Controlling Drug Use - SAGE Journals - Sage Publications

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Instead, peacemaking theory sug- gests that responsible drug use can be encouraged through open conversations that include everyone willing to share.


Controlling Drug Use Kevin W. Whiteacre Hal Pepinsky Indiana University

This article suggests that society can reduce drug-related harms by encouraging responsible, healthy drug use. To this end, drug users themselves should be included in conversations about drugs. Though drug users have historically developed and disseminated norms and traditions that have helped people control their drug use, their voices have generally been excluded from the dominant discourse on drugs. Often, they are relegated to the status of objects to be studied, cured, or punished. This results from the warmaking approach to drugs, characterized by attempts to eliminate certain drugs identified by authorities as dangerous. Instead, peacemaking theory suggests that responsible drug use can be encouraged through open conversations that include everyone willing to share.

We evaluate alternative approaches to controlling drug use from a peacemaking perspective. The evaluation is based on the proposition that we control drugs better insofar as we promote responsible drug use. That proposition is built on the theory that one of us is developing on how to build safer rather than more isolated and violent human relations (Pepinsky, 2000). Within Pepinsky’s peacemaking theory, the building of safer human relations, including our relations with substances and the rest of our environment, rests first and foremost on honesty of human sharing of feelings and beliefs about conduct at hand. You cannot build security or credible reality if your conduct is based on lies, hypocrisy, and other pretense of doing what must be done for control’s sake. The primary human quality that can emerge only from honest dialogue is responsibility. We can trust and let down our guard with one another insofar as we see that each member of our social circle is making his or her own honest choices as to how to respond to how he or she feels. Holding people responsible is a contradiction in terms, for by managing their choices people take away the choices they can make for themselves, taking over responsibility for others’ lives. We share with radical feminists like Brock-Utne (1985, 1989) the premise that the ultimate historical template for taking people’s responsibility Criminal Justice Policy Review, Volume 13, Number 1, March 2002 © 2002 Sage Publications





away from them is patriarchy. The vision that we are in control insofar as we give way to patriarchal edicts was represented by Robert Young in the television series popular in the United States in the 1950s, Father Knows Best. Ironically, Robert Young became known in the 1960s as the hero of a new series, Marcus Welby, M.D. In what in Pepinsky’s theoretical framework is known as a warmaking approach, that is, a patriarchal approach, one vision of controlling drug use is that there is a lot of wonderful medicine out there if people will only limit themselves to taking the “meds” that physicians prescribe. In this frame, some substances such as Ritalin for “hyperactive” children become lionized, whereas others like Ritalin’s pharmacological equivalent cocaine become demonized. It is a part of Pepinsky’s peacemaking theory that violence and peacemaking occur simultaneously. The war on drugs contains many lies and promotes much violence. The honest communications among drug users we celebrate occur in the midst of this war. Peacemaking entails letting go of attachment to outcome, focusing instead on the process of sharing information and exercising personal responsibility. Both phenomena happen in our daily lives. Within peacemaking theory, it is elemental to figure out where to begin next in the peacemaking process rather than trying to execute a plan to getting somewhere particular like zero tolerance or legalization. For one thing, attachment to a goal like legalization of drugs distracts us from noticing and celebrating the peacemaking, like that on the Internet that is at hand, which in itself is a substantial force for change in the larger political culture. On the other hand, solutions like treatment can entail as much violence as warmaking, as when relief from mandatory drug sentencing in California entails subjecting oneself to years of the intrusion of random drug testing. Here we offer a way to shift focus away from a warmaking debate on controlling drug use. This evaluation of controlling drug use proceeds to a celebration of initiatives that foster responsibility and are honest. We then turn to a consideration of a range of lies that underlie celebration of warmaking efforts. We conclude with a summary of differences that arise when this peacemaking paradigm and its attendant theory are substituted for traditional criminological analysis and action.

DRUG USERS Drug users have been increasingly engaging in peacemaking practices independent of the professional and academic community. Experienced drug users have always shared information with novices. Through stories,

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advice, and experience, users build a tradition of mores, lore, and norms of drug use that (often) help decrease bad drug experiences. Individuals accumulate experience with a drug and communicate those experiences to each other. Consensus develops about the drug’s subjective effects, duration, proper dosages, predictable dangers, and how those dangers may be avoided. This information comprises the shared understandings of drugs by users (Becker, 1967, p. 171). For example, parents can and do serve as positive role models of healthy drug use patterns for their children. Vaillant (1983) found that young men in Italian-American families, where alcohol was introduced in family settings early in life, were considerably less likely to become alcoholics than their Irish-American counterparts where the families urged children to abstain. In a study of groups promoting marijuana and psychedelic drugs, Sheperd Jenks (1995) found that disseminating accurate information about the drugs’ effects, both positive and negative, comprised one of the groups’ primary roles. Jenks cited the statement of responsibilities of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML): 1. Do No Harm (being sure that marijuana use does not jeopardize the safety of property or people). 2. Know What You Are Doing (learning about the physical and psychological effects of marijuana and differences between use and abuse). 3. Help Others (identifying oneself as a member of a group of persecuted marijuana users and helping the approximately 300,000 people who are arrested each year for marijuana offenses [the number of arrests has actually increased drastically in the 1990s with more than 700,000 pot-related arrests in 1999; see the Marijuana Policy Project at arrests.html]). 4. Help Change the Laws (showing that marijuana users can be active, responsible citizens by getting involved in the political process to repeal marijuana laws).

