A drug that is 100% adictive after a single dose

It is easy to be in favor of legalizing pot. People should be allowed to to make their own choices, even if that means they might make choices that we think are mistakes.

But what if there was a drug that was absolutely 100% permanently physically addictive after the first dose? The drug is cheap and easily available. Once you’ve had your first dose, you are miserable until you get the next one. Repeated use kills quickly and quietly. I’ll call it “Slack”.

Every person who has ever tried Slack now regrets it and wishes they could quit, but they can not. It’s addiction is too strong. Even so, new people continue to try it and get hooked.

Would you be in favor of legalizing Slack?

Invalid answer: “There is no such thing as a 100% addictive drug!” (this is the answer I once got at an otherwise very interesting a drug addiction roundtable.)

Possible valid answer:

“There is no substantive difference between making the single bad decision to try that first dose of Slack and the repeated bad decisions people make to continue to take less addicting drugs. Part of the cost of freedom is that people sometimes make bad choices for themselves – and they suffer the consequences.”

I think that is logical, but contradicts the general human principal of proportional consequences. I think we all intuitively sense that the bigger a mistake, the more severe the consequences can be.  It does not seem right to allow a Slack user to die as punishment for single moment of bad judgement. It seems like we should want to stop them from doing something that we know is a mistake – and something that even they will eventually agree is a mistake.

There is no drug like Slack today, but I’m not sure that it matters. What if a drug was only 99% addictive and deadly rather than 100% – would that change things? How about 98%? Or 90%? At some point we are talking about heroin or crack, and eventually we get down to StarBucks.

How do we define the line between a drug that should be illegal and one that should not?


  1. Don Riggin

    I guess the question can be addressed from a number of viewpoints. From a moral perspective, we should probably do everything possible to discourage slack’s usage. From a societal perspective it seems to me that we’d need to make a choice, (1) legalize slack and prepare for the inevitable results; increased pressure on our healthcare delivery system, an increase in crime perpetrated by those who cannot easily afford slack, the need for public awareness campaigns designed to show slack’s human devastation, family disruptions, job loss, etc. In this context, “prepare” means allocating the necessary public funding to combat and mange these outcomes.

    Or, (2) make slack illegal and suffer those consequences; an increase in crime, of course, (the violence of which would be at least an order of magnitude higher than in the legal scenario, with perps and police armed to the teeth), additional pressure on our healthcare system, and more prison overcrowding, eventually creating thousands of convicted felons, ultimately released into a society that can legally deny convicted felons jobs, pushing many back into the penal system, exacerbating the disintegration of families, thus perpetuating similar behavior in subsequent generations. Cities’ neighborhoods would become even more Balkanized along racial and economic lines.

    Both scenarios would produce overdose deaths, but the 2nd scenario would produce a lot more dead people; gang violence, police using overwhelming force, sometimes without cause, suicides, and innocent bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time. The question is, of course, moot; our political system would only permit scenario 2, which is just another example of the following – never overestimate the intelligence of the American people.

    • bigjosh2

      I made Slack cheap and easily available as to avoid any collateral harm from crime from both Slack users trying to get money to support their habit and from sellers who would profit from selling it. I also doomed Slack users to die quickly and quietly to avoid any spillover into the health care system or penal systems, so no collateral harm there either.

      I’m also not sure what punishment you could inflict on Slack users, so the system might not even bother arresting them since they would never make it to trial. The prohibition laws would be largely symbolic signaling- never practically enforced and only intended in influence peoples’ behavior via authority. I think there are many actual laws like this today.

      Of course I agree with you that our current drug policies are not guided by thoughtful insight. In the real world, I agree that all drugs should probably be legal because the alternative is much worse.

      But I’d still like to understand the question at a more fundamental level. In a thoughtful and enlightened (and sadly unrealistic) world, are there any drugs that definitely should be illegal or not?



      • Don Riggin

        Given the fact that Slack kills so quickly as to avoid the societal ills caused by less effective drugs, we must return to my first argument – the moral question. Fortunately, this is the easy one. Slack must be legal. This is the only moral response. Once it became apparent that Slack always killed quickly, sane drug users would avoid it. A reasonable analogy is rat poison. Cyanide always kills, and it’s totally legal.

  2. bigjosh2

    “sane users would avoid it.” Would they? Couldn’t you say the same thing about crack or heroin? Even sane people make mistakes. I think that is the root of the problem. It is right to let people make small mistakes that have catastrophic consequences? Every Slack user regrets getting hooked and would go back in time and stop themselves from trying it if they could. This means that by prohibiting it, we are really just letting their future selves impose a restriction on their present selves. We seem to have no problem letting present selves impose restrictions on future selves, so why is it different going the other other direction? From a public policy point of view, we should favor the will of future selves because they have more information and so can make better decisions.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful input!

    • Don Riggin

      Josh,I stand by my “sane people” assumption. Sane people do heroin and meth because they need the drugs’ effects and don’t believe it will kill them. Slack, on the other hand, kills quickly. There is no daylight between getting high and dying. Drinking gasoline is tantamount to taking Slack, and I think you’ll agree that sane folks tend not to drink gasoline.

      • bigjosh2

        Addiction drive might explain why sane people might re-use heron or meth after getting hooked, but not why they try it in the first place.

