The opioid epidemic in the USA is not a good argument against drug legalisation

I have written about drug legalisation in the past. As a life-long anti-drug person, my recent conversion to a pro-drug attitude came about through massive exposure to compelling evidence against the status-quo opinion on drugs and their relative harms. I won’t rehash that all here, read my previous articles, they make a pretty strong case:

So when I encountered an article by German Lopez titled “I used to support legalizing all drugs. Then the opioid epidemic happened.” I was very interested in seeing the arguments presented. Changing my mind when I can improve my beliefs is a favourite hobby of mine, so I try to exposure myself to the opportunity as much as possible.

Sadly, German’s case did need appear at all compelling to me.

The entire argument seemed to rest on the premise that legal accessibility of pharmaceutical opioids has lead to a massive epidemic of opioid addiction (and overdose death), and that this therefore reveals to us the risk of legalising all other drugs. That given a little bit of freedom, companies will market aggressively and lobby for reduced regulations, and people will pay the price in the form of addiction and overdose deaths.

German fairly acknowledges that this may just be an American problem. That they USA has a history of free-market excesses and inability to reliably restrict/regulate dangerous things. This is important to keep in mind, since much of the rest of the world has not encountered the same opioid problem the US is encountering right now – which is very very much linked to their overly corporate and profit based medical system (rather than the more ‘care’ based system the rest of the world seems to have embraced.)

That aside, there are several massive problems with this argument.

It’s all about the Infrastructure around the legalisation

First, drug legalisation is never really about the legalisation of drugs. It is about everything which goes with that legalisation. The reliable purity and dose of the drugs. The ability to measure and research community usage rates and habits, and react to that knowledge. The ability to tax drug sales and pay for increased mental health care facilities, medical care for drug abuse victims, education of drug harm minimisation, and overall poverty reduction. The end of the multi-billion dollar drug black market, and all of the violent crime which accompanies it.

The current opioid epidemic is a direct consequence of corporate profiteering on the back of new compounds (oxycontin in particular) which they claimed were safer, but weren’t at all. To claim that this unique circumstance is an argument against legalisation is absurd. If anything, it’s an argument against corporate profiteering on the suffering of people. It is an argument that congress needs to do a better job of resisting lobbying efforts and protect the people. It is an argument that evidence based policy is needed more than ever.

This move was not a drug legalisation move – it was a money grab which abused a broken medical system.

Heroin is the worst

Second, it is revealing that of all of the illegal drugs out there, opioids, the class of drugs most widely renowned for their addictiveness and risk of death by overdose is the one which somehow managed to be the one to slip through and become the ad-hoc experiment in legalisation. It makes sense. Alcohol and tobacco are already way up the list of the most dangerous of the drugs, so why not make the other top contender for most dangerous also publicly accessible while many other far safer drugs continue to carry strong prison sentences?

Opioids are the worst drug ever to go through withdrawals from. After alcohol of course, which can kill you from the withdrawals, unlike opioids. Opioid withdrawal just feels terrible. Opioids are also the most addictive drug there is. After nicotine of course. It is well documented that opioid and nicotine addicts all agree – giving up smoking is infinitely harder than giving up opioids.

Not only are they near the top of the list for addictiveness, they are also at the top of the list for risk of overdose. That is, the difference between a good high and a deadly dose is just a small error of measurement, or a simple mistake of re-dosing too soon, or getting a more pure batch than usual etc. Death is unfortunately easy.  And this is the drug which we, as a society, get to use as an experiment on (poorly executed) drug legalisation?

Do you know what the overdose threshold is for LSD? The big scary drug which everyone knows is going to steal your sanity from you? We’d love to know. No one has found it yet. It is hypothesized to be about 10,000x the usual dose. If you ever get your hands 10,000 doses of acid, let me know.

I’ll resist getting bogged down in the long list of examples like this, but just know that virtually every other drug out there is significantly less addictive than opioids, significantly harder to overdose on, and far less harmful across the board. Except for alcohol and nicotine, of course.

So why the fuck would we look at the opioid epidemic in the USA as anything at all informative about what drug legalisation would look like? It tells us nothing other than some of the difficulties we will need to prepare for with that one specific troublesome drug.

But luckily, legalising all drugs will even help with that! Which brings me to my third point….

