September 27, 2010

Drug Matters

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Dear Everyday Ethicist,

Ever since my uncle died of cancer, I’ve wanted to raise money on campus for cancer research. I’ve looked at the clubs that exist on campus, but they don’t raise enough money and this frustrates me. Then I had a great fundraising idea. I know someone with a prescription for Adderall. If we were to sell Adderall and donate all the profits to charity, we would make far more money than we would through traditional means like bake sales, tabling, etc. Plus we wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of forming a club and attracting new members. However, some of my friends claim this is not ethical. If we were going to sell an illegal drug, like cocaine or heroin, I would understand their objections. But Adderall is completely legal and not harmful at all. Also, we would not be doing it for personal gain, but to help cancer patients. So who is right? — Mo Money

Dear Mo, Your friends are right. While prescribing Adderall is indeed legal, selling or giving away the pills to someone without a prescription is not. Although cancer research is a commendable cause, raising money for it does not condone breaking the law. Also, your claim that Adderall is “not harmful at all” ignores the risks that Adderall users face. The drug works similarly to illegal stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine, which stimulate the reward pathway in the brain. For this reason, Adderall is listed under the Controlled Substance Act as having “significant abuse and addiction potential.” However, you might use your intuition that college students are willing to pay more for addictive study aids than for homemade brownies to your advantage. Set up a coffee table on Ho Plaza or near the vet school. Or negotiate a deal with an existing cafe to donate some percentage of its profits to charity. There are plenty of creative ways to raise money that don’t involve illegal behavior. And you might want to rethink your opposition to forming a club. It might take some time and paperwork, but you’ll be able to recruit more potential salespeople than you would by selling drugs out of your dorm room.

Dear Everyday Ethicist, My roommate always leaves her laptop open when she goes to the bathroom. This morning I needed to print out a problem set. I didn’t have time to go to a library and set up a Net-Print account and my computer is currently being repaired, so I used her laptop. While I was accessing my e-mail, an instant message popped up asking what time she wanted to meet to pick up “the weed.” I don’t smoke marijuana and regard those who partake in such illegal substances as immoral. Even though the message wasn’t intended for me, it still constitutes evidence of illegal behavior. Would it be ethical for me to report my roommate for breaking the law, or should I try to trace the sender of the illegal message and have him/her reported, since he is the one actually selling this illegal substance? — Very Concerned

Dear Very, While your zealous advocacy of a drug-free lifestyle is admirable, your methods are a little extreme for the matter at hand. If you had intercepted a message asking what time your roommate wanted to commit murder, you would be justified in going to the police. Your moral obligation to save a life would clearly outweigh violating your roommate’s right to privacy. Neither buying nor selling marijuana constitutes such an offense. And as you point out, the message was not intended for you. Since you saw the message out of context, your assumption that your roommate was planning to participate in an illegal transaction might not even be valid. It’s conceivable that the message was intended as a joke, in which case reporting either student would do more harm than good. Rather than running to the authorities, you might instead have a talk with your roommate about the harmful physical consequences of using marijuana. Mention that you accidentally saw the message, and suggest that she refrain from activity you consider immoral. Reporting your roommate might satisfy your do-gooder impulse, but it would probably not have the deterrent effect you desire.

Elisabeth Rosen is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be consulted at or for all ethical dilemmas, sticky situations, faux pas’ and pickles. The Everyday Ethicist appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Elisabeth Rosen