Questions for a Drug-Abuse Counselor
by Ari Armstrong
In a recent article, I noted that a DEA agent asked me to contact a person who works in drug treatment, James Porter. In exchange, the DEA agent agreed to read the book Addiction is a Choice, by Jeffrey Schaler. I sent the following questions to Porter on July 22, 2004, but, as of August 5, I have not heard back. I will add Porter's answers as soon as he sends them to me. -- Ari Armstrong
Dear Mr. Porter,
Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions. I hope the exchange helps Coloradans better understand how treatment works, the nature of the drug-abuse problem, and how people can seek help. I suspect we can accomplish a thorough interview with one round, but it's possible I might want to ask a few follow-up questions, I suppose.
1. Please describe your program, your work there, and the people who find your services useful. (Please include your official title and biographical notes.)
2. Do you have any advice for people who find themselves with drug-abuse problems, or who learn a friend or family member has such problems?
3. I've heard a lot of conflicting claims about the success of treatment. In your experience, what percent of people who enter treatment get off drugs and stay off of them? Do you see a difference in effectiveness among people who voluntarily seek treatment, versus people who are directed into treatment by the legal system?
4. Do you see people who have had a problem mostly with one particular drug, or do most addicts have problems with several substances? Do people with problems with illegal drugs tend also to have problems with alcohol?
5. Claims that instances of marijuana addiction are on the rise are met with counter-claims that the trend is explainable by an increased use of the legal system to direct people to treatment, and that the number of people in treatment for marijuana use is not indicative of the addictive properties of marijuana or the actual rate of addiction. Do you have a particular view on this matter?
6. In his book Saying Yes, Jacob Sullum argues that addicts are not representative of the population that uses illegal drugs. Most people who use illegal drugs do so moderately, or for short periods of time, and never enter the legal system or any treatment program. Similarly, alcoholics are not representative of people who consume the drug alcohol. Thus, argues Sullum, looking only (or mostly) at addicts gives rise to a biased and distorted view of drug use. What do you think of Sullum's argument?
7. In his book Addiction is a Choice, Jeffrey Schaler argues (as the title implies) that addiction is more a matter of personal choices than any property of the drug. Some of the evidence he points to is that only a tiny percentage of people who use illegal drugs becomes addicted to them. Do you have any opinions about the relative significance of personal choices and habits of behavior, genetics, and the properties of drugs in leading to drug abuse?
8. My own view is that all drugs should be treated roughly the way the drug alcohol is treated: they should be available for purchase by adults. The proper role of government, as I see it, is to enforce laws against violent crimes (including theft, vandalism, rape, etc.), enforce laws against selling drugs to minors, ensure that drugs are not produced in ways that damage property, and ensure that drugs are not sold fraudulently in a way that misrepresents potency or toxicity. I believe the prohibition of certain drugs has done more harm than good and has massively increased the amount of violence associated with the consumption and distribution of those drugs. I don't believe lifting prohibition would lead to many more cases of addiction, and it would free up a lot of funds that could be redirected to treatment, and thus help reduce the problem. What's your take on America's drug laws?