The 21st Century Abstinence Campaign: PREVENTION

Written by on March 16, 2016

This is a post on the use of psychoactive substances for any and all purposes, other than scientific and medical uses, which are generally exempt from prohibition legislation. Scientific and medical research is made far more difficult by prohibition. Any use of substances like the psychedelics, cannabis, ketamine and many others for remedial or therapeutic purposes is still seen as non-medical and non-scientific in the vast majority of cases.
The term ‘recreational’ is used to describe all other uses of psychoactive substances and is often used pejoratively to imply that the use is purely selfish and hedonistic.



The United Nations General Assembly Special Session meeting on global drug policy is coming up in April. On the lead up to this event are various meetings which will set the direction of the UNGASS meeting.

Currently the 59th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is taking place in Vienna, Austria.

At the centre of this global discussion is a moral conundrum.

Do psychoactive substances represent a threat to all humans at such a level that absolute prohibition and abstinence are the only acceptable goals?

The current answer to this conundrum is: ABSOLUTELY YES!
Global prohibition is a default policy for nearly all psychoactive substances across the world. Prohibition doesn’t appear to be hinged on the risk to human health and well-being, as the policies of prohibition have well and truly been shown to be incredibly harmful in and of themselves.
And it’s not based on a methodical and consistent approach to the potential harms (and benefits!) of various different substances. Many countries are quite happy to see the legal and regulated sale of alcohol, despite it being one of the more harmful recreational drugs around.

Why do people use psychoactive substances?

Here's the Scientology front group Drug Free World's patronising reasons they list for why people use drugs.

Here’s the Scientology front group Drug Free World’s patronising reasons they list for why people use drugs.

If absolute abstinence is the only acceptable goal, as was suggested by the 1998 UNGASS goal of creating a “Drug Free World” by 2008, then any and all reasons that anyone has for using psychoactive substances are invalid.

The lobby group Parents Opposed to Pot posted, Drug Policies Should Prevent the Start of Drug Use and quoted the International President of the World Federation Against Drugs (WFAD).

“The goal in helping a loved one with a substance use problem is not to reduce their use. It is to stop drug use.” Sven-Olov Carlsson at the WFAD Conference, Vienna 2016.

Australian members of WFAD are noted evangelical front groups like Dalgarno Institute and Drug Free Australia. It’d be a fairly safe bet that many other WFAD members are made up of evangelical religious groups across the world.

This is important.

Modern evangelical groups are driven first and foremost by a prescriptive moral agenda.

Here are the assumptions of this prescriptive moral agenda:

  • ALL use is abuse
  • There is no valid reason outside of healthcare to use a psychoactive substance. (Some groups ie. Scientologists would see this as wrong too)
  • Absolute abstinence is the only acceptable outcome
  • Prevention at all costs is the only acceptable path

Why people use psychoactive substances is an irrelevant question to these people. In fact, it’s not only irrelevant but it is seen as an unacceptable line of questioning, because it may ‘normalise’ use or ‘encourage’ others to use. This kind of behaviour toward to thoughts, opinions, research, lives and choices made by others is incredibly dismissive.

Prohibitionist groups often claim that prevention is a better goal than harm reduction. On a cursory glance, this makes sense. It is far better to prevent someone from crashing a car than to deal with the financial and emotional hardship of an accident. It is far better to prevent cancer than to treat someone who has cancer.

Most people who use a psychoactive substance do so without problem. Those who do often have a broader story to tell than the chemical possession narrative pushed by the evangelicals. If prevention isn’t about people’s health and isn’t about their well being, then what is it about?

Considering that the voice of the person who actually uses psychoactive substances is the least heard voice on drug policy, it seems that prevention is more about power. There are many reasons that people use a variety of psychoactive substances and these discussions are largely ignored or ridiculed at the policy level.

Perhaps that’s because people’s use of psychoactive substances is often tied with their own ethical, moral and philosophical beliefs. For those in a position of prescribing morality to others, this is a dangerous disruption of their status quo. Prevention is power for those evangelical front groups who want to set the morality and direction of other people’s lives to reflect their own belief structures on what constitutes a ‘good’ life. Prevention doesn’t care how many victims it leaves in its wake, because they become part of the ‘message’ that prevention and absolute abstinence is the only acceptable goal.

Look out for the groups pushing a prescriptive moral agenda at UNGASS 2016. They’re likely to be evangelical front groups.

Current track