Jenks further cited an entire informational network consisting of magazines, books, articles, newsletters, and even product catalogs. Perhaps most important, the Internet has provided an unprecedented format for sharing drug-related information among users—current, past, and prospective. Drug-oriented organizations and businesses provide resources of information to the curious. Numerous private individuals have also created discussion sites that publish others’ experiences and answers to frequently asked questions regarding various drugs. On one such site, an individual curious about jimsonweed wrote in for information on the plant. Having heard that some Native Americans used



various forms of jimsonweed (which can cause quite severe hallucinations) for medical and religious purposes, he wrote to a news group asking if anyone had ever tried the drug and, if so, then what did they think of it. People who had used the drug responded from around the world. Contrary to the popular notion of peer pressure, most warned against the drug. But even those who discouraged it gave honest advice on how to maximize the benefits and minimize the adverse effects. Others, by simply relating what they had experienced, the form used (whether they smoked the leaves, ate the seeds, or drank an infusion), where they used it, and so on, provided him with the knowledge base to responsibly decide whether and how to use the drug with the least risk of harm. If this curious individual had instead consulted the recognized professionals, he would have simply been told that jimsonweed was a poison. Or had he asked his teachers at school, they might have replied, “Just say no.” Neither source would provide very useful information for this fellow to use should he decide to try it anyway. In the 1994 October edition of Pulse Check, three sources reported youth coming into emergency rooms exhibiting symptoms brought on by ingesting jimsonweed (Hunt, 2001). We must make available more media for the dissemination of useful, practical information on drugs. This example demonstrates that the importance of information provided by users is not limited to illicit drugs. Users of all drugs—over the counter, herbal, prescription, legal, and illegal—can benefit from the sharing of first-hand accounts. The increasing use of prescription drugs for depression, diet, and hyperactivity among others requires that we educate consumers. Instead of merely relying on doctors and pharmaceutical companies, users need to share their experiences, good and bad, with one another. Of course, drug users can also perpetuate misinformation. Christopher Wren (1998, p. 37) cited an example on the Internet where someone asked if mixing methamphetamine with alcohol was okay, and another responded, “Yeah, you can drink on speed, and drink and drink.” Arguably, though, a more open discussion on drugs will provide people with the tools to better evaluate comments and conclusions proposed by anyone—professional or layperson. In a way, this is a call for drug education—real drug education. Andrew Weil (1993, p. 4) listed four things that one should know before experimenting with any drug: (a) what the drug is, (b) where it came from, (c) how it is likely to affect the body, and (d) what precautions the experimenter should take to contain the potential for harm. This is not the type of information provided in the current abstinence-based training.

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Too often, the familiar calls for drug education simply mean using teachers instead of police to scare kids out of using drugs (Weil, 1972). Thomas Szasz (1992) argued that “the scandal of drug education” is simply “a campaign of pharmacological misinformation in the service of justifying the government’s War on Drugs” (p. 82). The dubious tactics of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, relying on misinformation and superficial emotional appeals, fail to even address the far more common drugs of abuse, tobacco and alcohol (Buchanan & Wallack, 1998). Moreover, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) strategy is based on the questionable assumption that kids use drugs because of personal problems like lack of self-esteem. Not surprisingly, DARE has proven ineffective at best and actually seems to increase drug use in some instances (Lynman & Milich, 1999). Real drug education consists of real drug users and professionals communicating the risks associated with certain drug use behaviors. This does not mean parading around former drug addicts who bemoan how drugs ruined their lives. Using addicts to speak for drug users silences the majority of drug users, and most youthful users cannot relate to these experiences anyway. Nor does this mean setting up some kind of quasi-official committee of drug users in charge of drug education. It simply calls for a more democratic dialogue about drugs that includes the real experiences of real users silenced by the dominant discourse. Weil and Rosen’s (1993) From Chocolate to Morphine provides an excellent example of what a drug education text can be. It relates straightforward advice on a wide array of drugs and includes many firsthand accounts of users’ experiences. Similarly, groups in England such as the Lifeline Project in Manchester and the Mersey Drug Training and Information Centre in Liverpool distribute informative fliers, comics, and pamphlets to help young ravers avoid the potential harmful side effects of irresponsibly using drugs (Beck & Rosenbaum, 1994). Much of this activity falls under the rubric of harm reduction, which includes other strategies like needle exchange programs and methadone maintenance. Harm reduction is a more compassionate practice in line with a more compassionate criminology. Peacemaking, however, can take us further than this. Harm reduction is promoted as a means of minimizing the negative effect of drugs on the community and user. A perspective utilizing the terminology of harm with little recognition of possible benefits constructs a rather pathological definition of drug use. Some studies indicate that mortality is lower among people who drink light to moderate amounts of alcohol than among those who abstain



