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The drugs of choice and the choice of drugs

Roslyn Ross is a regular contributor to Webdiary. Her last piece was The Road to Happiness.

by Roslyn Ross

There are many drugs of choice in this day and age it is just that some are legal while others are not.

We take legal drugs to treat or prevent disease or simply because they make us feel better. People take illegal drugs for similar reasons. Some illegal drugs can be used legally and some legal drugs can be used illegally. All drugs have a potential for addiction whether we are talking about painkillers, anti-depressants, sedatives, sleeping pills, cough medicine, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, ecstacy or speed.

We all know how much good drugs can do and we all know how much bad they can do. We also know how difficult it is to control not just drug availability but drug-taking. Even legal drugs cause high levels of health problems and death so it is not surprising that illegal drugs do substantially greater damage.

Which is why from time to time there have been calls to legalise drugs. Just as prohibition of alcohol in the States did not work, neither does prohibition of drugs and the so-called war on drugs‚ has been a total failure. Governments are being forced to think outside the box‚ and some have been more adventurous in this regard than others and the results are encouraging.

A recent study published in the medical journal, The Lancet, shows that the liberalisation of drug laws in Zurich, Switzerland, has led to a massive fall in the number of new heroin users. Zurich adopted a liberal drug policy a decade ago and has seen an 82 percent decline in new heroin users. The theory is that when you medicalise drugs you take the glamour out of drugs and the image changes from one of rebellion to one of illness.

Legalising drugs also removes the desperation often involved in sourcing them and the criminal element involved in providing them. Less crime is the result.

Addicts in Switzerland were offered substitution‚ treatment with injectable heroin on prescription as well as oral methadone, needle exchange and shooting galleries‚ where they can go to administer drugs.

"Finally, heroin seems to have become a loser drug, with its attractiveness fading for young people," said Carlos Nordt of the Psychiatric University Hospital in Zurich.

Professor John Strang, director of the National Addiction Centre at the Maudsley hospital in south London, said, "if there is something magical about what the Swiss have done it is not handing out the heroin - it is the heroin mixed with routine and drudgery. All the drugs are consumed on the premises and the patients have to come in three times a day for their dose. It is extremely medicalised. The rebellious nature of drug use has been institutionalised - in the same way that punk was institutionalised when it was adopted by the fashion industry."

Writing in The Lancet, Dr Nordt and his colleague Rudolf Stohler say drug use in Zurich rose rapidly from 80 new registered users in 1975 to 850 new users in 1990. Since 1991, when substitution treatment became available to all heroin users in Zurich, the number of new addicts has dropped dramatically to 150 in 2002. The overall number of heroin addicts in the city has declined by 4 per cent a year, even though the average length of time each user spends on the drug has increased.

The researchers say the finding confounds critics of the liberal approach who predicted that it would increase drug use. Despite giving addicts easier access to the drugs they need, drug use has also declined and deaths from overdoses and seizures are down.

It all seems very sensible although many would claim that these illicit drugs are too destructive and addictive to be legalised. But are they?

Not according to Dr Benson B Roe, Professor Emeritus and former Chair of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of California at San Francisco.

He also believes that drugs should be legalised and says the view of illegal drugs as deadly poisons‚ is a hoax. There is little or no medical evidence of long term ill effects, he says, from sustained, moderate consumption of uncontaminated marijuana, cocaine or heroin.

"If these substances - most of them have been consumed in large quantities for centuries - were responsible for any chronic, progressive or disabling diseases, they certainly would have shown up in clinical practice and/or on the autopsy table," he said. "But they simply have not!"

It is frequently stated that illicit drugs are bad, dangerous, destructive‚ or addictive, and that society has an obligation to keep them from the public, but nowhere can be found reliable, objective, scientific evidence that they are any more harmful than other substances and activities that are legal, he added.

In view of the enormous expense, the carnage and the obvious futility of the drug war, said Dr Roe, resulting in massive criminalisation of society, it is high time to examine the supposed justification for keeping certain substances illegal.

"The concept of evil is derived from subjective values," said Dr Roe, "and is difficult to define. Just why certain (illegal) substances are singularly more evil than legal substances like alcohol has not been explained."

"Addiction is also a relative and ubiquitous phenomenon. It certainly cannot be applied only to a short arbitrary list of addictive substances while ignoring a plethora of human cravings - from chocolate to coffee, from gum to gambling, from tea to tobacco, from snuggling to sex. Compulsive urges to fulfil a perceived need are ubiquitous. Some people are more susceptible to addiction than others and some needs‚ are more addictive than others.

"As for prohibition, it has been clearly demonstrated that when an addictive desire becomes inaccessible it provokes irresponsible behaviour to fulfil that desire. Education and support at least have a chance of controlling addiction. Deprivation only sharpens the craving and never works. Even in prison addicts are able to get their fix‚" said Dr Roe.

A UK policeman created controversy when he voiced a similar view. Richard Brunstrom who is in charge of North Wales police said that the drug laws were doing more hard than good. He said they left vulnerable people in danger while enabling criminals to make massive profits.

"Heroin is very addictive," he said, "but it is not very, very dangerous. It is perfectly possible to lead a normal life for a full life span and hold down a job while being addicted to the drug."

Perhaps one of the most important benefits to society which would come from legalising drugs would be removing the criminal element which thrives on providing such drugs. The drug related murder rate would plummet, drug related theft would disappear and corruption by drug dealers of judges, government officials and policemen would end.

There is a growing movement within Government world-wide that it is time to take a new look at the war on drugs‚ and a realisation that this is a war which will never be won and that acceptance of reality, in the form of legalisation, offers the best circumstances for controlling drugs and reducing the excesses and the tragedies of drug abuse.

Some basic guidelines are:

  • prescribing injectable heroin which is more attractive to users, is safer and can help long-term addicts stabilise their lives.
  • providing a safe house where drug users can inject without causing public nuisance and where they can be monitored.
  • provision of methadone substitution which taken orally, is safer and gives a more moderate high.
  • providing facilities for needle exchange and provision of clean needles which reduce the risk of HIV and hepatitis.
  • relaxing cannabis laws to free police to concentrate on suppliers.

There will always be vulnerable people in our society and there will always be people who seek to profit from them. The only way that we can protect them and protect society by extension, is to have laws which can moderate and control behaviour. Making something illegal merely pushes it underground and into the hands of criminals.

We need only to look at prostitution and abortion to see what tragedies arise for the individuals and what opportunities arise for criminals, to know what happens when we make things which relate to personal behaviour and personal choice, illegal.

Decades of making war on certain drugs has done nothing to diminish their presence nor their appeal. Surely common sense dictates that it is time to take a fresh look at an old and even more destructive problem. As the saying goes, and I know I have used it before, only a fool keeps doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Given the high cost in human and monetary terms to society in our current situation where certain drugs are illegal, surely it is time to do something different, and, if the Swiss experiment is anything to go by, to get a result which actually improves the quality of life for the vulnerable in particular and the quality of life for society in general.

As things stand, the only people who profit from our refusal to change tactics, are criminals and that is neither sensible nor wise.

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political spine and evidence based programs are needed

Nice piece Roslyn.

The main reason supplying heroin to registered addicts resulted in reduction of new addicts is that new addicts are sought ,friends/partners/strangers in the night to cut and supply to ,in order to pay for an expensive addiction.

That is how my sister was hooked,by her boyfriend. She is now dead.

In Vietnam,10,000 miscreant conscripts at a time were incarcerated and sedated with heroin to keep them under control in the difficult situation. They were then repatriated. Join the dots.

Cheers

ps  anyone read HighSociety by Ben Elton (my hero)?

Take awaty the market

Angela, sorry to hear about your sister. Yes, the criminality of drugs makes it all so much more difficult to monitor let alone control and for people themselves to find a way out of it. When drugs are illegal so much time is spent working out how to procure, how to pay, how to remain undetected and obviously, in the overseas experiments with making them available, this is no longer the case and people are able to hold down normal jobs, live normal lives and take their time to try to work out a way to beat the addiction.

If there were the slightest shred of evidence that keeping drugs illegal helped in some way the other side might have a case. As it is I read today that the opium crops in Afghanistan are back at record levels. Clearly there is a market and while there is a market there will always be drugs. Take away the market, or take it out of criminal hands and you have a chance to control the industry.

Absolutely

Roslyn, the case against prohibition seems so axiomatic that one can only wonder why it continues.  Who benefits?

Pure reason dictates

Andrew, Jay, the issue of drugs seems to evoke emotional responses rather than rational ones.

Opium was of course a popular drug in Victorian times and used both recreationally and medicinally.

It seems only logical that if something is made illegal it will become criminalised if a market exists. A market for drugs of all kinds has always exists it is just that we have changed our minds about which ones are acceptable and which ones are not.

The visceral response to 'drugs' means that people create 'causes' around them whether the issue be smoking (tobacco was also once used medicinally, ironically it was believed to be good for asthma suffers... maybe it was in the days when tobacco was no more than a cured herb) drinking or drug taking. Anything can be abused, can be a comforter and a destroyer, including food. It would be interesting to study the impact poor diet has upon our society and the costs therein and the impact that heavy drinking or drug taking has.