Some drugs reduce drug abuse

Other drugs help reduce opioid addictions and overdoses. States with legal marijuana have lowered rates of opioid dependence. Marijuana is often used to control pain just as effectively as opioids, and it doesn’t have the same addictive problems nor overdose risks. Psychedelics have shown incredibly promising results in the area of breaking addiction. Drugs like Ibogaine in particular not only help addicts to change their perception of themselves and their addiction, but actually change their neurochemistry, breaking their dependence on the opioid chemicals. But of course, all of this is currently illegal, so not only is this sort of treatment essentially unavailable to all of the opioid addicts, but it is also nearly impossible to meaningfully research and establish true efficacy and rigorous treatment protocols. So even if you are sceptical of the claims that psychedelics can help cure addicts of their addictions, good for you! Legalise the fucking things so we can do the science finally and establish the fact one way or the other.

Drug abuse is a symptom, not a cause

Fourth, and possibly the most important failure of this article, is that fact that it completely failed to mention the real cause of addiction. Drugs aren’t the cause, they are the symptom. They are the easy out when people want out. They are reliable, cheap, and they make life bearable when life isn’t bearable.

The problem behind the opioid epidemic isn’t opioids, it is a growing population of people who hate their lives. OK, I am putting that harshly, but the point is what matters here. Addiction happens because people are escaping from something in their life. Or perhaps more often, they are looking to add something to their life which they feel is missing. They feel alone. They feel worthless. They are in pain!

Every individual is different, but you can be pretty sure none of them set out with the intention of getting addicted to opioids. No one chooses to do this. But something does keep you coming back.

Johann Hari’s fantastic book and Ted talk, and animated summary covers it very well. Humans need connection. If we lack that, we will connect with other things which give us the same sort of feeling. Drugs do that on the neurochemical level, and so are easy to lean on when we feel alone. Our modern world is creating a generation of lonely, isolated desperate people who end up depending on drugs to feel whole again.

Maybe the problem with the opioid epidemic isn’t the legalisation of opioids, but the complete failure of modern america to support healthy communities of connected happy individuals?

The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection.

What does the opioid epidemic teach us about drug legalisation?

It teaches us that anything can be poorly executed, and that society has a heap of problems far far worse than drug use, drug abuse, and drug addiction.

It teaches us that drug legalisation is really irrelevant in the scheme of things, because our world is pretty messed up already, so maybe there are more important things for us to be doing with our time, resources and money than hunting down victims of those circumstances and throwing them in prison for the chemicals they choose to put in their bodies.

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Response to “Another reason to cut back on soda” by ConsumerReports.Org

Someone sent this article my way on account of how much Coca Cola I drink:

Another Deadly Reason Why You Should Stop Drinking Soda

Yes, I know Coke isn’t a healthy option, yes I should drink less, but no, this chemical is probably not the reason.

First of all, lets do a quick search of the chemical, and find its wikipedia page and quickly and easily see that…oh dear me…this chemical is present in grilled meat, roasted food, dark beers, coffee and potentially numerous other foods which aren’t soft drinks! We better stop eating and drinking everything just to be safe!

Or maybe we don’t need to worry…. Looking at the actual study which gives 4-MEI its “Potentially carcinogenic” status, the results are not clear. I think this is why they use the word “Potentially”..??? The study looked at 50 male and 50 female rats and mice, and found:

no evidence of carcinogenic activity of 4-methylimidazole in male rats exposed to 625, 1,250, or 2,500 ppm

equivocal evidence of carcinogenic activity of 4-methylimidazole in female rats

clear evidence of carcinogenic activity of 4-methylimidazole in male and female mice

So… are humans more like Mice, or Rats? Or, when it comes to this chemical, are we completely different? The mixed results make it hard to know whether we have variation due to species, or whether the 100 were not enough to absolutely determine the effect of the chemical.

Basically, all we can derive about its carcinogenicity for humans from this study is: “Fuck knows. Could be. Probably should study it more.”

So, unless you want to start restricting every ‘potentially carcinogenic’ chemical from your life (breaking news: oxygen is potentially carcinogenic), you’re going to have to accept that life is carcinogenic, and you should really be only concerning yourself with the ones we actually know about (asbestos, high doses of radiation etc). Just deciding that other things are carcinogenic, and avoiding them, won’t actually help you live longer.

Even if we tie the chemicals in question to the scary scary subject of “soda drinks”!!!!

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That Daily Kos article about the US Police Killing more in March than the UK police have killed in 115 years is misleading.

In a situation that shouldn’t need any exaggeration, the Daily Kos have taken an incomplete Wikipedia list of people killed by UK police and acted as if it was a comprehensive list, comparing it to a list of people killed by police in the USA in March. The UK list is most certainly not comprehensive, and acting like it is is manipulative and very misleading.