completely (Plant, 1997, p. 205). Undergraduates who smoke marijuana tend to be less authoritarian, more open to new experience, and more creative than their nonsmoking counterparts (Grossman, Goldstein, & Eisenman, 1974). The youth in Shedler and Block’s (1990) study who experimented with drugs were better adjusted than either frequent users or abstainers. Aldous Huxley, who crops up in Quinney’s (1991) discussion of peacemaking, has often argued that psychedelic drugs can help users “cut holes in the confining stockade of verbalized symbols” (Huxley, 1963, p. 175). This sort of challenge to language and the dominant modes of thought is basic to peacemaking. Peacemaking is a criminology of transcending a singular narrow consciousness. “Peace and harmony come with the awareness of the oneness of all things and the transcendence of this small self to the wholeness of reality. All of this is to be found outside of the abstracting interpretations of the rational mind” (Quinney, 1991, p. 5). A peacemaking perspective validates the subjective positive valuation of drugs ascribed by the users themselves. To do otherwise is to ignore them and privilege a limited account of drug use.

RESEARCHERS Listening—drawing out the voices that are least heard—is central to making peace (Pepinsky, 1998). So many firsthand accounts of various drug use seem to agree on the sublimity of the experience. Unfortunately, most scientific approaches to drugs have stripped away just this sort of very personal experience, replacing it with surveys, statistical analyses, and models of causation. At best, ethnographers may impose their own interpretations of the experience that best fit within their own theoretical agenda. Besides, the dominant pursuit of explaining why people use drugs misses the point entirely. In the way we have identified drug use as something needing to be explained we have pathologized the behavior. Creating such causal models will inevitably determine the results of the study. All observation is necessarily a function of the observer’s consciousness (Martin, 1993). “Models guide us in ways that validate the model of perception used” (Martin, 1993, p. 17). Study a behavior you regard as pathological and you will find pathological motivations. We should not be asking, “Why do people use drugs?” Rather, we should ask, “How do some people maintain healthy relationships with drugs, and how do some develop unhealthy relationships?”

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Viewing drugs from primarily a correctionalist perspective (Garland, 1985), criminological research is usually only interested in finding what makes drug users different from nonusers to stop all illicit drug use. Viewing it all through legalistic definitions of drug abuse, criminology too often fails to appreciate the subjective distinctions between use patterns understood by the users. Peele and Brodsky (2001) suggested that the first step in drug policy should be to “acknowledge the difference between exposure to drugs and drug abuse” (p. 62). Acknowledging potentially healthy relationships with drugs allows us to better identify unhealthy ones. This may sound heretical to the professionals who readily categorize all illicit drug use as abuse. But the refusal to recognize healthy relationships with stigmatized drugs hinders our understanding of drug-related problems and healthy relationships with them. This refusal can even increase negative drug use by failing to consider broader circumstances such as poverty, exclusion, and marginalization itself, which may influence one’s relationships with drugs (Boyd, 2001). Within any discourse there resides a hierarchy of credibility (Becker, 1967). This means simply that some individuals have more power to define truth than others (Goode, 1972). Currently, the criminologist or other such professional has the most power in presenting the drug question, whereas the users themselves seem to fall somewhere close to the bottom. Researchers control the stories of their objects of study (drug users) through structured surveys, editing, and interpretation. So we continue to get researchers’ images of drug users instead of the drug users’ own reality. The challenge lies in finding ways to conduct research with and learn from illicit drug users without objectifying or pathologizing them. Peacemaking criminology and its emphasis on balanced conversation, or drawing out the voices least heard (Pepinsky, 1998), can provide a foundation for new approaches. There are a number of possible social scientific approaches to knowledge. In one, we make our informants subjects. In another, our informants become our teachers (Pepinsky, 1991, p. 302). Or they can be collaborators, where the relationship between participant and researcher is more or less equal. The point is to avoid viewing the subject as a source of information to be interpreted by the professional researcher. Both sides have something to offer the project. Additionally, the postmodern project of diversity and alternative voices has enfranchised a “new body of intellectuals” (Storrey, 1998, p. 177). Voices from the margins are increasingly speaking from positions of difference. The more criminology engages in this politics of difference, the more



difficult it will be to marginalize certain drug using segments of the population. Works such as Pettiway’s Honey, Honey, Miss Thang (1996) demonstrate how a researcher can step back from the objects of study and allow them to tell their own stories. By concentrating on keeping the “essential narrative expression of the individual” the work attempts to halt the usual subjugation of the participants’ knowledge. It asks the question “What do the hustler, the ‘queer,’ the addict, and those who have fallen outside the mainstream of American life reveal and teach us?” (p. xiii)

