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Module 6: Gluttony: Illegal Drug Use and the War on Drugs




Of all of the vice related crimes in the United States the most attention is given to the war on drugs. As with prostitution and gambling, the laws concerning drugs have changed radically from total legalization to massive prohibition. Though "vice squads" spend a great deal of time fighting the war on drugs what exactly is the vice involved? Neither lust, nor anger, nor greed seem to fit. Perhaps the closest of the major vices that fits drugs is gluttony. Gluttony is formally the vice of excessive eating, but the overconsumption of food for pleasure is similar to the overconsumption of drugs for pleasure. I say overconsumption since some of these drugs are allowed for medicinal purposes (most commonly morphine) when taken in amounts to eliminate pain. The vice of drug use doesn't seem to be in using them when you are sick, but it does seem a vice when using them just to feel better than normal. In this module we will look at the history of our drug laws, the arguments against allowing people to use drugs, and the arguments for allowing people the liberty to use drugs. Perhaps more than any other topic in the course this one brings together elements of liberty, paternalism, libertarianism, virtue ethics, and utilitarianism. We will begin with a history of drugs.

NOTE: Distinguishing "drug use" from "drug abuse" is not always easy. For example, doctors are sometimes reluctant to prescribe Schedule III narcotics (such as hydrocodone, morphine, or opium) for patients with severe pain due to chronic or terminal illness, such as cancer, out of fear that the patients will become addicted. Similarly, patients are sometimes reluctant to take them for the same reason. As a result, patients with chronic pain sometimes do not get the medications that would allow them to function normally. In pharmaceutical sales training for Schedule III products such as fentanyl, an anesthetic used to treat breakthrough cancer pain, sales representatives are carefully taught to explain to physicians the difference between use (can allow a patient with illness or condition to function more normally) from abuse (used by non-patients to "feel good.")