The Sciences

The Politics of Addiction


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The faces of addiction come in every color and gender. The disease creeps into the lives of those from a wide spectrum of socio-economic levels, backgrounds, and experiences. It crosses continents, latitudes, and longitudes. That's the thing about addiction--it doesn't discriminate. Neither should politicians. Particularly when it comes to funding the research to help those who need treatment most. Jessica's got a thoughtful post up over at Bioephemera on double standards, politics, and drug treatment research. Having spent two years as a AAAS fellow at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, she understands the gravity of the issue. Jess writes:

..research to help smokers quit is generally portrayed as necessary and important, [while] increasingly, I'm seeing politicians complain that research to help other drug addicts quit is a waste of money. Maybe it's because these other addicts are meth addicts, or potheads, or heroin addicts - probably not people you relate to or approve of. That makes it pretty easy for the media to take cheap shots at crack, etc. addicts, and question whether we should waste money trying to help them. But we should get angry about these cheap shots...Tobacco is still a significant public health problem, and I want to do all we can to help smokers (like my mom) quit, but crack, meth, etc. utterly destroys families and communities. We should be leveraging scientific research every way we can to help these people - not throwing them away or taking shots at them because they're "bad," or because we can't relate to them. They're real people. They have families. Nevertheless, people routinely and cynically use drug treatment research as a political football.

Of course it's not news that politicians bash science research to score points with the voting public: Sarah Palin notoriously mocked fruit fly studies along the campaign trail while John McCain took issue with grizzly bear research and the Adler Planetarium. And the truth is that this tactic probably continues to win votes since science remains such a partisan issue. But when it comes to people--and finding the means to treat those most in need--a political agenda is unquestionably not acceptable. Lots of us like to imagine there are justifiable reasons we're the most deserving of the best care when sick. The truth is that better treatment and attention should not come as a result of wealth, location, or the social acceptability of a disease. Like Jess, I agree we must let doctors and scientists continue to study drug abuse and test treatments in the real world. That's the way research progresses and results are achieved. I'll leave you with this illuminating video Jess posted that demonstrates the problem:

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