Drugs—Who Takes Them?
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN SOUTH AFRICA
“EVERYONE takes drugs.” That sweeping statement may be used to induce the naive to experiment with illicit drugs. But depending on how we define “drugs,” those words contain an element of truth.
The term “drug” is defined as: “Any chemical substance, whether of natural or synthetic origin, which can be used to alter perception, mood or other psychological states.” That is a useful, broad description of what are called psychoactive drugs, although it does not cover many medicinal drugs used for physical ailments.
According to that definition, alcohol is a drug. The danger lies in its immoderate use, which is evidently increasing. A survey of colleges and universities in a Western country found that “binge drinking is the most serious drug problem on college campuses.” The survey revealed that 44 percent of students were binge drinkers. *
Like alcohol, tobacco is legally available, although it contains a powerful poison, nicotine. According to the World Health Organization, smoking kills about four million people a year. Yet, tobacco barons are wealthy, honored members of society. Cigarette smoking is also highly addictive, perhaps more so than the use of many of the illegal drugs.
In recent years numerous countries have curbed tobacco advertising and imposed other restrictions. Nevertheless, many people still see smoking as an acceptable social activity. Smoking continues to be glamorized by the film industry. A University of California at San Francisco survey of top money-making films between the years 1991 and 1996 found that 80 percent of the leading men portrayed characters who smoked.
What About “Safe” Drugs?
Medicinal drugs have certainly benefited many, but they can be abused. Doctors may at times prescribe drugs too easily, or they are pressured by patients to prescribe drugs that are not necessary. One physician commented: “Doctors don’t always take time to sit with the patient to work out the cause of his symptoms. It’s easier to say, ‘Take this pill.’ But the primary problem is not addressed.”
Even nonprescription drugs, such as aspirin and paracetamol (Tylenol, Panadol), if abused can lead to serious health problems. Over 2,000 people worldwide die each year as a result of misusing paracetamol.
According to our earlier definition, the caffeine in tea and coffee is also a drug, although we hardly regard it as such when drinking our favorite breakfast brew. And it would be absurd to view socially acceptable drinks like tea or coffee in the same light as hard drugs like heroin. That would be like comparing a domestic kitten to a fierce lion. Nevertheless, according to some health experts, if you habitually drink more than five cups of coffee or nine cups of tea a day, it could do you harm. Furthermore, if you were to cut a very high intake drastically, you could undergo withdrawal symptoms similar to those of one tea drinker who experienced vomiting, severe headaches, and sensitivity to light.
What About the Illicit Use of Drugs?
A more controversial issue is the use of drugs in sports. This was highlighted at the 1998 Tour de France when the nine cyclists of the top team were expelled for using performance-enhancing drugs. Athletes have devised various ways to counter drug tests. Time magazine reports that some have even gone so far as to have “‘urine transplants,’ meaning [that] someone else’s ‘clean’ urine is inserted into their bladder via a catheter, an often painful procedure.”
We have yet to deal with the bewildering array of illicit drugs used for “recreational” purposes. These include marijuana, ecstasy (methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, or MDMA), LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), uppers (stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines), downers (depressants like tranquilizers), and heroin. Not to be forgotten are the various inhalants, such as glue and gasoline, that are popular among the young. Of course, these inhalants are not banned substances and are readily available.
The common notion of an emaciated drug addict shooting up in a dingy room can be deceptive. Many on drugs are still able to function relatively normally in everyday life, although their addiction must affect the quality of their life to a greater or lesser degree. Nevertheless, we cannot minimize the dark side of the drug scene. One writer describes how some cocaine users “are capable of ‘shooting up’ dozens of times in a single session, converting their bodies into needle-pricked, bloody, and bruised messes.”
After an apparent decline in the late 1980’s, illegal drug use is on the rise again worldwide. Newsweek magazine observed: “Authorities are overwhelmed by an onslaught of drug smuggling, a rise in drug use of almost every kind and a dearth of funds—and information—needed to fight it.” The Star newspaper of Johannesburg, South Africa, stated that according to government statistics, “one in four people living in South Africa are addicted to alcohol or drugs.”
The UN Research Institute for Social Development pointed out that “drug producers and traffickers . . . have organized themselves on a global scale and put a significant proportion of their drug profits in financial centres offering secrecy and attractive investment returns. . . . Drug traffickers are now able to launder illicit profits by moving money around the world electronically with few national controls.”
It appears that many Americans may handle cocaine daily, albeit unknowingly. An article in Discover magazine explained that most American bank notes bear traces of the drug.
The fact is that today the use of drugs, including illicit drugs, has become acceptable to many, viewed as a part of everyday life. Considering the widely publicized damage caused by illicit drugs as well as tobacco and alcohol, the obvious question is, Why do people abuse them? As we ponder this question, it is a good time to reflect on our own views about drugs.
^ par. 5 Binge drinking was defined as ‘consuming five or more drinks in a row for men, and four or more for women.’
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Binge drinking is a major problem on many college campuses
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Many view cigarettes and “recreational” drugs as harmless