CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Getting Serious About Drugs

Oct 2, 2007

Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop and her colleagues on a House of Representatives Committee have a lot of guts. They have been willing to take on one of the most politically correct entrenched bureaucracies around today, the drug harm minimisation crowd.

Bronwyn Bishop and the majority of the Committee have produced a new government report entitled, “The Winnable War on Drugs”. While no report is perfect, this one is pretty darned good. It makes the case for harm prevention, not harm minimisation, and urges us as a nation to have a zero tolerance for illicit drugs.

Also it takes head on what it calls the “drug industry elites”. This is a great term for a bunch of bureaucrats and political activists who not only push the harm minimisation line, but often are calling for the legalisation of illicit drugs as well.

For too long these folk have been getting away with murder, using heaps of taxpayer dollars to call for all the wrong things: needle exchange programs, heroin injecting rooms, more methadone programs, and so on. They have had a near monopoly on drug policy, a sympathetic media, and a gullible public. And we have all suffered as a result.

But some might be asking, what is wrong with harm minimisation? For the layman, the term harm minimisation has tended to mainly mean one thing: kids are going to take drugs anyway, there is not much we can do to prevent it, so let’s try to make it all a bit safer when they do take illicit drugs. As such, it is a counsel of despair which traps many in a dead-end drug-affected lifestyle.

The awful reality of drug abuse

Consider an example that is unfolding at this very moment. There has been yet another casualty in the drug wars in the Australian Football League. A recently retired West Coast player has just been found dead, after taking an ecstasy tablet. Another West Coast player, recently in rehab, was with this man just an hour before his death.

Yet incredibly, the “drug industry elites” wrote an open letter to various newspapers recently, arguing that the AFL drug policy is just fine, and that those concerned about rampant drug use, such as the Prime Minister, should just butt out. The September 11 letter, signed by all the usual suspects (around 20 names altogether) defended the current AFL drug policy, saying moves to get tough on drug use were counterproductive.

The question is, how many more people have to die before we reject the foolishness of these harm minimisation advocates, and their mistaken belief that illicit drug use is just a health issue, and not also a criminal justice issue?

Instead of seeking harm prevention – the only proven drug policy – and a zero tolerance approach to drug use, they recklessly continue pushing the line that people will always take drugs, so we must try to make it “safer” when they do. This is not only a counsel of surrender, but it is costing people their lives.

It is time the dangerous and failed ideology of the harm minimisation crowd is replaced with some realism which is genuinely compassionate and responsible. That is what this new government report seeks to do. It provides first hand testimony not only from some experts in the field, but ordinary Australians who have been harmed by the harm minimisation policies.

The “drug industry elites”

Perhaps one of the most important aspects to this report is the willingness – and bravery – to take on the vested interest groups and bureaucrats which currently determine so much of Australian drug policy. Indeed, it speaks of drug policy in this country being “captured by influential drug industry elites”.

This report rightly targets the failed policies of these drug “experts”. They overwhelmingly support harm minimisation, and many advocate “drug policy reform” which is often a euphemism for full legalisation, or decriminalisation, of drug use. Such policies of course directly work against a zero tolerance approach.

The report notes that some of these so-called experts “do not believe that all illicit drug use is harmful, despite the accumulating scientific evidence on how drug use affects the brain and physical development”.

Consider one infamous drug “expert” Alex Wodak, who said in 1991 that heroin “has relatively few side-effects” and that it can “be safely injected for decades”. He also made this amazing claim, as recorded in the report, “Most of the present morbidity and mortality related to heroin use is consequent to its illegality”.

There you have it. If we would only legalise all these drugs, disease and death rates would greatly fall! Thank you Alex. And he is one of our “experts” pushing his radical agenda with our tax dollars.

Or take the words of surrender coming from Professor Margaret Hamilton, who argues that “psychoactive substances are and will be part of our society; their eradication is impossible; and the continuation of attempts to eradicate them may result in maximising net harms for society”.