Politicians tend to shy away from the issue of drugs because the whole issue can be, and is, so easily misinterpreted and misrepresented.

One would have thought pure reason dictated that drugs be taken out of criminal hands, for everyone's sake. I don't for a minute think that drugs should be readily available but I do think that if people have an addiction they should have drugs medically available so that they may continue to earn a living (without resorting to crime) and to work with their addiction the best that they can.

I do find it ironic that in a drug saturated society as that within which we live today, we happily pop doctor prescribed pills at will, in the case of the elderly, often amounting to a dozen or more, and think nothing of it.

The 'quick fix' is fine if the doctor says so but not if you seek it yourself. There's a double standard at work. I think we need to be more careful about the legal drugs that we take and more sensible about the illegal ones which people choose to consume.

Addicted

An excellent analysis, Roslyn. The only other point I'd add is that our children notice the double standards we adopt with our drugs of choice - alcohol and tobacco - and lose respect for us. Teenagers are quite capable of looking up and evaluating the medical evidence, and when things don't add up, they are likely to discount the advice that is sound and underestimate the risks of drugs.

I can't see the law changing any time soon. Do you know any liberal or labor leaders big enough to admit that what the Greens have been saying for decades was right after all?

Profits

The supply of illicit drugs is the biggest and most profiable criminal enterprise in the world. It irks me that representaives of law enforcement agencies like the AFP blather on that they are actually achieveing some monumental goal by the incerceration of the Bali Nine, a bunch a clueless youngsters at the lowest level of the drug chain. They know full well that the Golden Triangle where the drugs originated from continues to operate with the highest government protection within Thailand and Burma. Yet they are more than happy to see a bunch of young Australians sacrificed for a few cheap headlines that will be forgotten within a year.

Apart from the totally unwinnable "war on drugs", I am angry that my tax dollars are wasted to the tune of billons every year and every time a sensible aproach of tolerance is discussed, those asking for it are howled down and the howlers never come up with a practical solution that will finally solve the problem except more of the same useless expensive non-solutions.

There is also the moral aspect - whatever one does with one's own body is entirely their own business as far as I am concerned, as long as it involves no hurt to others. But sadly, consuming drugs while they are illegal does.

Just as society condemns the viewing of child porn as having contributed to the makeing of it in the first place, the taking of drugs, whilst illegal, like cocaine, heroin etc does likewise. It may seem harmless at some suburban party to snort a line of coke - and I have witnessed a popular TV host doing it - but people forget somewhere along the line lives are being lost to bring them their high. Whole Columbian families get blasted away with a shotgun as a lesson to others when they short change the drug lord.

In Thailand when their PM announced he would erradicate all drugs within two years (five years ago) over 2000 supposed minor drug dealers were simply shot dead by police whilst "escaping" custody. Meanwhile the country is still awash with drugs.

Melbourne of course has it's own sordid history of gang wars with drugs being the major factor and police corruption thrown in.

Containing the harm

Michael, you wrote: "There is also the moral aspect - whatever one does with one's own body is entirely their own business as far as I am concerned, as long as it involves no hurt to others."

Sure, that is everyone's right, but If there is one thing that I am aware of is the hurt caused to others by those kids who have taken to drugs and become addicted to them. I know so many families now who are at the point where the only way they can cope is to shut the door on their child permanently. And some of these so called children, are well into their thirties by the time the families have had enough. It is not that the drug is illegal that causes the harm and hurts both the user, and all those who love him or her. It is the years of lies, promises, dashed hopes, failure to take responsibility, by dysfunctional human beings, creating havoc in the midst of their families. And I mean havoc. One can either hang in and wear the hurt,  or shut down, and walk away from the addicted family member. Let them sink or swim, live or die. Make oneself the island in the sea of despair. Bale out and let society carry the junkie sons and daughters. Many ultimately do just that. This scene is being played out in thousands of homes around the country every day.

All the points Roslyn made have been made in previous threads on this subject. The arguments on both sides are not new. I just wonder though what sort of society we really would have if the current illicit drugs were freely available to all comers. One of the most addictive drugs of all is alcohol and because it is legal kids are swilling themselves blind drunk on it. That surely tells us something of what the scene might be if all drugs were open to all comers. Well, understandably, not too many really want to go down that path. We see the effect on kids of marijuana, heroin and now ice. And anyone who believes marijuana is relatively harmless is just not on this planet. Just try employing these kids who do dope. Dope is the best word to describe both the drug and the users. And just listen to a group of so called intellectuals having a discussion when on dope. It turns them into blithering idiots.

