Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Colleague Introduces The Politics of the Science of Drug Policy into the Discussion

I am pasting below a response to our discussion that I think will broaden what we are considering about the future of drug policy and the leadership of ONDCP and SAMHSA to include the political dimension. Joyce Rivera, the contributor, is a long time pioneer in the harm reduction movement who has made important contributions to our fields.

Andrew Tatarsky, PhD

Dear Andrew,

Bart forwarded me the email thread and I'd you to share with the listserve my thoughts on the appointment of the next drug czar. These thoughts are based on over twenty years of working with substance users in several capacities.

I do not share the belief that addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease. This belief is a cornerstone to our current, dehumanizing, punitive approach to drug care. The approach continues to fail millions of individuals and families. Support for this belief system consigns our creative efforts to dyads that make research easier but have little relevance to life as it is actually lived, i.e., using a range of substances, in a variety of ways, over the course of a life;

Why a Ph.D? In my experience the possession of the degree makes you a good writer. Sometimes. In the pursuit of the degree, a lot of reading is required; less so after securing the degree. Notwithstanding, Dr. McClelland as editor of the Journal of Substance Abuse, appears as a well-read man with years of social-political experience. Do you think that makes him more or less open to new approaches? After investing a career in support of a limited range of ideas, my sense is that he will be open to novel ways to link substance use, the disease, to neurobiology and neuropsychology. While we remain curious as to the contributions onthose subfields, by continuing to underspend on social context, we are reducing understanding of the social underpinnings of human agency.

I'm uncertain of your actual experiences with SAMHSA. We were recently rejected with fair scores. Some opinions were strikingly narrow-minded. Nevertheless, SAMHSA stands out among the CDC branches for its respect and funding for ethnography. When you work out in the community -- where street level dealing and use occurs ethnographers are your Go-To field people; their work opens program/policy directors to the multilayered meanings inherent in specific communications.

Why do we need another White Male? At the receiving end of our country's punitive drug approaches are people of color. A change in our field has to come from the bottom - up. We need leadership of a different kind, and I say this without apology.

As I write, someone is working on 'manufacturing' a different kind of high; some others are working on pricing for optimal market share; business plans are fine-tuned to maximize the downturn in the global economy; while new methods of eluding suspicion amid heightening scrutiny of financial institutions are drawn. The global drug traders may be scheduling a skype session, obstensibly as a less expensive global retreat. The point is that our interest in a psychologist to head SAMHSA represents a narrow reading of the phenomenon of drug use.

Drug use is politicized. Science is politicized: Science, and the specific field of psychology, has been throwninto the news, almost daily for the last eight years, for its role in torture. The last 100 years have seen the growth of a 'science' of human behavior that is consistent with the juridification of everyday life. I'm hardly stating anything new regarding the politicization of science, see Habermas, Kuhn, Popper,.... Copernicus, Newton, Aristotle,...Sophocles!!

We have an opportunity to institutionalize a social science that is critical, not sycophantic to power. The price of the latter has been measured and for many they remain unacceptable. We're in the 21st century: evolutionary scientists point to our agentic role in the evolutionary process.


Joyce A. Rivera
Founder & Executive Director
St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction

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