Drugs first need to be decriminalised, so they can be destigmatised, and people will then feel more comfortable seeking help.

I’m a doctor who was addicted to drugs. Here’s why I support full legalisation.

Sam Murray*

I have been a drug user for my entire adult life. 

My drug use has, at times, been well controlled, but at other times, problematic and dysfunctional. Although I’ve experienced the harms of drugs, I strongly support full legalisation. 

I spent ten years at university working to become a doctor, getting a masters degree in psychiatric medicine, with the intention of entering the addiction field. 

In 2017, I was prescribed dexamphetamine. I started using meth not long after, and became extremely paranoid; spending days driving around in fear that the police were watching my house. 

Shortly after, I was arrested. 

The court process was horrifying and extremely unjust. When I was caught, the person representing me for legal aid didn’t even know the charges that I was facing. He thought I was charged with trafficking instead of possession.

I asked to be put up on the stand and speak for myself. As soon as I mentioned that I used to be a doctor, the judge handed me a diversion order and let me go without any conditions.  If I didn’t have the voice and confidence, I would have had to plead guilty for an offence I wasn’t even facing. Had I not been able to say that I was a doctor, I would have gone to jail. If I was seen as “just a drug user”, I would have been in a very different position as I am today. 

This feels unfair to me; the weight of social privilege interacting with the legal system. 

After I was arrested, I lost all hope in my life. I thought there was no chance of working in my dream profession and gaining back the money I lost. As a result, my drug use became a lot more reckless. That put me in a really acutely risky position in life, and resulted in a few near-fatal overdoses. I had to interact with a whole new part of a world that I didn’t want to interact with: people involved in very nefarious activities, out in the community causing harm that was unrelated to their drug use or sales. I don’t know how that would have ended if I didn’t have the well resourced, caring and resilient family who physically rescued me in the end, but I know it would not have been good.

I saw an addiction doctor, had methadone therapy for about a year, and then reapplied to return to work when my doctor said it was safe to do so. I thought I was being responsible. I have since been drug tested, assessed and interviewed by the medical board in order to be able to go back to practice. 

Despite having passed many drug tests over three plus years, I am still being treated as if I put down the needle yesterday. If I was to go back to work, I’d be subjected to monthly hair tests, 20 random drug tests per year and regular addiction assessments – all for something that stopped being an issue in my life years ago. How am I supposed to put this in the past, and move on with my life, if I am being treated as if it is an ongoing issue?

I find this approach really offensive. The whole basis of the profession is derived around the understanding that people can change, and that addiction and problematic substance abuse is more related to external factors, than the drug itself.

Even though I experienced the worst end of problematic drug use, and can acknowledge the very real harms that drugs can cause to some people in some contexts, the only reason I experienced this harm was because of what was going on in my world, at that time. When my drug use was dysfunctional and out of control, it was because there were other stressors and difficulties going on. 

It’s extremely unlikely that you will find someone with a drug problem  unless there is some underlying issue; some historical trauma, psycho-social stressor, biological predisposition or undeveloped coping strategies. The vast majority of people who use drugs will never develop a problem.

My drug use hasn’t all been problematic; there have been periods where it’s been well controlled, even positive, and achieved whatever goal I was trying to achieve with it. I don’t know if I would have been able to come out of the trauma and the grief that I experienced without the use of psychedelics. Yet in the eyes of my profession, the use of psychedelics would still be viewed similarly to the use of any other illicit substance. As though all drugs are the same to all people. 

The legal situation surrounding illicit substances was never a barrier for me. It only made me more paranoid. I didn’t use less and I didn’t consider stopping just because they were illegal. 

If I could have accessed drugs through a regulated channel, I never would have had to interact with the underbelly of society.  I also could have sought help earlier. The stigma around drug use meant that I felt shut off from the possibility of accessing care. I knew that the likely consequences of asking for help meant ending up in a similar position that I am in now: loss of job and having to prove that I’m not a danger to society. Drugs first need to be decriminalised, so they can be destigmatized, and people will then feel more comfortable seeking help.

*Name and image changed for privacy.

 If you have lived experiences with drugs and five minutes to spare, share your story with Unharm today.

For more real stories like this, head here.

Image Credit: