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America doesn’t need a war on cough medicine

Sad to say, my stay thus far in Barcelona has been characterized by a lingering cold – one of those bugs that starts off as a sore throat, turns into laryngitis and ultimately results in the type of deep, gurgling cough that itches your ribcage just enough so that you wind up hacking the night away.

The first cough medicine I bought didn’t quite clear up my cough. So I returned to the pharmacy and, at the advice of the pharmacist, tried something stronger: a cough syrup that would have required a prescription in the United States.

It sounds ridiculous because it is. The lack of cough-syrup junkies on Barcelona’s streets informally suggests that liberalization of drug policy doesn’t result in pandemic addiction. So if liberalization doesn’t foster youthful zombies, as once argued, why does the freest country in the world have an exceedingly prudish and expensive policy toward drugs and controlled substances?The Office of National Drug Control policy reports in 2005, the war on drugs alone cost $12.2 billion. This is a war with the sole purpose of preventing people from engaging in a private, recreational activity.

This war can also be credited with the bubble in the U.S. prison population in 2004: The United States has the highest prison population in the world because it incarcerates people for engaging in private, recreational activities. And by private recreational activity, I mean the type that doesn’t initiate force upon others and hurts only the user.

Of course, non-users can get hurt when they ingest now-illegal substances such as pot and acid, but they can also injure others by using perfectly legal substances. If a glue-sniffer or a drunk causes a fatal car accident, it is the fault of neither the glue nor the alcohol, but of the user who is too irresponsible to simply mellow out.

The solution to this problem is not prohibition, but harsher penalties for people who violate the terms of their liberty by physically molesting others.

A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services comparing casual drug use in the United States and the Netherlands – where soft drugs are legalized for personal use and small sale – also suggests that liberalization of drug policy is not correlated with increased drug use by any means. In 2002, the number of Dutch people 12 years and older who used marijuana in the previous month was nearly half that of their American counterparts: 17 percent compared to 36 percent in the United States.

The lifetime prevalence of heroin use is also lower in the Netherlands than in the United States: 0.4 percent of the Dutch population compared to 1.4 percent of the United States.

The benefits of drug liberalization may also be applied toward controlled substances such as prescriptions. As Milton Friedman wrote in 1998, nearly two-thirds of terminal cancer patients are unable to control their pain because many doctors are fearful of prescribing narcotics in adequate doses.

In the context of medicinal drugs, governmental regulation requiring prescriptions removes the foremost responsibility of people, which is to take care of themselves. The very notion of a prescription – or permission – undermines an individual’s rights and ability to make medicinal decisions. Through the initiation of force, consulting an expert is required.

That’s not to say that physicians are unskilled or unnecessary, but rather to say an individuals should be able to make medical decisions for themselves – even bad ones. This solution should please both taxpayers wary of the fiscal consequences of freedom as well as proponents of individual rights. If a man elects irrationality and refuses to visit a physician, he should have the right to do so. He does not, however, have the right to public health insurance so that he can get his stomach pumped when his pill-cocktail fails.

Victoria Bekiempis is a sophomore majoring in history and French.