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 whether drug users should be treated as offenders because of the influences drugs may have on their behaviour and rational actions which may pose a threat to the public sphere. Others feel that drug users should be treated as addicts because they a product of their environment that revolves around early adverse effects.

Those who argue that drug users should be treated as drug addicts as some of them do not resort to violence or engage in criminal activities. Some of them turn to drugs with intention to help them anesthetize negative thoughts and feelings associated with social adversity, such as unemployment, poverty, social exclusion and to most personal issues such as childhood abuse. Other motives may include pressure of not meeting society’s expectation on gender as men in particular, are under pressure to conform to the expectations of masculinity held in society and drugs and alcohol are seen as the means of coping and give them a sense of “dutch” courage to numb any emotion that are feminine and preserve a facade of hyper-masculinity rather than to sought help and support from services that deal with mental health. Robert Merton who revised Durkheim’s theory of anomie (1957) can support the argument that drug users should be seen as addicts because it indicates the frustration and failure to succeed in accomplishing goals held in mainstream society and dropped out as a result and it categorized under retreatism, the fourth response to anomie.

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, education 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 moralizing drug addict is considered to be rare in these studies (O’Malley 2008: 458).

Pat O’Malley should be agreed on the rarity of decriminalizing drug users as addicts and be posed as offenders as drug offenders 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 rather not determined by their social pathologies.

In additional to O’Malley and Garland’s explanation, classical criminology thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham and Ceasare Beccaria that drug users chose to remain as addicts and offend as a result of their freedom of choice and should faced with punishment for exploiting the degree of free will by maximizing the pain of not having access to illegitimate financial means to fund their habit by restricting spatial opportunities for criminal activities and minimizing the pleasure on the rewards of getting high and getting the buzz of feeling superior and gloat on their illegitimate success and the humiliation endured by the public and their victims. Andrew Von Hirsch, an author of Doing Justice (1979), could agree by explaining  the only option to stop drug users from being offenders is imprisonment as he feels rehabilitation does not work.  Those with Marxist lens may feel and argue that drug addiction and offending is an outcome of inequalities among the rich and the poor as the rich are in the financial position to sought help privately and feel that those from poor and working class backgrounds are stigmatized as monstrous and borderline criminal. They also argue that the bourgeoisie (ruling class) are in the position of choice to make the rules on who should be define as addicts or offenders on the basis of their selfish interest.

In conclusion, treating drug users as offenders or addicts seem to become a constant light of discourse in the public sphere and academia. Garland who sees drug addicts as monstrous and threatening to the public sphere and O’ Malley should be praised for explaining that drug addicts should be treated as offenders as it triggers anxiety among the members of the public sphere because of cross contamination of HIV and Hepatitis. Robert Merton should be praised and appreciated for his explanation that drug users become addicts as a result of the frustration of unable to accomplish goals in mainstream society. Education was highlighted in the article and should be praised as education is symbolized as the key to safer drug administration, and the acknowledgment on the consequences of drug induced criminality and key to public health and safety. The essay suggest it would be best for drug users be given the opportunity to ask themselves do they see themselves as an addict or an offender.

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.

Merton, R K (1957) Strain Theory and Social Structure New York Free Press.

O’Malley P (2008) Experiments in risk and criminal justice, Theoretical Criminology, 12/4 : pp451 – 469.

Von Hirsch, A (1979) Doing Justice: The Choice of Punishments – Report of the Committee for the study of Incarceration, New York, Hill and Wang.


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