February 29, 2024

Is drug addiction an illness?

Most of us have an ambivalent attitude towards drug addicts. Can they stop? No, their will power is shot to pieces. Will you invite one home to dinner? No, he’s a drug addict. However inconsistent it might be, we manage to dismiss addiction as morally serious and stigmatize them at the same time.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court is due to hear a case on drug addiction which could have wide-ranging consequences. Julie Eldred, an addict, relapsed while on parole and was jailed. (See story below.) But jailing her was wrong, according to the Massachusetts Medical Society, because opioid use is a chronic illness, not a character defect.

The opposite point of view is represented by 11 addiction experts in an amicus curiae brief. They argue that “Most addicts quit and do so on their own. Addiction seems to be among the most spontaneously ‘remitting’ of all the conditions termed major mental disorders, which is a very inconvenient fact for the position that addiction is a ‘chronic and relapsing brain disease.’”

The outcome of the argument will have immense legal and social consequences. If the addict is helpless in the grip of his or her disease, punishment makes no sense. The whole criminal law would change. To be continued….

Michael Cook
Massachusetts is about to find out.
drug addiction