The Queen’s Gambit and anti-drug policies

The word “gambetto” has been used in Italian dictionaries since the 13th century, as a synonym for “tripping up someone”. When migrating to English, it became “gambit” and had the meaning extended to “trickery to beat the opponent”. Its most popular use occurs in the expression “queen’s gambit”, which designates a chess move in which, intentionally, the player sacrifices a piece to win others later.

This chess artifice lends its name to the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit”. If you don’t know the series, you can find a summary in the following video (with spoilers):

The plot revolves around the protagonist Elizabeth Harmon, who at the age of nine proves to be a prodigious chess player and grows up winning international competitions on the boards, while repeatedly losing the battle against addiction to tranquilizers and other legal and illegal substances.

Elizabeth’s first contact with tranquilizers takes place in childhood, in the orphanage where she lived. The institution offers the drug as a supposedly harmless way of pacifying behavior, but at a certain point in history, a state law emerges that abruptly extinguishes this practice, blocking the girl’s access to her daily pills. This results in an abstinence crisis and other severe consequences for her human development and her trajectory in chess.

This ban on soothing drugs via a legislative pen can provoke a debate about public policies to combat drugs, as, for most of the narcotics widespread around the world, public administration continues to be guided by the classic script:

1) the disorderly use of a harmful substance is detected;

2) its ban is determined by force of law;

3) compliance with item 2 is enforced.

Countries that, in recent decades, have regulated access to drugs, instead of continuing to try to eradicate them out entirely (as Portugal did), are apparently doing a kind of queen’s gambit: they lose something in the short term (control on use) to try to achieve victory in the end (reduce drug use, even if not entirely).

In Brazil, illicit drugs are treated according to the classic script, but when it comes to alcohol and tobacco, the queen’s gambit emerges with vigor. It is enough to analyze how smoking is treated here: the initial sacrifice is the costs that lung diseases caused by addiction cause to public health services, and the desired victory is the gradual reduction of the smoking base, based on educational campaigns printed on cigarette packs.

Both the Portuguese and the Brazilian cases report that the solution to the scourge of chemical dependency is still to be built. The different scripts have defenders and detractors, but they present as a backbone some mechanism that, as mentioned, involves taking a step backwards, then being able to take two steps forward. And, just like in a chess game, success in that field requires a balance between courage, planning and prudence.

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