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Our Right to Drugs: The Case for a Freemarket Paperback – April 30, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The "war on drugs," charges Szasz, is a hypocritical moral crusade, a pretext for strengthening the state and scapegoating deviants. It is also racist, he asserts, pointing out that blacks are arrested on drug charges at a rate far out of proportion to their drug use. In a hard-hitting, controversial polemic, the well-known critic of psychiatry ( The Myth of Mental Illness ) advocates a free market in drugs, both for pharmaceutical medicines (including opiates) and for substances like heroin and marijuana. Szasz believes that state-sanctioned coercions to protect people from their own vices are futile and violate our fundamental rights. Futher, he maintains that labeling drug abuse as illness medicalizes a social problem and helps turn drug abusers into lifelong patients. In his blueprint for decriminalization, states could ground motorists whose driving ability is endangered by drug use; he also supports compulsory drug testing in occupations where a worker's impairment jeopardizes public safety.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

Szasz (Psychiatry/SUNY at Syracuse) at his abrasive best, skewering the shibboleths of the War On Drugs and giving historical context to the current national hubbub. The prohibition of drugs abrogates our constitutional right to property; Americans have lost the freedom to control their bodies; until 1914, Americans had unrestricted access to drugs of their choice without government control of the market: Thus begins this reasoned and passionate treatise, in which Szasz denounces both the prohibitionists (``the War On Drugs is itself a giant quackery'') and the legalizers--``paternalistic prohibitionists'' whose agenda, the author says, is to transfer control of drugs to the medical system and to continue prohibiting substances, albeit only certain ones (e.g., tobacco rather than marijuana). After a scathing indictment of Nancy Reagan's ``moronic anti-drug slogan'' and her encouragement of children who report their drug-using parents to the police, Szasz dissects a cast of antidrug crusaders (Father Bruce Ritter, Betty Ford, Kitty Dukakis, William Bennett) and concludes that drug education is the ``name we give to the state-sponsored effort to inflame people's hatred and intolerance of other people's drug habits.'' Turning to legalization proponents--Lester Grinspoon, Ethan Nadelman, Eric Sterling, William F. Buckley, Jr.--Szasz analyzes their proposals as new prohibition schemes. Why do we fear making drugs freely available? Because people would choose ``an easy life of parasitism over a hard life of productivity'' and become ``drug-crazed'' criminals? According to Szasz, economic productivity, crucial for the survival of society, has ``nothing to do with drugs but has everything to do with family stability, cultural values, education, and social policies.'' And, as for crime, it is caused not by drugs but by their prohibition. Places the rhetoric and the players in clear positions on the board, whether or not you agree with the Szasz prescription. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 199 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press; First Edition edition (April 30, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815603339
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815603337
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,253,846 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Kate on October 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
When I got a copy of this book - having forgotten about Dr. Szasz's breadth of outlook and singular erudition - I thought I was going to read a nice little political tract condemning the current American Drug Prohibition. "Our Right to Drugs" is that, of course, but it is so much more - it is a call to intellectual and political arms.
The War on Drugs, as Dr. Szasz so carefully shows, is nothing less than a Jihad, a Holy War waged by the forces of reaction and restriction in our society against all those who think that there should be peaceful choice, or self-ownership, or genuine free thought. And like all Holy Wars, this one permits the worst atrocities to be visited on the unbelieving because they are not just wrong - they are evil.
Like many libertarians, Dr. Szasz has little use for compromise; in this case, by those who favor "decriminalization" or "medicalization" of psychoactive drugs. Such people, the author shows, will only end up replacing the current Ayatollahs (cops and ex-generals) with a new Inquisition lead by doctors and psychologists. In the world of physician-monitored drug usage, instead of being evil, anyone who wants to alter his or her own mood will be labeled as "sick" - and instead of being sent to jail, they will be forced into "treatment".
In trying to think of some literary comparison to "Our Right to Drugs", I can only think of Plato's records of certain iconoclastic dialogues about ancient Athenian closemindedness. Truely, Dr. Szasz is our Socrates.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mark Steven Weiss on April 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is a supremely courageous and truthful book written by one of the great luminaries of the age(s).
This book "cuts to the chase" as regards fundamental constitutional issues raised by laws regulating
the procurement, possession, sale, and use of drugs.
The book's most striking charge (a correct one, at that!) is that a fundamental tyranny overtook this nation about
90 years ago when "Americans" lost their property rights over their own bodies--all in the name of governmentally-controlled "truth in advertising" for drug sales.
However, this "seemingly benign" governmental goal created untold danger for the very people it was meant to
protect. Szasz rightfully puts America's so-called "drug problem" in proper perspective by suggesting that the
admonition "buyer beware" should have sufficed--for drugs, as for almost everything else.
In the most general terms, this book demonstrates that there are no shortcuts to a thorough-going approach to American Liberty and Freedom. Dr. Szasz very clearly, and effectively, corrects those who claim that drug laws be summarily repealed for any reasons other than their moral unacceptability in a free state.
Making proper analogy to the wrongful justification of the slavery of blacks in America (owing to their mischaracterization as property), Szasz makes it clear that the infringement of property rights (both of your body, and substances you might possess) lies at the heart of America's despotic and tyrannical so-called "War on Drugs.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
Good arguments for drug legalization (and deregulation of prescription drugs), but a little outdated as far as some of his allusions and political terminology go, and not precise enough in his use of the term "legalizers".
He ignores the distinctions between "decriminalization" and "legalization", and lumps all "legalizers" into a single category, as not being "good enough". He does not seem to realize that there is a wide spectrum of beliefs on drugs, ranging from his position, to the position that all drugs should be banned everywhere.
He is uncompromising, and this is politically defeating. Nonetheless, his position is admirable, and his idea of drugs as a "right" similiar to all other "rights" bandied about in political discourse today, is a good one.
Nice philosophy, and one I wish more accepted it, but he's too radical for today's politicians, who are still in the dark ages of social medicine.
Fear of people committing suicide easily, is Szasz's main hypothesis for why we regulate prescription and illicit drugs the way we do in America today.
This book is good for convincing one that drugs should be legalized, but it is no help for accomplishing that feat politically.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By eunomius on June 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a fine and brilliant book. Szasz manhandles any pretext for government intervention in medicine and the market for drugs. This is by far the best book on the subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on August 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
Thomas Szasz (born 1920) is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the State University of New York Health Science Center. He is a well-known critic of psychiatry, of the social role of medicine in modern society, and is a social libertarian.

Szasz states in the Preface to this 1992 book, "everything that I say in this book is premised on my contention that in today's American society there are two kinds of diseases and two kinds of treatments. The first kind of disease, exemplified by AIDS, is discovered by doctors; the second kind, exemplified by drug abuse, is mandated by legislators and decreed by judges."

Here are some representative quotations from the book:

"Courts now routinely order persons who use illegal drugs to attend drug treatment programs, from which mental health experts conclude that there is a huge demand for drug treatment services in our country."
"(N)o one is, or can be, killed by an illegal drug. If a person dies as a result of using a drug, it is because he CHOSE to do something risky."
"(T)here was no question, during Prohibition, of randomly testing people to determine if there was any ethanol in their system, or of searching their homes for alcohol, or of imprisoning them for possessing alcohol, or of involuntarily treating them for the disease of unsanctioned alcohol use."
"My point is simply that neither participating in the drug trade nor using drugs (legal or illegal) need be interpreted as constituting vice, crime, or disease."
"(W)e supinely accept agents of the therapeutic state monitoring our drug-using behavior, refusing to recognize that it is simply a pretext for the government's meddling in our lives."
"The gun lobby has long warned, 'When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
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