Would we be better treating drug users primarily as offenders or addicts?

This debate may attract the ambivalence from members of the general public and members within the criminal justice system which obviously argue that drug users should be treated as offenders because of the influences on what drugs may have on their behaviour and actions which may pose a threat to the public sphere. Others feel that drug users should be treated as addicts because they are victims of their own environment.

However, some people argue that drug users should be treated as drug addicts as some of them do not turn to violence or engage in criminal activities. Some of them turn to drugs with intention to help them anesthetise negative thoughts and feelings which sparked by social adversity, such as unemployment, social exclusion, bereavement and to most personal issues such as childhood abuse. Other motives may include pressure of not meeting society’s expectation on gender. Men  in particular, are under pressure to meet up the expectations of masculinity in society and see drugs and alcohol as a way to help them cope or give them a sense of “dutch” courage rather than opening up their emotions to professionals within the mental health organisation or members within the socialisation process, such as peers, families etc.

Various evidence suggest to prove on why drug users should be seen as drug addicts. It can be argued that people who are drug addicts suffer from mental illness such as depression, especially if it has been exacerbated by heavy consumption of alcohol, they turn to stimulants, such as amphetamine, LSD and hallucinogenic drugs which may cause psychosis (Bean 2008: 43) to relieve the depressive symptoms. Bean (2008: 43) also argues that people with schizophrenia tend to take heroin to alleviate their schizophrenic symptoms and view it as an alternative to psychiatric treatment. In order for drug addicts to continue their consumption, lesson on how to administer drugs effectively should be provided by health services and in additional should be provided with clean syringes and needles especially for those who take heroin.

Drug addicts who want to stop or reduce cravings should have access to methadone. by allowing drug addicts to be granted access to methadone and other ways practicing drug taking is argued to teach them to take personal responsibility and be given strategies to reduce risk of  drug relapse and drug harm to the public sphere (Pat O’Malley 2008: 458). Risk minimisation which Pat O’ Malley mentions according to his article Experiments and Risk in Criminal Justice is considered to be realistic and proves to be an optimistic tool which contributes to viewing drug users as addicts as they are at risk of cross contamination of HIV and Hepatitis. It is not only illicit drugs that needs risk minimization strategies but also those who are addicted to alcohol and prescription medication are considered by society to cause harm to the public. However, it can be argued that removing the moral blame and moralising drug addict is considered to be rare in these studies (O’Malley 2008: 458).

Pat O’Malley should be agreed on the  rarity  of decriminalising drug offenders as addicts and be posed as offenders drug addicts pose a moral threat to mainstream society as they engage in criminal activities to fund their addictions influenced by the side effects drugs may cause . It can be agreed with Garland (1996 cited in O’Malley 2008: 459) that drug addicts are viewed as monstrous and ready to be sanctioned and excluded under the criminology of the other. Under the term, criminology of the self, drug addicts/offenders are seen as rational actors who simply chose to be addicted to drugs and not determined by their social pathologies.

Bean P (2008) Drugs and Crime Oxd University Press

Garland D (1996) ‘The Limits of the Sovereign State’, British Journal of Criminology 36: 445 – 71

O’Malley P, Experiments in risk and criminal justice, Theoretical Criminology, 12/4 : pp451 – 469


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