And how many of you would want the jumbo jet you are in being flown by someone who has just got his fix. Or driven home from the party. If drugs are so harmless, then one assumes it will be quite OK to drive, fly a jumbo, make decisions in hospital wards, make laws that affect us all, whatever, because the drugs in their brains have no mal effect. Well I seldom swear, but bullshit. 

God, I cannot for the life of me see why anyone would want to use any of the stuff. Is life so bloody boring, so stressful, so pointless, that cop out on illegal drugs is the only way to put meaning into life. If anything will destroy western society it will be the ever increasing use of recreational and such like drugs. Forget about terrorism. Drugs have the capacity to rot society from within.

These things are illegal, because of the real and potential harm they do, not just to the user, but to all of us either directly, or indirectly. How would you suggest we protect ourselves from the harm drug users do Michael? They are after all using drugs. Drugs which affect the mind and their capacity to function properly. How can we control the harm, if we do not control the drug? We spend millions trying to protect ourselves from drivers/workers who have imbibed on the legal drinks. Are we going to direct millions more to protect ourselves from people in all walks of life who might be using all sorts of mind altering drugs while working in all sorts of jobs. Think of the dentist about to pull your tooth out, or the mechanic you rely on to fix your brakes. You might say something if you smelt the grog on him, but what if he is using all sorts of other stuff not so easily detectable but now also legal? The first you might know is when your brakes fail on you. Bit late then.

I know the crime that prohibition spawns. But I am not sure legalising the currently illicit drugs would not spawn a whole new set of problems.

but what about solutions?

Hi Jenny. Firstly, I tend to agree that the liberal argument espoused by Michael, "whatever one does with one's own body is entirely their own business" is a little shallow. Society is a little more connected than that. (Michael, I recognise that that was far from your only argument).

I also wholeheartedly agree that drugs cause a lot of damage. Just sticking to marijuana (for convenience - I'd argue the same for other drugs), there certainly is a good reason it has been nicknamed 'dope', and I have witnessed 'dope psychosis' first hand. It certainly effects more than just the user.

But that hasn't helped us with solutions. Let's assume that marijuana is the worst problem known to humanity, just for the sake of argument. In the late 80s it retailed for about $300-$400 per ounce. In today's real terms that's, say, $600 per ounce. Well today the same stuff grown under the lantana ('bush dope' as it's now called) retails for $150 per ounce. So after massive expenditure on policing, jailing etcetera, not to mention the social cost of alienating our police force from huge portions of the population (including friends and family of the dopers, who don't want their loved ones jailed whatever else they might think), dope is now about four times more available to our kids than it was 20 years ago. And that doesn't include the new 'hydro' strains, which frankly are a far worse health problem than any of the grass we used to smoke (I never inhaled).

Can you see my point? The problem of drugs (including alcohol) is real - I assume it has been to some extent for all of human history. The question of how society addresses the problem is also real. As Roslyn indicated, there is now a lot of work done on trialing different methods - alternatives to just more policing, more incarceration, more social alienation - and the results are encouraging. Potentially this is very good news for our kids and the next generation.

This is a text book example for me of where the Greens and the Democrats have been horribly slandered but in the end will be able to look the electorate in the face and say, "It wasn't popular, but we had thought it through and we were right." If we are really concerned about children, families etcetera, we will not ignore this wisdom.

Thanks Roslyn, by the way, for the article.

What we are doing is not working

Jenny, the point of the article was not to suggest drugs should be 'free for the taking' so to speak, merely decriminalised and made available if needed. The point of the heroin programme in Switzerland is that making it legally available removed the crime factor, and, making it available through medicalising it, removed the glamour factor.

I am not suggesting I or anyone has all the answers but merely making the point that criminalising drugs has not worked. They are available. Why not monitor that? It's like prostitution which is with us and always has been but which becomes a far nastier exercise when it is criminalised.

Of course you don't have drugs sold like lollies. That was not the point. You merely make it possible for people who have an addiction to meet that addiction through legal means and you also create an opportunity to help them work through that addiction.

The drugs are out there whether we like it or not. My kids are long grown but I know people with teenagers now, and there is no denying that drugs are far more of an issue and far more available than they were ten or twenty years ago. So what we are doing is an absolute failure.

The irony is that we live in a drug addicted society. We hypocritically pour pills like Ritalin and anti-depressants down children's throats and then scream when they want to take a pill which makes them feel good. They probably don't see the difference which is why Ritalin has become one of the most sold drugs in schoolyards today.

So surely the issue is if the plan is not working make another plan? That is all I am suggesting. Alcohol is legal and it should be. All society can do is monitor, as we do, the impact it has on our society. People simply don't drive after drinking in the way they once did and that includes most of the twenty and thirty year olds I know.