So while 111 people killed by US police in March is incredible in itself, the claim that it is more than the UK police have killed in 115 years is absurd. This summary of deaths in police custody in the UK has the number at 1508 since 1990. That is an average of 60 per month – which is now comparable to the 111 in March, and potentially means that the UK kill significantly more people, per capita, than the US do!

However, that would be to make the same mistake as the original Daily Kos writer did, because these numbers are still incomparable. The data from the Inquest study comes from a much broader definition of death in police custody:

INQUEST defines police custody deaths as deaths that take place while the individual is in contact with police, whether or not they have been arrested, or that happen shortly after that contact. The death may not necessarily have occurred inside a police station. We do not include self-inflicted deaths following contact with police or deaths as a result of domestic violence where the police have been involved.

Meanwhile, the 111 deaths in March is taken from a website which only tracks deaths mentioned in the media. It is unlikely that this very-indirect method of counting deaths is anywhere near as rigorous as the study completed by the UK Inquest group which uses Casework files. For example, the 111 deaths cited in the Daily Kos story has now grown to 115. Obviously not all stories are immediately discovered and added – and who knows how many deaths receive no news coverage at all?

Basically, you just can’t compare these numbers. So don’t pretend you can.

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Religion isn’t responsible for violence – except when it is…

Patricia Pearson’s article over at The Daily Beast about Karen Armstrong’s new book Fields of Blood says some weird things right up front.

Hitchens…never really bothered to acquaint himself with the great and nuanced theologians of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. If he had, he wouldn’t have asked the audience whether it was a good thing “for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars.”
(Spoiler alert: the entirety of human religious history has entailed finely-tuned musings on divine exhortation to unity and peace, and whether there are loop holes.)

All of those finely-tuned musings and still the Bible very clearly portrays a God picking sides in wars. Repeatedly.

1 Samuel 15:3 “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”

How can one thousand plus years of reading that passage make it mean anything other than God told “his people” to go to war and kill other people? Sounds like God picked a side…. and you know this isn’t the only instance of it in the Bible, let alone nearly every soldiers belief since the creation of religion that God was on their side.

As far as I can tell, Theologians exist only to justify and wriggle out of the awkward things written in these religious books. If you want to change the Bible, then too bloody bad. It very clearly says in it that God is outside of time, all knowing and perfect, and that the bible is his words, and you can’t change it. So stop trying to change the meanings of things clearly written in them!

She then follows up that nonsense with:

Nor would Hitchens have made this statement: “Religion forces nice people to do unkind things.” Meaning, one was left to discern, that religion is self-evidently a coercive force for ill.
I remember thinking, really? All those innately tender-hearted Catholic priests were obliged by the Ten Commandments to molest children? Oh dear. How, then, to explain Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Hitler’s brutal minions? They were just bornto be mean?

Ugh. So inane. His comment had nothing to do with Catholic priests molesting boys. Nothing in the bible tells people to do that. That is an indirect consequence of people following the bible against their nature, as opposed to what Hitchens was actually talking about, all of the people stoned to death over the years and burned at the stake, because, you know, the Bible tells them to:

Leviticus 21:9 “And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.”
Leviticus 24:16″And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him.”

Please go ahead and show us how the “finely-tuned musings” change the meanings of those sentences. Let me guess – Jesus. Jesus made all the bad stuff go away. Well, for many hundreds of years how many thousand people were stoned to death and burnt at the stake anyway? Always justified with these sorts of bible passages.

Actually, sorry, I was wrong. Hitchens didn’t mean stonings and burnings at the stake – they are horrific acts. Hitchens only said that religions force people to do “unkind things”. So, lets look at all of the families who disown homosexual children because of the ‘abomination’ that homosexuality is? Jesus didn’t really die and change the meaning or intention of that line. He certainly didn’t disavow it. Sure, ‘love they neighbour’ and all that – but still, homosexuality is an abomination unto the lord… so what do you do? Many people err on the side of caution and don’t tolerate the abomination. Pretty reasonable position to take really, since loving your neighbour doesn’t actually require you to do anything, so you can ‘love them’ from a distance.

Besides, it is the more Jesus like thing to do, just break the family up, rather than what is actually recommended in the Old Testament – killing them.

And then there are the ‘harlotreferences and wives obeying husbands, and directions for slaves to obey their masters.

