Is Drug Addiction a Justice or Public Health Problem?

Published by: Jack Phillips on 24th Aug 2011 | View all blogs by Jack Phillips

America, formerly the land of the free and the home of the brave, has more prisoners than any other country on the face of the earth. In 2006 there were about 8 million people under correctional supervision including about 2.4 million prisoners in American jails. The cause is ascribed to harsher sentencing laws particularly those related to possession of illegal substances. The War on Drugs and similar wars, in effect, have provided the means, not only to circumvent the Bill of Rights, but to shred it as well. The so called drug laws instituted in 1985 provide law enforcement agencies with an incentive: they can confiscate property of offenders and use it for “law enforcement purposes”. These include raising salaries, hiring people and providing benefits to judges who supervise the program.  Consequently these laws are vigorously enforced. (However, this “license to steal” breeches our moral code and may encourage police entrepreneurial activity.) Since many prosecutor view convictions as victory and consider treatment defeat, a majority of drug offenders wind up in jail.  A year in jail costs about $18,000 according to reports. 

Incarceration doesn’t necessarily stop drug use.  Somehow desperate drug users manage to find fixes and, according to statistics, addictions grow in jails.  The alternative to jail is rehabilitation. For heroin addicts, methadone maintenance is reported to cost about $4700 per year. Substance abuse has been estimated to be a $500 billion a year public health problem.

Addiction to opium has a very long history, but in this country large scale addiction to opoids started with use of morphine salts to relieve the pain of wounded Civil War soldiers. By 1864 morphine addiction was recognized as a serious problem and a search for less addictive painkillers began.  Heroin was introduced in 1890.  Subsequently increasing numbers of morphine and heroin users led to rising crime rates and sales of black market drugs. To counteract these problems opiate clinics were opened in 1912 to supply legal drugs to the addicts. They failed to solve the problems and were closed down in 1924. Thirty years later the present day Methadone Program, which continues to this day, was initiated. Unfortunately this Program merely substitutes a legal addicting drug for an illegal one and neglects to recognize that addicts are usually very sick people. They usually have very serious metabolic problems as well as being addicted. Merely substituting one addictive substance for another does not produce a health human being.  This is probably why in 2011 we still have an almost 150 year old problem with drugs.

Countries that have treated their drug dependent citizens as patients instead of criminals have experienced good outcomes in terms of crime reduction, health improvement and reduced drug dependence.

For example Switzerland in the 1980s adopted policies based on public health concerns, including a heroin substitution program, instead of criminalization. They found that 10 to 15% of users accounted for 30 to 60% of demand and were heavily engaged in drug dealing and crime to support their habits. When provided with a legal supply of drugs for their addiction their illicit drug use was reduced and their need to deal in drugs and engage in other criminal activities diminished. As a result consumption of illegal drugs was substantially reduced, property crimes dropped by 90% and the yearly registration of new addicts fell from 805 in 1990 to 150 by 2005. 

The Netherlands has the lowest percentage of people who inject heroin in the European Union. Addicts are prosecuted for crimes they may commit, but not for possession or use of drugs. The practical Dutch regard drug addiction as a public health problem. Dr. Win van den Brink, a psychiatrist at the Academic Medical Center in Holland, claims that addiction is a brain disease. Medically prescribed heroin reduced crime and has had a positive effect on the health of addicts. In 2001 there were 28,000 to 30,000 people dependent on Heroin and by 2008 there were only 18,000. Large scale drug treatments, harm reduction services like access to syringes and strictly controlled prescriptions for methadone and heroin has been highly effective in solving their drug problem. Regarding addiction as a brain disease is saving the government of Holland a lot of money. 

Great Britain’s policy of diversion of drug offenders from custody into treatment resulted in a 48% reduction in charges after treatment according to a research study involving 1,476 drug users.

In 2001 Portugal became the first country to decriminalize the use and possession of  all illicit drugs. Several studies have found that this action did not lead to substantially increased drug use. It experienced a slight rise in drug use over the ten years ending in 2010, but this paralleled experience in other countries where drugs remained criminalized.

The key idea behind the War on Drugs was that the threat of arrest and punishment would deter people from using drugs. This hypothesis has been disproved. Evidently criminalization of drug use and harsh penalties for drug use have been expensive mistakes and governments should refocus their efforts and resources to diverting users into health and social care services according to the 2011 Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Paul Volker former Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the Economic Recovery Board and George P. Schultz former Secretary of State represented the United States on this commission.

