The so-called harm-minimisation crowd is at it again. Recently we have had yet another call for medically-supervised heroin injecting rooms in Australia. One such proposal is for Footscray in Melbourne’s west. The claim is that this will save lives and be good for addicts.
We have had these debates for some years now. They follow the lead from harm reduction or harm minimisation strategies, which are effectively ‘put up the white flag of surrender’ approaches. They admit defeat at the outset, claiming folks are always going to use drugs, so let’s try to make things a bit better for them as they do.
Such policies stand in marked contrast to harm elimination policies. These approaches seek to eliminate the harm by eliminating the cause of danger. Instead of keeping people on deadly drug addictions, they seek to get them off. Sweden used to have very liberal policies on drugs, but have in the past few decades radically reversed direction.
They take a strong “just say no” approach, and have produced very positive results. Their tough-love approach to drugs includes mandatory detox and rehab. And their harm elimination programmes have become so successful that they are now the bench mark for those seeking to offer real help to addicts.
Yet here in Australia it seems we are still tied to old, failed policies. The leftist policy makers here refuse to countenance the idea that the best thing to do for those who are on life-threatening drugs is to get them off. But keeping them strung out on their addiction is no help at all.
Indeed, the case against heroin injecting rooms is quite simple. Every time the addict shoots up it may be his last hit. To provide state-sanction for such dangerous activity is irresponsible in the extreme. It is playing Russian roulette with the addict’s life. Even earlier advocates like Prof Penington in Victoria stopped calling them “safe” but “supervised” injecting rooms. Heroin can never be safely injected, any more than one can safely play with a live hand grenade.
Injecting room advocates often make deceptive arguments, such as: “What would you prefer, having addicts shoot up in dangerous, dirty back alleys or have addicts shoot up in clean, medically-supervised rooms?” Of course if these are the only two options, the latter is to be preferred. But this is a false dilemma. There is a third option: not shooting up at all. Shooting galleries do nothing to encourage addicts to get off drugs.
Orlando McDonald is the man who introduced the concept of injecting rooms in the Netherlands a few decades ago. He has admitted that not one person has ever gotten off heroin in this period. In fact, addicts said that if it weren’t for all the heroin they were being supplied with by this program, they might have been off the stuff years ago.
Supplying heroin to addicts is as helpful as supplying whiskey to alcoholics. This will simply create life-long addicts. This is not helping people. This is keeping them strung out for life. Such a policy is morally bankrupt and socially disastrous.
And we have proof of this from other experiments in shooting galleries, most notably the Kings Cross injecting centre. Careful studies of this have found that it is certainly not the panacea that many hoped it would be. One assessment of it is worth noting.
Lucy Sullivan begins her study this way: “The overwhelming conclusion to be drawn from the four official Reports on the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC), which together cover its operation from its opening in May 2001 to April 2007 (six years), is that the unavailability of heroin is of far greater significance in preventing drug overdose deaths than the availability of a ‘safe’ injecting facility – in fact the latter shows no measurable effect at all.
“This outcome should be of considerable importance to the future of the Centre, and for any plans for replication elsewhere, in that preventing heroin deaths was a dominant political argument for its establishment, and the one that held most sway with the public. It is now clear that the Sydney MSIC was established on false premises.”
She continues: “The MSIC opened just when the drought was at its most extreme. It briefly eliminated deaths in the Kings Cross area entirely, where the rate had hitherto varied between 9 and 1 per month, and in the rest of New South Wales they plunged to a low of 6 in May 2001 after varying between approximately 45 and 15 over the previous three years. In the pre-MSIC period, deaths in the Kings Cross area averaged 4 per month, and this fell to 1 per month in the post-MSIC period.
“The equivalent figures in the rest of New South Wales were 27 and 8, respectively. The falls in average monthly deaths were statistically significant in both cases, being by about 70%, and did not differ significantly in the two locations. This means that, on the basis of these statistics, the presence of the MSIC in Kings Cross cannot be credited with any preventative effect on overdose deaths subsequent to its establishment there. The fall was due to the heroin drought.”
After examining more of the evidence she concludes as follows: “At the time of the opening of the MSIC, a significant factor for ID users welfare came into play, namely, the extreme fall in availability of heroin at the end of 2000, and an only partial recovery thereafter. As a result, it has become absolutely clear that overdose deaths fall when there is a fall in heroin use, not as a result of the occasional use of safe injecting centres – and it seems that the voluntary use of such centres will only ever be occasional. This outcome effectively disproves the much vaunted claim of the drug legalization lobby that making the illegal drugs freely available would dissipate their harmfulness.
“Given the belief that withdrawal of a heroin habit is a dangerous and difficult process, on the face of it, it is surprising that it was apparently achieved so readily by so many when heroin became unavailable; and the rebound, with a return of supplies, was to much less than the former level. The so-called trial of the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre supports the common sense view that restriction of access to drugs, in which illegality plays a major role, is crucial to the prevention of drug overdose deaths.”
The simple truth is, heroin is illegal because it is dangerous. Heroin is banned because it can kill people. It needs to stay banned. We do not need injecting rooms in Australia. We need a policy of harm prevention. Drug-free people do not die from overdoses. We need to get people off dangerous drugs. Addicts need treatment and rehabilitation, not a life sentence to an early grave.