How amazingly magical are these Theologians that they can make all of this shit just magically disappear out of the bible so that people like Patricia Pearson can’t even think of them when it is pointed out that the bible makes good people do unkind things???

Have you seen the Westboro Baptist church? You know that everything they do is actually based on words in the Bible right? They aren’t making that shit up. Don’t blame them for taking things as they are actually written, rather than how we wish they were written.

After Hitchens died, the debate continued with celebrity pundits like Bill Maher and star intellectuals like Richard Dawkins, a biologist, and Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, none of whom appear to have an infant’s weak grasp of why thinking human beings would come to believe in a meaningful universe.

Oh, they understand. They actually talk about it pretty clearly – but don’t bother familiarising yourself with the work you are criticising, just assume the highly regarded well read intellectuals you are criticising are stupid morons. It is much easier that way.

No, they understand why humans believe in a meaningful universe – it is because our brains are evolved to do so in order to avoid death. There is quite a lot of literature on the subject if you cared to familiarise yourself with the fields of Neuroscience and Biology…oh look, these two individuals with an “infant’s weak grasp” of the subject just happen to be world renowned experts in those fields. How amazing that they don’t understand it and you do.

*sigh.*

From here the article quickly moves through anger at Islam and into the main point of the article, the book. I personally wouldn’t try very hard to defend the claim that Religion has caused more wars than anything else, so I won’t bother arguing against that point, but the idea that secularists somehow don’t understand what religion is drives me crazy. And then this:

To say that spiritual engagement somehow causes humanity to become violent is to ignore the obvious pressures on all human societies throughout history to accrue scarce resources, to shore up status and power, and to impose order on chaos.

It isn’t spiritual engagement that anyone is saying causes violence, it are the direct lines from the creator of the universe telling his followers to murder people who don’t follow his rules which is what people like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens get angry about.

Sure, I’d be happy to accept that “every new religion emerged at least in part as a protest against violence and oppression” – which is probably why violence features so prominently in their religious texts. The problem is that these books aren’t positioned as just historical texts describing a revolution. They are positioned as works of God himself, outside of time, perfect, absolute, moral, all knowing, telling people what to do. And those directions include a lot of violent actions.

And then we get puff pieces like this making out like atheists and secularists are upset at the ‘spiritual engagement’ of believers. FFS. Is it that hard to understand? When ISIS members go on murderous rampages against non-believers, they aren’t doing it because they are feeling particularly religious. They do it (amongst many other complicated emotional and political reasons) because they have direct quotes from God himself telling them to do it. When you have a direct commandment from God Almighty to kill people, why would you doubt your murderous desires?

The disgust felt by the non-religious of the religious isn’t about religious people (necessarily), nor is it even about religious extremists (necessarily). What it is about is the fact that there is a book claiming to be the unalterable and perfect account of the creator of the universe and it is a book full of violence bigotry and hatred – and for some reason, against and sense, otherwise sane and intelligent people keep defending it.

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A response to Tim Worstall’s article Raising America’s Pay; Might Someone Hit The EPI With A Cluebat Please

I came across this article shortly after it was published, and meant to publish this response back then, but have been exceedingly busy. So here it is now.

In his article Raising America’s Pay, Tim Worstall argues that the Economic Policy Institute has made untrue claims about poverty staying the same despite continuous economic growth because the way the USA measures poverty is flawed and doesn’t take into account the support provided by the government. In his own words:

The American system is much closer to a measurement of here’s the number of people who would be poor if we weren’t helping to alleviate their poverty.

So basically, Tim’s argument is that because the government provides support for many people who would otherwise be in poverty, the EPI’s claim that a growing economy has not proportionately pulled people up out of poverty is untrue.

This argument doesn’t make sense.

Companies are making more money than ever. The wealthiest are making more money. The poor though, they’re getting more government hand outs – therefore a rising tide floats all ships…? No. Clearly, the basic argument of the EPI report remains valid. Exceptional economic growth has NOT improved the lives of the poorest. Continual government oversight and support has done a bit to help them, and that is all.

So, the evidence here seems perfectly clear. Strong economies don’t alleviate poverty. Strong governments do. The rational advice would be to tax the wealthy more, and give that money to the poor.

 

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When you’re stuck in a political ideology, reality looks like a competing ideology.

I just watched the Bolt Report and found myself raging at an interview with Tim Blair (32min in) about the ‘bias’ of the ABC. Apparently all of the main reporters on the ABC are lefties, and there are no conservatives.

