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April 18, 2014

The heroin addiction scourge


Addicting people to high dosages of synthetic drugs is not a solution to dependence on other drugs. But the federal government has, in the past, committed a majority of its resources to methadone maintenance programs. And this despite warnings from the National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization.

I conducted two years of research on heroin addiction that established it as a psychological problem, not a metabolic one. My research, published in the International Journal of the Addictions, served as a model for therapeutic communities.

The single most important question that we must ask focuses on the demand side of the problem: Why do so many people compulsively crave heroin and what can we do about it? The heart of the problem is the psychology of people who get trapped into drug abuse, not the drugs themselves.

A majority of drug treatment and prevention programs are a waste of time and money. Two major studies evaluated our Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s past drug prevention programs. The studies concluded that these multimillion-dollar programs have been entirely ineffective and thoroughly irrational in cost-benefit terms. These studies concluded that rather than wasting money on useless programs, the federal government must make greater efforts to focus on the psychological reasons that people use drugs. Effective prevention and treatment efforts must be developed and implemented.

Of course, the ideal would be to prevent the conditions that tend to lead people into seeking chemical relief from pain they do not understand. Until that issue is addressed, it is unlikely that we will find any substantial relief from the curse of heroin addiction.

The bottom line is that all opiate drugs lead to temporary relief, elation and feelings of profound well-being. And heroin does this more and better than all other drugs. The template that drives heroin addiction is emotional pain. When people who feel burnt-out, lonely, powerless and confused discover heroin, they are like hungry infants who discover their mother’s breast. Unfortunately, increasing numbers of people feel the sharp sting of a meaningless life filled with a nasty combination of woe, trauma, misery and emptiness. When they experience heroin elation, they feel overwhelming relief, an experience that can become irresistible.

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