The Drug Policy Commission didn’t concern itself with the technology of drug treatments, but the Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs of the United States Senate in 1977 did. Their report contains a published article by medical scientists which clearly indicated that addiction to opiates is a brain disease that can be remedied by appropriate orthomolecular technologies.  In other words, vitamins, minerals and amino acids, which are natural substances familiar to our bodies, can cure drug addiction.

The article by Alfred F. Libby and Irwin Stone on page 316 of the Committee Report suggests that addiction to drugs like opium, heroin, and morphine can be reversed with very large doses of sodium ascorbate, the sodium salt of ascorbic acid, otherwise known as vitamin C.

Opoids like opium, morphine and heroin are said to attach themselves mostly to receptors contained in the very primitive limbic system deep within the brain. Research indicates that few changes have occurred to this system during the last 400 million years of evolution. This suggests that the sites were not established to hold modern opoids, but equally primitive molecules. The ascorbate molecule is equally primitive. Irwin Stone [1] speculated that the function of these sites was to concentrate ascorbate to aid transmission of nerve impulses. If so, it is logical to believe that opoids might be displaced by ascorbates and the addiction removed. In support of this idea was Ghione’s [2] experiments with rats in 1958 which showed that 100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight of vitamin C injected into rats abolished the narcotic effects of morphine.

Unfortunately all humans, including drug addicts, are born with anascorbemia, the inability to synthesize ascorbate in their livers. Most animals are able to make their own internally and, unstressed, produce about 5 to 15 grams per day per 150 pounds of body weight. They also have a feedback mechanism that enables them to increase the production of ascorbate three to fivefold under stress. Therefore, it is logical to believe that addict might require large quantities of this vitamin. But lack of vitamin C is not the addict’s only problem

The opoid drugs cause addicts to lose their appetites and food deprivation or restriction causes malnutrition. Consequently chronic addicts lack adequate supplies of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Alfred Libby and Irwin Stone in 1977 [3] hypothesized that addicts suffered from an Hypoanascorbemia – Kwashiorkor Syndrome, a serious lack of vitamin C and an acute form of protein-energy malnutrition.

Attempts to obtain funding for an experiment to test their hypothesis were unsuccessful. Convinced of their logic and the importance of their ideas, they pooled their money and contributed their time to see what sodium ascorbate could do for drug addicts. At the same time they recognized that addicts were very sick people because they were malnourished.  Addiction causes them to lose their appetites.

Originally they took urine samples and tested for ascorbate spillover and amino acids, but the results were so consistently low that they stopped testing. After the narcotic was stopped, the first dose of sodium ascorbate, 25 to 85 grams, was given. This was followed by large amounts of multivitamins and minerals and nine tablespoon per day of a pre-digested protein, called PHH-Pro, in divided doses.  The amount of sodium ascorbate given depended on the extent of the addiction. About 25 to 40 grams per day in divided doses was needed to deal with a $50 a day habit and 60 to 75 grams a day in for a $200 a day habit. These dosages were continued for four to six days. If withdrawal symptoms were encountered the dose was increased. Most patients on this regimen regained their appetites in two or three days and enjoyed restful sleep. Patients also quickly begin to feel good. Then the mega doses of sodium ascorbate were reduced to about ten grams per day and levels of the other vitamins and minerals were also reduced.  Pre-digested protein was discontinued if the patients were eating well.

The authors believed that the rapid detoxification achieved by sodium ascorbate in their experiment indicated that high levels of this substance in the brain displaced narcotic molecules attached to opiate receptor sites. They suggested that in cases of drug overdoses where the victim is unconscious, a slow intravenous infusion of 30 or more grams of sodium ascorbate could act as an antidote and provide quick relief. For conscious victim of drug overdose, who are able to swallow and retain liquids, they suggested 50 grams of sodium ascorbate dissolved in a glass of milk to provide the same effect.

It has been over 30 years since this experiment was reported in the Journal of Orthomolecular Psychiatry, now the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine.  Most physicians do not know that this technology exists because MEDLINE, which is a major source of information for them, has refused to abstract these journals for over 35 years. This is evidence of how important medical information is controlled to the detriment of the American people.

1.      Stone, I.:  The Natural History of Ascorbic Acid in the Evolution of Mammals and Primates.  Jl. of Orthomolecular Psychiatry 1: (2-3); 82-89, 1972a

2.      Ghione, R.:  Morphine Spasm and C-Hypervitaminosis. Vitamologia (Turin) 16: 131-136, 1958                       

3.       Libby, A.F., Stone, I: The Hypoascorbemia-Kwashiorkor Approach to Drug Addiction    Therapy: A Pilot Study. Jl. Of Orthomolecular Psychiatry 6 (4); 300-308, 1977                                                                                                    

                                                JACK PHILLIPS – 11 August 2011

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