The poison and antidote gambit is a frequently used trope in zombie and outbreak fictions, where a poison was distributed followed by selling the antidote at lucrative price as a means to generate profit.

Suppose we have an extreme version of the above scheme, where the poison was deliberately being manufactured and distributed, but the antidote is being sold at a fair price. Since unlike the original scheme that there is a high barrier in obtaining the antidote, what will be the moral implications as in the new scheme effectively all potential detrimental outcomes (utilitarianism) (or more generally any potential outcomes that prevent the agent from realising his/her duty or obligation (deontological ethics)) were being blocked?


Background: This is a thought experiment that arises when learning about the interplay between naloxones and heroin overdose in news. A thought then arises on whether drug suppliers can effectively increase revenue while minimising the detrimental impacts of their clients consuming heroin recreationally by basically incorporating naloxones into their heroin package at a fair price (since the profit is guaranteed per capita by the client less likely to die from overdose and revisiting them more often to purchase heroin due to the increasing addiction). If the drug suppliers can somehow optimise this hypothetical scheme to completely block out all detrimental effects of heroin recreational consumption by using naloxones, will recreational heroin become legal because all moral implications are completely eradicated?

Suppose such optimised scheme is still immoral, how can laws be enacted to arrest drug suppliers as under this new scheme, the negative impacts will become less visible due to naloxone incorporation with heroin selling effectively reduces the visible detrimental impacts such as death of drug addicts due to overdose?

  • I don't understand how you think the naloxones scenario plays out, and what the moral issues are.
    – Dave
    May 21 '16 at 14:08
  • Depends on why heroin is illegal in a place, I think. If it is because it harms physically, the it will probably become legal, if there are mechanisms to ensure people would not get raw heroin. If it illegal because it leads to addiction, then it will be still illegal.
    – IsThatTrue
    May 21 '16 at 15:07
  • From what I understood, naloxones blocks the actions of opoids such as heroin especially in the event of overdose. Thus there is a possibility that drug suppliers might consider supply in naloxones along with heroins at a comparable price, then it can potentially increase their revenue while reducing the negative impact of heroin that affectselling because overdose cause death is out of the picture due to the actions of naloxones. But then this raised legal and moral issues on whether it is acceptable even if the damage is massively reduced, IsThastTrue's suggest might be the key to the answer
    – Secret
    May 21 '16 at 15:14
  • You have many hidden assumptions. For example, you think heroin is bad for people. It's not. If you have a reliable supply of unadulterated heroin you can live a long and happy and productive life. Consumer Reports reported that years ago. The problems with heroin are caused by prohibition itself. The cost is high, the supply is uncertain, you risk legal consequences, you have to deal with criminals, the product is adulterated. If you are interested in drug policy and law you should research that. Don't get your drug policy information from the newspapers.
    – user4894
    May 26 '16 at 6:26

Since one's own life has no measured financial value, the only price that is fair to everyone is zero -- which is what naloxone costs in my area. It is distributed by charities that support the families of overdose victims.

This is the Salvation Army approach to alcoholism -- leave it legal, be clear it is stupid, and let people learn from experience, hopefully without destroying themselves too thoroughly.

Given reliable overdose prevention and a modern view of the mechanics of addiction https://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong?language=en there is no good reason why this remains a heavy moral question.

There is still no sure-fire way of preventing alcohol poisoning that is as accessible as naloxone. (At least in Chicago's suburbs, but I think this is not uncommon.) And we still haven't cured cancer. So to some degree, I would argue, milder, but more addictive substances like alcohol and tobacco are more immoral to produce than heroin.

  • "Since one's own life has no measured financial value, the only price that is fair to everyone is zero" I guess that pretty much rule out any possibility of the illicit drug supplier using the scheme in OP to charge the naloxones for free, thus knocking out any possibility of such hypothetical legal and moral scenario to be realised and concerned
    – Secret
    May 23 '16 at 3:19

I don't see how you derived your thought experiment from the heroin situation you described, but, on the heroin situation: not only it would make sense morally to supply naloxone - as a drug dealer -, but also economically, since you don't want your customers dead. In effect, I'm not sure naloxone is that easily available or diverted, and that's why is not that common, but I've heard of prudent opiate users always looking to have it on hand.

Furthermore, I don't think heroin overdoses are the main reason of prohibition - in fact, I believe heroin legalisation, even without naloxone, would decrease the number of deaths, which tend to be caused by heroin cut with fentanyl being used by unsuspecting users (legalisation and regulation would prevent that) - but rather the fact that first, it is taboo, and then, even if it weren't, the effects of the addicted lifestyle are what's more detrimental - overdosing would be actually included on "potential accidents of being a junkie".

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