The Debate Addiction is a complex wildly misunderstood disease of the brain. The issue of drug addiction and whether addicts should be treated criminally or medically has been a source of ongoing debate in the forms of prohibition and legalization. Critics of prohibition have declared America’s “war on drugs” a disastrous failure that has resulted in a public health crisis. Ethan A. Nadelmann, an influential prohibition critic, is founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance and has written several books and countless articles on the subject of drug legalization. In Nadelmann’s, “Commonsense Drug,” he compels readers to accept societal drug eradication as unrealistic and to strip criminalization of addiction down to a human rights issue. Nadelmann argues that current drug policy is devoid of commonsense, science, and concerns of public health and calls for a focus on reducing negative consequences of both drugs and prohibitionist policies through “harm reduction.” Like Nadelmann, many prohibition and legalization critics have asserted their moral and ethical positions for or against criminalization of addiction. However, the critics on either side of the criminalization issue have failed to take into account the societal stigmatic impact prohibition laws have on the addict, and how it further implicates their drug use.
Stigma is traditionally defined as the dehumanization of an individual based on their social identity or participation in a negative or undesirable social category (Fletcher 47). In direct contrast to Nadelmann’s view of the addict and addiction, James A. Inciardi’s and Christine A. Saum’s article “Legalization Madness” speaks out on the legalization of illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, etc. In their argument against legalization they propose a substantial increase of violence due to increased drug use in a theoretically legal society. In their attempt to dispute the “enslavement theory of addiction,” which is the concept of the addict committing crimes solely for the purpose of supporting their habit, they further contribute to the stigma of addiction. They refute that there is any solid evidence to support that addicts commit crimes because they are “enslaved” to drugs and go on to reference an analysis of studies from 1920-1960 between the connection of crime and addiction. Although they admit the study has biases and deficiencies, they continue to write “addicts were criminals first and that there drug use was but one more manifestation of their deviant lifestyles” (5). They further this claim by stating “that among the majority of drug users who are involved in crime, their criminal careers are well established prior to the onset of either narcotics or cocaine use” (5). Unfortunately assumptions made to demoralize and dehumanize the addict are the result of ignorance toward the complexity of the disease and the individuals it affects. Addiction does not discriminate against gender, race, creed, age, or social status therefore the authors further subscribe to the barbaric stigma society has placed on the disease of addiction by making generalizations. In the article “Drug Legalization, Harm Reduction, and Drug Policy” authors Robert L. DuPont and Eric A. Voth differ from Nadelmann in their view of “harm reduction” as contradictory when it comes to alcohol and tobacco. The authors refer to a paradox of tightening restrictions when attempting a reduction of harms associated with alcohol and tobacco and lessening restrictions when reducing harms associated with illicit drugs. However, it seems if a substance is already legal then there would be nothing else to do but tighten restrictions associated with undesirable outcomes of alcohol and tobacco use. The authors go on to prove this point by illustrating the hefty undesirable social costs involved with the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco.