine in the drug war. We report on a Virginia doctor who dared to prescribe adequate quantities of narcotics to relieve his patients' intractable pain; a ballot initiative in California that will provide medical users of marijuana a necessity defense in state court, and the war conducted by police against that initiative; the progress of and resistance to a crucially important AIDS prevention measure, needle exchange; the war against pregnant addicts and their children; and some vivid examples from here and across the world of prohibition making drugs more deadly than otherwise.

All these issues are separate yet related. Pain patients spend their lives trying to convince doctors and police that they are not addicts or recreational drug users; yet it is the (futile) attempt to keep narcotics from addicts that has made those drugs unavailable to many patients. Needle exchange can be implemented without lifting prohibition, yet it is prohibition that has led to the unavailability of needles and increased the spread of HIV. Drug use during pregnancy is inadvisable at best; yet the hysteria of prohibition has led to a destructive criminal approach to the problem. And all of these problems take a disproportionate toll on communities of color.

The opposition to drug policy reform has attempted to label incremental reforms like medical marijuana and harm reduction (e.g. needle exchange) as "smokescreens" for overall legalization. This is unfair to the many who suffer from AIDS or untreated medical conditions and who are working to address the serious problems that have touched their own lives. What drug warriors really mean is that if patients could legally benefit from certain medicines, or if AIDS prevention in the form of needle exchange were permitted, then Americans might learn to think about drug policy in new ways and decide that the war on drugs isn't such a good idea after all. Repression must be total or it begins to crumble; this is what the drug warriors fear. At the same time, it's important for anti-prohibitionists to understand and respect that these issues are independent and that advocates of these various reforms will not always be well served by closely associating their issue with the other issues or with broader reforms like ours.

Nevertheless, it is our mission to teach the world that prohibition is not about promoting health and well-being at all. The examples in this issue represent a broad pattern of official, reckless interference with medical and public health safety and freedom.

Next: The Body Counts
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DRCNet Activist Guide 10/96

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