Incredible! To see how irresponsible and inane such comments are, just substitute the word rape or murder for the phrase psychoactive substances. People will always rape (or run red lights, or avoid paying taxes, etc.). It is foolish to think we can fully eradicate the problem. So let’s try to minimise the whole problem. This is putting up the white flag of surrender, and condemning many to an early grave.

Indeed, as the report rightly notes, some of these elites in fact “benefit directly from the continuation of current approaches and expanding numbers of people in drug ‘treatment’ as well as research funding that is applied to finding the ‘benefits’ of harm minimisation approaches.”

The report quotes other elites in the drug industry who seem intent on pushing the PC line on drugs, regardless of just how harmful such a position is. It demonstrates how this policy is fundamentally flawed because it does not “have the aim of enabling users to become drug free”. For example, former drug addicts told the committee how the harm minimisation mentality sent mixed messages to them and worked to encourage them to stay in their drug-affected state.

And families gave stories about how a son or daughter was effectively urged to take risks with drugs by the weak messages given in drug education and/or counselling services, with the emphasis on using drugs “safely”. Some horrified parents actually reported how their children were encouraged to continue using illicit drugs.

Talking sense about drugs

In contrast to our current failed policies, the report urges a realistic and genuinely compassionate approach which seeks to get people off harmful drugs. As the report says in the very opening paragraphs, “What is required is policy to prevent harm to individuals from illicit drugs, not policy to merely reduce or minimise it.” It strongly supports the zero tolerance approach which has worked so successfully in Sweden, taking it from being a country with one of the biggest problems of illicit drug use to one with among the lowest use.

Indeed, the restrictive drug policy in Sweden, which emphasises early intervention and treatment, has been a remarkable success story. “As a result of this approach, drug use in Swedish society has been dramatically reduced over recent decades and is now very low relative to the rest of the European Union and other industrialised countries, both on measures of lifetime prevalence and regular use.”

Based on this realistic and responsible approach, the report makes a number of recommendations. For example, it calls for a “television-focused campaign of the same magnitude as the anti-tobacco campaign against illicit drug taking”. It also recommends that “the Minister for Health disallow the provision of takeaway methadone,” while making naltrexone implants available on “the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for the treatment of opioid dependence”.

Above all, it calls for the replacement of the current harm minimisation focus “with a focus on harm prevention and treatment that has the aim of achieving the permanent drug-free status for individuals with the goal of enabling drug users to be drug free; and only provide funding to treatment and support organisations which have a clearly stated aim to achieve permanent drug-free status for their clients or participants.”

Absolutely! Finally some common sense and genuine compassion in the drug debate. Of course – predictably – the report has been widely attacked by the drug industry elites. All their frenzied responses were fully to be expected. But for the sake of our young people, it is time we got serious about the dangers of illicit drugs, and started acting responsibly. This report deserves a wide-reading, especially by our political leaders and policy makers.

For those interested, the 400 page report is available in hard copy or on the Internet.

www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/fhs/illicitdrugs/report.htm

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5 Responses to Getting Serious About Drugs

  • Thanks Bill. It is well overdue for the government to act. These are lives we are talking about. How many more people have to die before people act to fix up the problem we have. The government in my opinion should make all the drugs used for smoking illegal too.

    I remember a while back that Channel Seven was attacked for revealing the club to which some drug users belonged. While Seven did the wrong thing in how they got the information, the issue that people were taking drugs was largely ignored. The AFL drug policy is not working. Players are still taking drugs. The AFL should put the health and safety of the players above the players’ careers, but it doesn’t. If the AFL fails to change its position who knows how many more former or even current players will die.

    Matthew Mulvaney

  • To believe that one can, as they say, manage or make safe addiction and bondage is a self-induced delusion and self deception that comes straight from the pit of hell.

    A Chinese proverb concerning alcoholism says that one drink is too many and ten thousand drinks are not enough. That applies to all addictions, obsessions and compulsions.

    To encourage our young into believing that unless they indulge in sex and drugs, then life is not worth the living or that their arms and legs will drop off is designed to reset the default settings of their brains so that they become hopelessly enslaved by their emotions, instincts and lower natures. The mistaken notion that the most important thing in society is to make tolerance the one virtue that overrides all others is to encourage our children into an early grave. If it is a stark choice between the lives of our children and liberal politicians, then we ought to chuck the latter over board – complete with mill stones around their necks.

