VATICAN CITY, DEC. 22, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Should drugs be legalized? Is it a good idea to give addicts drugs? How should drug trafficking be combated?
Answers to these questions are contained in a manual on drugs and Church policy published this month by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers. “Church, Drugs, and Drug Addiction” should be available in English early next year.
The manual begins with an overview of John Paul II´s teaching on drug use. The Pope points out that drugs are one of the main threats facing young people, including children.
The document identifies many causes behind drug use. Some see it as a way of expressing personal liberty. Others see it as just another way to look for pleasure. Still others view it as a way to escape suffering, solitude and isolation. Sometimes a lack of values and convictions that could give firm points of reference for personal development means that many are easy prey for drug pushers.
John Paul II also thinks that the decision to use drugs might often spring from an ambience of skepticism and hedonism that leads to feelings of frustration and a lack of meaning in people´s lives.
The authors of the manual point out that the growth in drug use should lead society to a serious reflection. An increasing number of people are turning to drugs because modern life leaves them unsatisfied and anxious about their future.
Insofar as drug use is linked to the search for pleasure, the manual explains the superficiality of this desire. It points out how by giving priority to pleasure seeking the drug user enters in conflict with the reality of everyday life and its obligations.
Pleasure, in different forms, has a legitimate function in our lives, notes the document. But it needs to be ordered according to a correct hierarchy. But with drugs an immediate satisfaction of the desire for pleasure is sought, bypassing the use of our capacities of intelligence and willpower that should regulate our lives.
It is a serious error, notes the document, to think that our desires for peace, happiness and personal satisfaction will be automatically fulfilled by means ingesting some type of chemical cocktail.
Merchants of death
What is the Church´s judgment on illegal drug use? Catholic morality firmly rejects whatever use of illegal drugs. In fact John Paul II has referred to pushers as “merchants of death” and warns potential drug users against using substances that offer the illusion of liberty and false promises of happiness.
To use drugs, notes the Pope, is always illicit because it involves an unjustified and irrational abdication of our capabilities to think, choose and act as persons. It´s also false to speak of any “right” to drugs, because we never have any right to abdicate the personal dignity that God has given us. Using drugs, John Paul II has said, not only damages our health but also frustrates our capacity to live in community and to offer ourselves to others.
The fight against drug is a grave duty for those in public authority, the Pope insists. Enforcement of drug laws is crucial for protecting society and individuals from grave danger, the manual says. And widespread violations of the law should not lessen the effort to enforce it, the document insists.
At the same time, the manual explains that drugs are not just a legal problem. Solving drug abuse also depends on factors such as offering young people a sense to their lives and decent surroundings in which they can mature.
The Church opposes the legalization of drugs. This includes so-called soft drugs, which it sees as fomenting the same type of dependence mentality and the loss of personal dignity that hard drugs produce.
The manual points out that the state has a duty to protect citizens and promote the common good. Legalizing drugs would be a serious blow to potential users, damaging their health and stunting their lives.
From a medical point of view, the division between soft and hard drugs is hard to draw. In many cases what is more important is the quantity of substances consumed, how they have been taken and whether they have been mixed. Moreover, new drugs are constantly arriving on the scene, along with new side effects and questions about their potency.
The Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers also points out that drug abuse has significant non-physical effects. The psychological and behavioral consequences of soft drugs lead to substantial problems, even if their physiological effects are not as serious as those of hard drugs.
How then can we best fight against drug abuse? The document suggests three courses of action: prevention, suppression of trafficking and rehabilitation.
Prevention can be brought about by offering to potential victims of drugs the human values of love and life, illuminated by faith, the Pope has stated. In this way we can give meaning to our lives. The Church offers people the gift of God´s love, with her word and with Christ´s grace.
The document also stresses the role of the family in providing for children a solid education that teaches them to avoid ever starting with drugs. Youth groups and parishes can also play a part, by promoting a lifestyle based on evangelical values and contact with God that will lead to the discovery of what is the true meaning of our human existence.
Fighting against the international network of drug traffickers is also important, notes the manual. Regional and international cooperation is needed to overcome the power of crime syndicates.
Drug suppliers and merchants should be the primary object of legal and police action, affirms the document. While it would be a mistake to leave unpunished ordinary drug users, authorities should take into account the personal and social factors that led them into addiction. Above all, users should be helped to escape from their dependence.
The Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers notes that the Church has been successfully treating drug addicts for years. John Paul II has encouraged parents of young addicts to keep up hope and to maintain dialogue with their children. Family love is a potent weapon in fighting drug use, he says.
The Church also offers to addicts the hope contained in Christ´s love for each person. The manual notes that a life based on a personal relationship with Christ is the only way to satisfy our personal desires.