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The Wrong Message Of Legalizing Illicit Drugs

By the Partnership for a Drug-Free America



A new publication that discusses that any policy discussion that includes consideration of legalizing illicit drugs reflects either a complete misunderstanding or ignorance of the key factors that affect trial and use of these substances. Legalization sends the societal message of public approval, eroding the anti-drug attitudes of our youth and encouraging them to try and use illegal drugs. What we need is the reverse -- establishing the unequivocal message that our public behavior standard and social norm is 'no-use," continuously reinforced

through the attitudes of harm/risk and social disapproval that are prevent inhibitors to our youth trying and using these substances.

First, it is critical to recognize that drug abuse is, at its core, the result of the demand we as individuals and society create for these drugs. Prior to drug use becoming the disease of addiction, all drug trial and use is the result of decisions/choices we make to use or not use. The primary determinant in these decisions are the

attitudes of 1) perceived harm/risk and 2) social disapproval. This is true across ethnicity, demography and geography. All progress in reducing drug use and, ultimately, addiction, is the result of increasing anti- drug attitudes in order to change the behavior.

The message of legalization is precisely antithetical to everything we've learned about preventing the demand for illegal drugs. The epidemic of illegal drug use over the past three decades was the result of these substances, their use, and their users becoming "normalized" -perceived as benign and an accepted part of normal social behavior. Normalization has led to nearly 80 million Americans having tried illegal drugs. Because we did not understand the impairment and harm that results from using illegal drugs, we passively and actively moved away from the behavior standard and social norm of no-use.

The reverse process of "denormalization" that began with the death of Len Bias in 1986 has resulted in a decline of more than 50% in the number of Americans using illicit drugs. This fact is not well known, and probably is responsible for much of the sense of hopelessness and helplessness that often surrounds the issue of drug abuse. As a nation, we began to recognize the harmfulness of drug use, and we began to re-establish the social norm of no- use. All the declines in trial and non-addicted use of illicit drugs are directly correlated

with the increase in the attitudes of perceived harm/risk and social disapproval.

Importantly, however, most recent trends among young teens indicate an erosion in their key anti-drug attitudes of risk and disapproval, resulting in higher usage rates of marijuana, LSD, cocaine and inhalants. Further confusion in the behavior standard and social norm of no-use, especially consideration of legalizing (read 'normalizing") illicit drugs, will surely accelerate this disturbing trend and put us back into the drug epidemic of the 1970's and early 1980's.

Courtesy: Partnership for a Drug-Free America

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