Drawing out the voices of drug users suggests looking for ways to allow them to tell their own stories. It becomes a discourse of drug users rather than about them. The academics’job, then, is to use their unique knowledge or training to help the participant better understand and better communicate his or her own unique knowledge. In this way, criminologists can enter into discussions of drug use more critical of the role they play in creating the object, which in turn may open up new representations of the issue historically ignored within the criminological discourse. Of course, a balanced conversation requires that drug users actively engage in a dialogue. Unfortunately, the stigmatization of certain drugs, coupled with the threat of prosecution, has marginalized users to the point that most are quite loath to speak. In fact, many have come to accept and even celebrate their marginalization and its concurring negative depictions of them (Lenson, 1995). One can only be told that “users are losers, and losers are users” so many times. Thus, the association between drug use and rejection of conventional values is reinforced. Whether it is the spaced out hippie (e.g., Up In Smoke) or the jittery and violent cocaine fiend (e.g., The Boost), drug users see only negative images of themselves (insofar as they identify themselves as drug users) in mainstream media. Very few conventionally successful illicit drug users have spoken out and said, “Yes, I use drugs recreationally, and they have enhanced my life.” But there are many out there. We are led to believe that people may become successful in spite of their drug use but never in concert with it. Through a balanced conversation with drug users, we may begin to appreciate the drug experience as they know it. More important, the practice of listening allows us to realize our interconnectedness. We will begin to better understand that the motives for using drugs are the same desires that we all share. This can begin the process of blurring arbitrarily constructed

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boundaries between user and nonuser, sober and high, medical and recreational, and all other such dichotomies. We are all, perhaps, drug users. Rather than seeing all illicit drug use as stemming from alienation, peer pressure, the need for escape, or other negative motivations, we can begin to see drug use as an expression of innate human desires—the universal drive to alter one’s consciousness (Weil, 1972), the search for beauty (Ludlow, 1857), or simply vice for its own sake (Shacochis, 1994).

CONTROLLING ADDICTION Peacemaking is most fundamentally about opening choices to learn from real people rather than being ruled by fear that some social mission has to be carried out. Anne Wilson Schaef (1986), an alcohol and drug addiction counselor, coined the term codependence. In her book When Society Becomes an Addict (1988), she argues that “process addiction” is more deadly than any substance addiction she has encountered. Process addiction is a habitual way of thinking and acting—joining the prevailing political cultural winds. That is what the drug war is. We seek not to dwell on the corruption that the drug war spawns. Chambliss’s (1988) classic study of drug trafficking “from petty crooks to presidents” is just one case study among ever-mounting ones that indicates that from inside prisons to inside the lives of national leaders, military figures and law enforcers, prohibition tends to corrupt absolutely powerful political, cultural, and economic leaders absolutely. Stereotypically, the drug war is about rescuing hapless souls who have lapsed into personal substance addiction. Just as in process addiction you cannot make a defender of the drug war let go by insisting that pure reason is on the side of openly shared responsible drug use, so you cannot make someone give up drink or drugs by pounding on the person to stop. Repression only heightens the addict’s need to indulge. In peacemaking theory, you can only distract people out of addictions, not cure them through isolation and enforced abstinence. Simply put, the open conversation among drug users we propose is the best enticement we can imagine for those who are drug addicted to learn to assume more responsibility for their drug habits. Meanwhile, the hypocrisy of the drug war is overwhelming. We advertise mind-altering prescription drugs routinely and often force extreme drug therapy on mental patients and children. Prescription drug use is a market worth more than $88 billion. About 2 million children are currently taking Ritalin, an extremely potent stimulant (Krassner, 2001). American



expenditures for over-the-counter drugs reached $2.7 billion in 1997 (Economist, 1998). This, of course, does not even begin to touch on the millions who regularly consume caffeine in coffee, tea, and cola drinks, or those who enjoy their nicotine in smokes, chews, or patches. We are a society of drug users. At the end of the day, the control issue between drug war advocates and proponents of peacemaking is not regarding whether ingestion of mind-altering chemicals is desirable but regarding who ought to decide what we ingest. Peacemaking posits that leaving control of drug use in the hands of freely conversing drug users is preferable to taking whatever meds our doctor happens to prescribe.

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Kevin W. Whiteacre is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Criminal Justice at Indiana University. Hal Pepinsky is a professor in the Department of Criminal Justics at Indiana University.

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