How to factor drug availability into our society needs a lot of thought and consideration. It would not be easy but it has to be better than what we have now.

There is some truth to the view that what we do with our bodies is our own business but that applies to adults. The difficult area is what our children do. Drugs while illegal are glamorous and have greater appeal to kids who want to rebel. It is natural to rebel. But making drugs less glamorous and less of a rebellion is going to have some impact even if it does not solve the problem completely.

Thanks Hamish, I think this is an important issue and believe me I have relatively conservative views when it comes to drug taking but I am also of the belief that when something is legal it is better monitored and controlled.

Alcohol use surely tells us something

Roslyn: "The point of the article was not to suggest drugs should be 'free for the taking' so to speak, merely decriminalised and made available if needed. The point of the heroin programme in Switzerland is that making it legally available removed the crime factor, and, making it available through medicalising it, removed the glamour factor.

Of course you don't have drugs sold like lollies."

OK Roslyn. But do you really believe that drugs, once legalised will not simply be like alcohol, (like lollies if you like) available at reasonable cost for all who may wish, want, need to consume them? Why just say need? Need is just the final outcome of want and wish where drugs are concerned.

Once something is legal, such as the sale and use of alcohol, then its use over time becomes widely accepted, and its known dangers diminished in the eyes of the user, especially those of the young user. For the older user, it is often too late. Of course once legal, drugs can be made, grown and sold like lollies. If not, then the trade will go on as will the crime associated with it. What will there be to prevent drugs being available like lollies? Laws of some kind? Well, then you are back into enforcement of some kind are you not? There is no half way house as far as I can see.

I think if the legal sale and consumption of alcohol has shown us anything, it is what happens when a known narcotic which is damaging to health and limits functioning, becomes an accepted and legal drug in the society. Those advocating the legalisation of drugs, are the first to point to alcohol as being legal, and ask why single out other drugs of choice. Well I suggest that people generally realise now that legalising a recreational drug spawns just as many social problems as its legalisation sought to combat in the first place. And the cost of trying to deal with those problems still eats up an awful lot of our health and law enforcement budgets, albeit in different ways.

If anyone is in any doubt as to how society now suffers from the widespread use of the legal narcotic alcohol, then there are enough links to access the real facts. Try this for starters.

Remove the glamour of use by legalising it? No Roslyn, I don't agree with that. Legalising alcohol did not remove the glamour of using it by teenagers. Teenagers play around with these things because they know what a buzz it gives them, albeit temporarily, and through peer pressure. It is not surprising that alcohol is the most widely used drug of choice by young folk. Why do you think that is? I would suggest because it is legal.

I think we also need to consider the relative dangers of various drugs. Alcohol has its own health risks, and the report today of young people dying increasingly from liver disease in the early and mid thirties highlights one of the main ones of alcohol use. But the mind damaging drugs such as marijuana and ice and heroin are to my mind particularly dangerous, because they affect the very organ that people need to call on to evaluate what is happening to them, to make decisions to deal with their addiction. No doubt you have heard the expression: He has cooked his brain on dope. Well I see the brain cooked dope addicts, and they have little hope of rehabilitation. You may be able to offer a liver transplant, but a new brain?

Of course illegal drugs are pretty easily obtained, and in this affluent society most kids can afford to buy dope, and at times other drugs.

But I put it to advocates of legalisation, that that will simply make them even cheaper, and worse, send a message to our young folk, yep it's OK, use if you like. We've done that with alcohol and look at the awful toll. What makes you think it would not be the same, (I suggest it would be even worse) if we do it with it with ice, dope, ecstasy, heroin, the lot.  Make something legal, and you basically say, it's OK. A very dangerous path in regard to those type of drugs I suggest.

I do not have the answers. No one has. But legalising the sale and use of drugs is just not the way to go. When something is illegal, it tells our kids, hey, there are huge risks here. I do not think we can afford to send any other message. Can you really imagine any teenagers taking notice of you if you try to tell them that heroin is bad for them, when they know it is legal to use it? Does not work with alcohol, and it will not work with other drugs once legal.

People point to cost of trying to control the drug trade. But do you really think the cost to the community, to society as a whole will be somehow less if we simply say, OK, we cannot control it, so let's just accept it?  Then I say look first at the cost of widespread acceptance of alcohol use for the likely answer.