This is the problem with ideologues – they don’t see the middle. They don’t see reality. The only see “My position” and “everything left/right of my position” which is clearly biased (because it doesn’t agree with me).

The line which made me lose it was this one:

…on global warming, well you know that’s a fantastically long record of bias. You will remember a few years ago when the ABC actually ran a British global warming skeptic documentary and afterwards Tony Jones had to run a sort of a television counseling session for traumatised ABC viewers. It was hilarious.

Here’s the deal – reporting the scientific consensus is NOT a political ideology. If the ABC reported the GM crops were dangerous, and that wifi causes cancer, or that alternative medicine was just as valuable as real medicine, then you would have a case for claiming that the ABC had a left wing bias (ie: reporting things believed by many left wing extremists, that are otherwise not based in reality), but they don’t. The ABC is designed to report reality, and when your ideological view is so far out of alignment with reality, then that reporting might appear biased to you, but that is because of your own bias.

Playing the non-scientific documentary about climate change skepticism WAS prsenting a bias. A right wing bias, which has no connection to reality.  You can’t assert your right wing ideology as a basis for changing the reporting of scientific facts. End of story.

Bolt followed up the line above with:

the assumption seems to be… that conservative journalists can’t be impartial, but the left can

highlighting my point, which is that if your bias is so far to the right (or left) that you think that objective reporting is biased, then there is nothing anyone can do to help you. Genuinely objective journalists, genuinely reporting the news as objectively as possible look ‘left’ to you, because they are left of your position. This doesn’t make them actually lefties, it is just how the appear to the right.

And similarly, if you ask the socialist groups out there who want capitalism torn down completely, they will tell you that the entire media is right wing. Maybe the ABC needs to get more socialist reporters on it, you know, to balance out all of that right wing bias it has by defending vaccines and denying the efficiency of homeopathy….or whatever it is that pisses the far left off.

You can’t force an objective organisation to start saying that vaccines kill, that GMOs are harmful or that global warming isn’t happening! Doing so is to move it from objective fair reporting towards your ideological bias, and while, obviously, that is the real goal here, I am pretty sure most people would agree that leaving the ABC as an objective source is far more desirable than bringing in a few conservative reporters…which is what Bolt seems determined to do… ‘in order to balance’ the network out.

Because obviously 10 people in the middle of a see saw is always balanced out by one person far out on the tip of ONE side.

 

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HomeopathyPlus! and Curing Autism with Homeopathy – a rebuttal

The website HomeopathyPlus – the winner of the 2012 Australian Skeptic’s Bent Spoon award – has a page which lists a number of letters which it claims were written by mothers of children who were cured of their autism by Homeopathic practitioners. A request for a rebuttal has come through on rbutr, and being unable to find a direct rebuttal myself, I went to the Reddit group Debunk This to see if they could help out. They provided some valuable points, but no articles either, so I have decided to write my own Direct Rebuttal to this page, summarising the points made in the Reddit post.

  1. There is no evidence or way to verify that any of these people are real.
    All of the letters only refer to the children by their first name, and provide no name or contact details for the mothers who wrote the letters. It is possible that these letters are complete fabrications for all we know. It is important to note this fact, because we are dealing with anecdotes here. There is no clinical trial, no records, no evidence of any measurable kind to assess. Simply anecdotes by unknown people who may or may not exist.
    Side note: All of the pictures associated with the stories are stock photos.
  2. The Homeopathic Cure may be no different than the outcome of standard development and hard work
    Autistic children learn how to cope with their autism, and natural development changes them. All of these stories don’t really reveal anything happening here which could not happen spontaneously without homeopathic interference. Without real information on the severity of the autism, and with no knowledge of who actually diagnosed the children, these stories provide very little insight.
  3. Homeopathy fails on all scientific front to be a feasible treatment
    This is the ultimate point which should give everyone a reason to suspect that there is false attribution going on here (ie: The ‘remission’ of symptons happened spontaneously or through development or some other treatment rather than homeopathy). Homeopathy ultimately relies on the claim that water can ‘remember’ particles which have previously passed through it, and then use this information in some productive way. After significant amounts of time and money spent trying to demonstrate this or find evidence for it, it never has been. And there is endless amounts of scientific research and applied technology which contradicts it.

    Homeopathy is unscientific. Clinical trials of it are no different to statistical variations on a placebo. To claim that homeopathy can cure autism, you need a lot more than 6 anecdotes from unidentified people.

If you found this rebuttal through rbutr, share it with everyone! And look

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