        Slack kills quickly (weeks to months), but not instantly. Fast enough to limit burden on social services, but long enough to decouple the trying and dieing events. While this might differentiate Slack from heroin in degree (Slack kills 99.9% in 1 month, while heroin kills 51% in 30 years), I think they are the same in substance. Knowing that, no sane person should ever try heroin- yet they do. I think it is reasonable to assume that some sane people would make the same mistake with Slack, and all would later regret it.

        So, stipulating that sane people would try Slack and that all would later regret it, is it “right” to prohibit it?

        • Don Riggin

          No, I remain committed to my position that Slack and heroin are fundamentally different. If we put aside the timing, as that’s too subjective and easy to get hung up on, we are left with two separate and distinct options. Slack = try and die. No way out; 100% effective, right? Heroin = try and maybe not die. What sane, non-suicidal person would try Slack, assuming he or she is fully aware of the cause and effect? Nothing about timing here, just the outcomes, which are potentially quite different; not at all the same in substance.

          This also addresses the question of why someone would try heroin or meth, but not Slack, in the first place. Heroin and meth aren’t guaranteed killers. Yes, they do kill, but like most of the rest of us, hope springs eternal with hard drug users. Me? Nah, I’ll be careful. And what about Slack? Are you kidding, man? That’ll kill you, dude! Stay away from that s#!t.

  3. Roger Heathcote

    That’s true, they are quantitatively different. Almost everyone discounts the future to some extent. Sadly many people very heavily discount anything more than a few years away. A decade is much further into the future than many people who’s life is currently bleak can muster the hope for. A month is 2 orders of magnitude less than a decade. Even a dope fiend can do that math so I doubt Slack would have much of a take up at all. Any non-suicidal person, junkie or otherwise would never delibrately take it. If the high was pleasant enough people without the nerve to commit suicide by more traditional means might take it. There’s currently an awful lot of morphine used in palliative care right now, if supply is cheap it might actually be useful there though I doubt you’d get it through any current ethical panel!

  4. Antti from Finland

    By making less harmful drugs legal you wipe out competition. As an example why would you take prohibited A if B and C would be legal, cheap, readily available and good quality?

    Same goes for alcohol… I’m not in favour of drugs but current situation is worse than legalizing some of drugs. Legalizing would also cut crime rates significantly.

  5. DT

    On a strictly moral basis, I’d argue that it is not ok for society to interpret for me what my future self might prefer over my present self. Educate me, try to persuade me, but don’t make the decision for me because it impossible for the State to know/understand my personal and unique utility curve.

    Let’s imagine the feeling of taking Slack is so tremendously great that the value of experiencing it for a month outweighs, for my situation and in my own estimation, the total value I expect to get from my life in the next 30-40 years (assuming that’s my remaining life expectancy). Then it might be perfectly logical or reasonable for me to take Slack.

    That being said, I wouldn’t argue that the State should, or ever would, make laws based solely upon what it views as most moral. I would argue that laws should be made based upon a combination of moral and practical considerations. But on this basis I would still end up concluding that Slack should be legal because anything that is truly and significantly demanded will tend to be provided by the black market if not legally and the black market does tend to have greater externality costs than legal markets as another commenter here already mentioned. Even though you stipulate that Slack must be cheap, I will assume that if it has any reasonable degree of demand that it must be profitable to produce and sell. And if it isn’t truly demanded, the the point of it being illegal would be moot. So, we must conclude that a black market would develop, in which case making it legal is a fairly easy to choose alternative.

    Lastly, I agree with the commenter who stated that the natural demand will be likely be solved in a Darwinian fashion relative quickly. But an interesting twist in terms of potential stipulations might be – what if the genetic propensity to desire it was somehow highly correlated with a substantially positive genetic gift (highest IQs, extreme musical or artistic talent, particularly special and hard to replace engineering talent, etc)? This might make the decision to legalise much trickier, as society would have to weigh the loss of special contribution from those members vs the various other moral and practical considerations. But what punishment could you dole out to prevent these people from taking Slack even if you made it illegal, given that they’ll die in a month anyhow? Torture? Murder their loved ones? Those would clearly not be acceptable options and therefore you still end up at the conclusion that it should just be legal even though it will clearly harm society when people take it.

    • bigjosh2

      Of course I agree with all points, but this is a thought experiment so I am unconcerned with what would *actually* happen. Instead, I am wondering specifically – if 100% of the people who do some irreversible act end up regretting it and would give almost anything to go back an undo their mistake, is there then moral grounds then for preventing them from making the mistake in the first place? One possible way to look at it is that you are balancing rights between their future self and present self, with their future self inuring cost shifting from their present self.

  6. Jimmy Ivory

    My name is Josh (a name I don’t care for) and I never thought to see what josh.com looks like. Very happy to see that it’s owned by a thoughtful person. I read about your Prove Me Wrong campaign and enjoyed what you wrote about solar. I was interested in what Take the Limit meant and clicked on it. If I understand, it’s short for taking something to its extreme, or its logical conclusion, in order to reason about it quickly and easily. It’s interesting because I do this often when thinking about mechanics. I typically take the variable to both extremes and see what the obvious result would be, then infer about the small tweaks. I’m happy to now have a phrase for it now : ). Really it’s just nice to find an intelligent person (one who relies on evidence-based research) on the internet, it being so rare.

    • bigjosh2

      Hi Josh! Yes, “Take The Limit” is from calculus and describes the process of letting a variable go to infinity and seeing what the ultimate impact is on the function being evaluated. Here is use it in basically the same sense – pick some feature of a problem and then try to imaging what happens when you let that feature approach its fundamental limit.

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