As for the fate of the third world growers. Afghanistan grows about 30% of the world's opium. It gives farmers there a better return, obviously. So if we legalise heroin use, and it becomes cheaper and more freely available, then the return for growing it will fall. Obviously. But any notion that that will benefit them more economically, then I think that is probably wishful thinking. Poor farmers are exploited world wide, no matter what they grow. The problems faced by third world economies in the face of world trade realities are the real issue. Until that is fixed, farmers will grow whatever gives them the best return, period. It is telling and penalising poor farmers not to grow opium, while refusing to fix the trade issues that keep them in poverty that is the real hypocrisy of the West.

I believe we have to do much better with education of our kids as to the dangers of drug use, both in schools and in the home. How can we do that if they can say back to us: But it is legal? As people point out, that already compromises our ability to influence kids against alcohol consumption. We have to take the glamour out of drug use for kids. Making them even cheaper through legalisation will not do that. Kids need to come to fear drug use, see it as uncool, not glamorous. With real commitment and imagination in our education programs we could, I believe, achieve that.

There was a substantial drop from the peak in 1997 in youth suicide. I think it is worth looking at whether the TV education program that the Government ran played a role in that. Evaluating that could give us some ideas. The Beyond Blue campaign and publicity is equally worth looking at. Similarly the ads regarding mental health and the need for some people to take prescription medication in the workplace. All good programs which clearly have raised awareness. Awareness is a prerequisite to any change in attitude and behaviour.

But we have to watch 4 Corners to see what Ice does to young people. What kids watch 4 Corners for heavens sake?

But yes. I too say thank you for the Post. This is such an important issue, the more it is discussed the better. Cheers Roslyn.

The problem is addiction

Jenny, I have never said that drugs should be legal like alcohol or tobacco or food for that matter... things which also can be addictive and which impact on our health.

The reality is that drugs are legal, heaps of them, and we feed them to children and dose up our elderly by the dozen, but that's okay. My point was that programmes overseas which have made drugs like heroin legally available, albeit medicalised, have proven successful.

Drugs will always be with us. Making them legal enough to remove the criminals and yet not so legal that they can be sold like lollies is the way to go.

Alcohol is a problem, or can be a problem, there is no denying that. But it was a problem even more so during prohibition in the US and whatever a problem it is legal, it is less of a problem than when it was illegal.

Alcohol is somewhat different too because as wine, beer and even spirits it constitutes 'food' if not 'medicine,' and used moderately, is good for us. There is an argument that many illegal drugs are the same and should be treated in the same way but my view is that things like heroin and cocaine for instance, should be made legal, but medically legal.

Marijuana is a little more difficult because it is so easy to grow and should perhaps come into the realm of tobacco regulation.

But beyond all of these things we need to look at what it is at work in society which predisposes kids in particular and people in general toward addiction.

Let's be realistic about the drug problem... where people cannot get or cannot afford drugs they find something else... they sniff glue or petrol to get 'high' or drink readily available medicines. This is the reality in the poverty stricken areas of the world.

So, first there is the fact that human beings like to get 'high' or 'numb' themselves. How can this be done to manage any 'damage' to the society? How can we create a society where people can find contentment in moderate consumption of drugs, like alcohol, tobacco or food?

The point I was trying to make is that making drugs illegal simply does not work. It makes it worse because it criminalises them. It makes huge profits for the criminals and wastes the time of the police force.

There has to be a better way, or various ways, depending upon the drug in question.

I think we also need to look at our social attitudes which contribute to this problem. How can we warn our kids about taking drugs or popping pills when we pop pills ourselves to wake us up, go to sleep, calm us down, or provide an 'instant fix', when grandma and grandpa are sitting there each day quietly counting more than a dozen pills into a plastic box; when kids, even as young as two, are diagnosed as 'troublesome' and fed pills to calm them down, when Mum or Dad ar unhappy so they finish the bottle of wine, eat all of the chocolate cake, smoke the tenth cigarette, do another six hours at the gym, go on a spending blitz, drive too fast, stay too late at the office, or go out on the town... it is all addiction, it is all a bid to avoid issues, it is all a 'high' of sorts.

The problem is not drugs per se: it is addiction and what it is in our society which predisposes or encourages us to be addicts.

Yes but...

Roslyn and Troy, yes I am aware of what you are saying, and what you are not saying. But I think the issue is not so clear cut as you would suggest. And I don't think we should complicate, generalise and/or confuse the issues either.

For instance, I don't think too many kids try dope because grandma and grandpa are popping twenty pills a night in front of them, or whatever. Most people, including kids, understand that some health problems, particularly in the elderly require specific medication.

And some highs come at much higher cost than others, and it is the highs that come from recreational drug use, and the addiction it can lead to, that is what is concerning us here.

