Drugs and the World Paperback – 25 Sep 2008
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"Awelcome addition to the growing literature on the use and misuse of psychoactive substances and the policies and interventions that make up the global war against drugs. . . Written in a clear and accessible style, the book challenges many of the misconceptions and stereotypes in our everyday thinking about the drugs problem and what is to be done about it . . . this book is a highly informative and valuable resource for all those interested in the use and control of drugs around the world today."-Times Higher Education
About the Author
Axel Klein is Lecturer in Medical Anthropology at the University of Kent.
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DRUGS AND THE WORLD
Reaktion Books Ltd
This is a vexed and pessimistic book about the global drugs phenomenon as things stand today. It registers grave concerns about the international nature of the "war against drugs": the increasing regulation by the state of individual conduct around drug demand and supply reduction; the public cost of this war, without seeming end, in terms of human misery, and loss of liberty without real or apparent benefits in drug use reduction; and, the stranglehold that has been established by states, underpinned by international conventions, and reinforced by the popular media, for any reasoned popular debate or public space for one to be had. The recent public rebuke of Professor David Nutt, Chair of ACMD by Jacqui Smith, MP, Secretary of State for the Home Department is a sobering reminder of what happens when someone who is part of the regulatory system is seen to be breaking ranks. This kind of ceaseless and relentless intrusion by the state, summed up in the phrase "war against drugs" and its costing and analysis is what makes this book so vexed and pessimistic. The book argues for reform of better and more humane regulation of substance use. It is not about legalisation. On the contrary, it points out the risks and dangers to which individuals, particularly the young, and communities are exposed to around the use of substances, while acknowledging cultural, recreational and auto-neurasthenic benefits. This reform of a regulatory system will not come from the inside but from outsiders, activists, supported by an informed public. This then is the constituency of readers it is primarily aimed at.
The book marshals its arguments by providing a panoramic inventory of things, beginning with an analysis of the history of drug control via the Temperance Movement, in alliance with some members of the medical professions and state intervention. While there may have been some paternalist good intentions behind it, the book argues, such as saving individuals and communities from themselves, drug control has been an unmitigated disaster and led to perverse outcomes: methods and approaches applied have done more harm than good; sight of the primary objective has been lost in implementation; vested interests have led to power tussles and corruption; and, the reasons for the human penchant for taking drugs has not been seriously understood.
Subsequent chapters include an analysis of drug consumption within the context of control; its "othering" and inescapable links with crime; typologies of crime; the treatment of addiction, using the disease model; and once again, more corruption. There is a brief but interesting chapter on the possible benefits of drug use, followed by a more detailed analysis of the culture of using specific substances in different societies. This chapter is interesting, and one wishes for more. There is an underlying assumption about the benefits this understanding could bring to the control and sanctions of substance use by communities and local actors. Surely, one area that could benefit from the kind of activism the book advocates is precisely where community based approaches, of the kind initiated by Susan Beckerleg, who has worked previously with the author, are able to harness the resources in treatment and rehabilitation in Europe, to buttress and train communities around the cultural sanctions which these communities have used around traditional substances by extending them to counter the influx of now internationally available substances ravaging lives of migrating communities from the countryside to urban slums.
The author brings to bear his wide experience and knowledge as a medical anthropologist, who has worked on projects in Kenya, Jamaica and other parts of the world to produce interconnects between the local and the global in the later chapters. He brings out the underlying tensions and distortions that exist within an overriding control system and structure and between control and development issues. Much of this material is new and needs to be read.
Much else also has been traversed by other key historical texts such as Virginia Berridge's `Opium and the People'; Gossop's `Living with Drugs'; the two classics by Marek Kohn, `Narcomania' and `Dope Girls'; the Addiction Research Foundation's `Drugs and Drug Abuse'; Tyler's `Street Drugs'; `Crack House' by Terry Williams; A.W. McCoy's monumental `The Politics of Heroin: CIA complicity in the Global Drug Trade'; and `Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice' by Reinarmann and Levine. These books are mentioned because I do feel that they should have been mentioned in this book. The struggle for a wholesale reform of the global drug control apparatus that Axel Klein argues for needs all the help it can get, however much we may share his pessimism.
He talks of change having to come from the outside, from people he refers vaguely to as activists. This is the flimsiest part of his argument. There is no mention of networks like TRANSFORM in UK or the Drug Policy Allowance in the States. I am reminded that while it may be true that knowledge is as old as the hills, there is a point to saying things anew, because while everything has been said the paradox is that nothing has been understood.
Kazim Khan is the Co-ordinator of T3E (UK), and a Research Associate at
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