The debate on whether drug addiction/abuse, illegal or otherwise, is an individual responsibility of societies’ responsibility has elicited heated arguments, in recent years.
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In his essay, “The Ethics of addiction”, Szasz (385) argues that the main contentious issue is whether drug abuse and /or addiction is a matter that needs to be addressed within the ethical theory domain, as opposed to viewing it as a medical approach.
The definition provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) on drug addiction is that it is “a state of periodic or chronic intoxication detrimental to the individual and society, produced by the repeated consumption of a drug (natural or synthetic)” (qtd. in Szasz, 386).
Since WHO’s definition is mainly concerned with the use of drugs that is regarded as detrimental to society, as such, the issue of drug abuse should essentially be a concern for ethicists, as opposed to physicians. The “improper” or ‘proper” use of drugs entails the application and consideration of moral principle and this is a further testament to the claim that indeed drug abuse or addiction is an ethical issue.
In this case, the effects of drug addiction and drug use can be grouped into two classes: impact of drug use and/or abuse on an individual, and the impact of individual drug use and/or abuse on the society.
A number of treatment advocates for the victims of drug abuse/addiction argue that the root causes of abuse and/or use of drugs is partially rooted in the prevailing social structures (Bertram 91). In the same breath, dealing with victims of drug abuse/addiction should also be the responsibility of the society. In this regard, the society is duty-bound to initiate educational reforms aimed at transforming drug addicts and those who abuse drugs into responsible citizens.
Nonetheless, majority of the treatment and enforcement advocates are of the opinion that individuals are primarily responsible for resolving drug problems. In the case of enforcers, the goal is to punish individual users in a bid to dissuade them from partaking in the behavior. On the other hand, treatment supporters rely on therapy as a way of empowering individual users to abandon the habit.
We might also argue that the reason why an individual has become addicted to drugs is because they lack the morals to care for themselves in a responsible manner, which is why they have opted to engage in drug addiction and/or abuse. Although a drug addict may not actually have breached any ethical expectations that society has for him/her by virtue of his/her addiction, nonetheless, society shall frown on the behaviors of such an individual as they are associated with the habit of drug use and drug addiction (Szasz 388).
In light of this, a drug user has failed to live up to his/her moral expectations, as opposed to the responsibility that the individual in question has to society.
On the other hand, one might as well argue that society has failed to initiate moral behaviors and ethics that its individual members should follow. This is the reason why some of them have become drug addicts and abusers of illegal and/or legal drugs because society does not disapprove of such behaviors.
In conclusion, drug (legal or illegal) addiction and or abuse should be the responsibility of both an individual and the society. Individuals have a moral obligation to desist from partaking in behaviors that are not tolerated by society. On the other hand, society needs to implement codes of ethic and moral standards that will discourage individuals from abusing and using drugs, whether legal or illegal.
Bertram, Eva. Drug war politics: the price of denial. Belmont, CA: University of California Press.
Szasz, Thomas. The Ethics of Addiction.” Contemporary Moral Problems. Seventh Edition. Ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 2006. Print.