(I do agree with the very worrying trend that sees kids lining up for their pills in school and am sure many of the behavioural problems those kids have stem from factors in their lives, other than a medical one. Factors in the home play a major part in a child's emotional and psychological balance and therefore their behaviour. We do need to look at the causes of behavioural problems before we reach for the pills. And yes, we do need to look at our social attitudes, and where we are inconsistent. Legalising alcohol has made that a bit difficult.)

But back to the topic. The crime that surrounds the recreational drugs will go on if they are in any way restricted in their use, ie illegal. So how is setting up clinics for addicts to get their daily fix really going to change that? Has drug related crime in Switzerland fallen? I very much doubt it. Addiction is just the final outcome of use of dangerous narcotics. There are a hell of a lot of users in the addiction pipeline who will be coming up and underwriting demand. And unless the drug is fully legal, then its supply will prohibited, and crime will continue. So I don't think the crime issue is really relevant here.

There would have to be decline in addiction overall in Switzerland, to be able to say whether the legal supply of heroin to addicts has had an effect on illegal drug use generally. There was a decline in number of heroin addicts but that need not necessarily have been as a result of the legal supply to addicts. From time to time there are heroin droughts, and users simply turn to other drugs. A program to test whether legalising the recreational narcotics (to the extent you suggest for heroin) resulted in a decline in use and in addiction in a country,  would surely have to encompass all the main illegal drugs, ice, ecstasy, marijuana, heroin, and in all their forms.

I doubt many would support full legalisation of recreational drugs as we have with alcohol. We know the outcome of that. So if all we are doing is making it easier for the addict to get his/her fix, and at the same time, making it harder for him or her to quit, then I really cannot see that we have achieved very much at all. Drug related crime will continue, and kids will continue to play with fire. Let us not in any way send the message that that is OK by programs that would suggest to them that if you get addicted, don't worry, we will supply you free of charge. Evil as the drug trade is, I just don't think that is the way to go. It is fiddling at the edges at best, and sending all the wrong messages.

I believe there has to be a much greater and more effective education program in the home, and in schools, so that kids get the message that it is not worth even trying the stuff.

Mike, I think there is enough material out there on the cost of the legal drug alcohol to society. And the cost reaches down into the generations. Read some of the literature on the subject of "adult children of alcoholics" and the problems so many of them go on to face in their own lives as a result of growing up in a home where alcoholism was a problem. It is a subject that I know a lot about, but I won't go there. I guess some men (or women too) cop out with the excuse that "they were driven to it"! And some no doubt are.

Personally, I cannot stand the taste of the stuff. What do you all see in it? And no, I do not deny Ian his daily glass of red, or two. Cheers folks.

Knowing the reasons

Jenny, I also grew up in a home where alcohol brought emotional and physical violence but the difference is I can see that the problem was not the alcohol but the person drinking it, and, more to the point, the reason why they drank as they did.

All five of us children grew up to enjoy a glass or two of wine or various beverages and, in our youth, certainly imbibing more on occasion than we wished we had the following day.

But, one grows older and wiser and learns moderation in many things including how and how much one drinks.

Although a doctor did tell me some years ago, and she gave up the grog after finding she was downing a bottle of whisky a day, that some people simply do not get hangovers and these people will always be more likely to abuse alcohol. She did not get hangovers but clearly could see what she was doing. So, in essence, it's thank god for hangovers, something which the mature and balanced individual learns to avoid.

Wine tastes absolutely fantastic, sublime in fact, good wine at least and so I am told does beer although it is not to my taste. A good dose of spirits give you a good dose of spirit in return and all of it makes for an experience enjoyable to the palate and the mind. And it is a gentle relaxant, a soother of the soul and spirit, a calmer of the busy mind and a convivial companion even when one is alone.

However, some people do dislike the taste of alcohol in the same way that some people cannot eat meat. It may be psychological and it may be physical or a bit of both but to each their own I say.

In a world of grace and flavour, alcohol, in all its forms, is a precious gift when used wisely, and, like many, many other things, a curse when misused.

But, if we were to ban everything which caused harm when it was abused we would be very busy. In fact, we might not even be here because we would have to ban sex which, at its best is a precious gift and at its worst, a terrible curse.

At the end of the day the trick is to create a society where people can do what they do in moderation ... a balanced life in essence.

Roslyn: More on drug issues later perhaps

Roslyn, I hope to talk more on this drug issue later. No time now. But do not misread me. I never knew physical violence in the home as a result of alcoholism and both my parents were good gentle people whom I adored. There was a problem about which I could never write in detail, but suffice it to say I had to grow up at around age seven and take on adult responsibilities. And yes, that had emotional consequences. But I survived, probably better than most would have.

I simply do not like the taste of alcohol myself. Simple as that.  