    David Skinner, UK

  • A simple but relevant true story.

    Students at a secondary school in Victoria received their Harm Minimisation talk in a Year 9 class. One student asks me curiously after the talk, if I thought that students should be encouraged to take drugs.

    Of course I answered no to this. To which she added, the speaker said that they (the students) will in the future be taking drugs and when they (the students) do, they can experience the benefits of harm minimisation.

    The student claimed that the speaker said that the students ‘needed’ to try drugs to understand it all, and the student curiously questioned me if I agreed.

    I answered with a simple question. Would you need to drink-drive and have a car accident to realize that drink-driving was dangerous?

    The student smiled, understanding my response.

    I totally object to the brainwashing of innocent, vulnerable impressionable teenagers by foolish adults. Don’t pass your mistakes on to your children.

    Teresa Binder

  • Bill

    I have raised the Swedish model example before to those on the left and they hold it up as a paradigm example of the advantages of using social means to treat addicts and not criminalising. The UN report is often cited:

    “In an evaluation of the criminal justice system measures, the National Council for Crime Prevention of Sweden concluded that based on available information on trends in drug misuse there are no clear indications that criminalization and an increased severity of punishment has had a deterrent effect on the drug habits of young people or that new recruitment to drug misuse has been halted. On the contrary, the Council found that drug experimentation among young people, increased throughout the 1990s, a trend, which was similar in Sweden to that in other countries.”

    Do you have a response to this?

    Damien Spillane

  • Thanks Damien

    Several responses. The Bishop report itself answers this with various graphs and charts. In the 90s there was a slight increase in drug use, but that went into decline again the following decade. And even in the 90s, Sweden was still leading almost every other Western nation in this battle. But let me cite the UN again:

    UN drugs chief praises Swedish drug control model
    STOCKHOLM, 7 September (UNODC) – The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said on Thursday that Sweden’s successful drug control policies were a model which other countries could learn much from.
    Launching a UNODC report entitled Sweden’s Successful Drug Policy: A Review of the Evidence, he said drug use in Sweden was just a third of the European average while spending on drug control was three times the EU average.
    “Societies have the drug problem that they deserve,” Mr Costa said. “In Sweden’s case, the commitment to prevention, law enforcement, demand reduction and treatment over the past thirty years has made a significant difference.”
    Mr. Costa said those who doubted the effectiveness of drug control should look at Sweden’s experience, which was useful not only for showing that drug control is possible, but how and why.
    The report shows that amphetamine use in Sweden was high in the 1950s when such stimulants were readily available. Overall drug use rose in the second half of the 1960s during a period of rather liberal drug policies but declined strongly in the 1970s and the 1980s due to progressively tightening drug control. Drug use rose again in the 1990s due to budget cuts, unemployment and growing drug supplies but has followed a clear downward trend since 2001 as a result of a National Action Plan, the establishment of a National Drug Coordinator and improved funding.
    Mr Costa praised the culture of drug abuse prevention and treatment in Sweden. “Long-term and cohesive policies, backed up by sufficient funding and the support of civil society, have proven vital for success,” he said.
    He stressed the strong correlation between the Swedish Government’s special efforts to target cannabis and amphetamine-type stimulants and an overall reduction in drug use. “The lessons of Sweden’s drug control history should be learned by others,” said Mr. Costa.
    Sweden’s Minister for Public Health and Social Services, Morgan Johansson, said: “I am very proud that the report commends Sweden as a successful example. But this doesn’t mean that we have won the fight against drugs. The work must continue, every day. Preventive measures are necessary. We also have to improve rehabilitation for people with drug abuse problems.”
    The UNODC Executive Director praised Sweden’s efforts to promote international drug control and thanked the country for its support for UNODC. “When it comes to drug control, Sweden practises what it preaches. It is a driving force in ensuring implementation of international drug control targets.”

    http://www.unodc.org/unodc/press_release_2006-09-06.html

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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