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Jan 23

It is Impossible to Regulate Good Behavior

It is Impossible to Regulate Good Behavior

Mary Sullivan

AlcatrazEvery New Year’s Day, many people make resolutions to become healthy. They promise to huff and puff in gyms, stop clogging their lungs with tar, and to eat those horrible, yucky vegetables. For the first week or two, people try, hit the gym, and end up pissing off the regular gym attendees by hogging all the workout machines. But before February arrives, most of these new converts have already lapsed, and their promises are quickly forgotten.

Despite their best intentions, they fail, because change is rarely easy. Even the most motivated with wills of steel find it difficult to switch from eating french fries to carrots. In a moment of weakness, many fall into the seductive snare of a Ho Ho.

Altering one’s behavior is even more difficult, when people do not want to change or, even worse, enjoy what they are doing. People who like to drink alcohol, eat fast food, and use meth are going to inevitably indulge.

Almost everyone seems to know that change is hard, except for politicians. They honestly believe if they craft the perfect bill, poverty will end, the lame will walk, and crime will never occur again. Their blind optimism in mankind’s ability to change knows no bounds.

At this very moment, politicians in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky are parading their naivete once again as they scheme up a way to end heroin use among Bluegrass residents. Members from both parties actually believe they can end the use of heroin with the right law. Naivete at such a grand scale as this is without doubt only surpassed by my sweet little niece who still believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny. While most would agree that such sentiments are cute when held by a four year-old little girl, they are disturbing when embraced by an august state senator. Legislative members should know that a fat man is not going to slide down a chimney and a bill will not stop people from using drugs for recreational purposes.

The only way a person is going to stop using a drug is if they choose to stop using it. At best, laws will only change the drug being used. A great example of this point in action occurred in Kentucky when the legislature tried to end prescription medication abuse. Many Kentucky residents were concerned about their neighbors using too many pain medications. Politicians responded to this apprehension by working really hard to shut down doctors who were deemed to be prescribing too many pain medications.

The politicians’ hearts were in the right place; however, the results were not exactly a success. Prescription abuse did decrease, but not because people stopped abusing drugs. The numbers went down, because the abusers switched to a different drug. What was that drug? Heroin. That is right; the current heroin epidemic was created by the Kentucky legislature writing laws to decrease prescription abuse.

What makes the situation even worse is that the heroin epidemic was completely predictable. Oxycontin and other frequently enjoyed pain medications are derivatives of opium, just like heroin. When the legislature dried up legal access to pain medications, the users switched to heroin, which created the current heroin epidemic. If the legislature had not intervened, the surge in heroin use would not have happened.

Legislators need to learn that making an unhealthy behavior illegal does not work. If people want to engage in unhealthy behaviors like unprotected sex, drug use, or jumping out of an airplane, they will. The best legislators can do is to provide people with an opportunity to change. Lawmakers can increase funding for drug abuse treatment programs, which would allow a place for the motivated to change. Jail deferment programs, where a person can participate in drug treatment in lieu of jail, could also be encouraged. These two options are preferable to the current system because they are providing a chance for people to change, instead of forcing them to alter their behavior.

Force does not work in the long-term; it will only divert people from one drug to another. Change can be encouraged; it cannot be mandated by law. If a person doubts this, simply ponder what the compliance rate would be for a law requiring every Kentucky citizen to work out four times a week at a gym.

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