I am deeply concerned at the way young people abuse such dangerous drugs these days. And yes, we do have to look at what motivates them to do so, because it is not just kids from dysfunctional homes that are falling victim. I think Angela raised a good point. Addicts do get hooked into dealing by the traffickers, in order to fund their own habit. Take that aspect out and that may have been a factor in the fall in new addicts in Switzerland.  But that is just in relation to heroin. What do we do about all those other nasties that are taking hold, such as ice, ecstasy? Talk later.... Cheers for now.   

Jenny: Happy to talk

Jenny, happy to talk later. Interestingly we had similar experiences. I became an adult at nine caring for house and kids. Amazing really how well children can survive such things.

I am also deeply concerned about drug abuse by kids and think it is a problem which requires a variety of answers. Take care. Have fun with the little one.

no illegal drugs, no rackets, no crime ... boring

Hi Jenny and Roslyn and Mike. Ta Ros.

I think one must not underestimate the problem alcohol is in our community from it being abused. The evidence of benefit is under new dispute sorry to say guys (man am I sorry) . This is a good indicator of the data and is updated:

http://www.ndri.curtin.edu.au/pdfs/naip/naip001.pdf

One can see from this there is quite a problem.

As to illicit drugs? The data shows the campaigns used are not those expected to gain results. Social stigmatising and presenting an unattractive and repulsive sublimated image is more able to manipulate regarding the attractiveness of performing deeds such as taking a particular drug. The cigarette companies use the reverse of this with product placement to target the 12 year olds-the group they are aware is most valuable to target-by using such icons as Bruce Willis (paid about a million for his smoking roles) and Julia Roberts(500,000 for taking puffs for her target 12 year olds to see). Sweet.

Name and Shame is always a start. The new US Ambasador to us has a shameful tobacco lobby history, too.

As to illegal drugs, how do we target the jet set clubbers enjoying the Eky now? How about a nice video of the last moments that the Bali Nine exist in? That nice aughhhhh sound as they strangle slowly and a video catching their facial changes as they swell and purple up. We could have it showing at all the night clubs, the ultimate snuff scene that YOUR fun paid for........

People who party need to be held responsible for the dangers and deaths of the mules who bring them their fun.

Finally, compulsary detox, without criminal record perhaps, of all who commit drug crimes and absolutely no, no, no, access to any drugs in prison-wake up and smell the roses about the situation there, eh?

At least when they come out, they will be free of drugs as well. They might have a chance then.

cheers

PS Considering the corruption that illegal drugs brings to society, the pain, the suffering, the crime and violence, I think the prescription of such to addicts is far and above worth any negative nonsense. Opposing this is only supporting the crime cartels-and what do you think they are doing right now with the huge finds available to them BECAUSE DRUGS ARE ILLEGAL!? ..and  everyone is using them?Even sports stars, who cannot be named because courts protect you if you do criminal behaviour but are untouchable.

Gee it would be back to brothels with the cousins..heck they are legal now too ....oh if only drugs and alcohol were banned and expensive again...protection money? er haven't any left...arrest me? me? but but but I am Mr Big, I ran you, I paid for your last Thai break, I got you that -------job as deputy------.......but that Judge was our mate?...oh, no more....

May be we can run a little war somewhere..with Bouti et al..or a car rebirth racket..oh that was done, to death.

alcohol: demon drink?

Jenny, I'm not so sure that the impact of alcohol on western society is as terrible overall as you say. Yes there are deaths from drink driving accidents, liver failure etc - I'm not disupting that. But someone once pointed out to me that, yes, marriages have been ruined by alcohol, but how many marriages has alcohol saved? Probably quite a few! Spend some time in a society where alcohol or other relaxing pharmaceuticals are not available to see how uptight people can get in the absence of an occasional pharmacological release.

Of course, in such societies the drug of choice is religion, which causes far more madness and delusional thinking than any other drug - but that's another issue.

Mike: Yes,good point.

Mike: Yes,good point. There is the best case and worst case to everything including alcohol.

I happen to think alcohol, usually in the form of wine, is a gift. I remember many years ago, during a time of serious trauma when I was prescribed anti-depressants and hated taking tablets of any kind and queried it with my doctor. He said, look at it this way, it's just like having a couple of glasses of wine at night... that's what it does.

So I thought, dammit, I'll have the wine and I tossed the pills down the toilet and stayed with the couple of glasses of wine  at night ever since. I am sure that it has saved a lot of things, including my sanity, and I am not surprised that recent studies now show that those who drink in moderation live longer than those who don't drink alcohol at all.

The key word for all of these 'comforters' is moderation and that's why I think understanding addiction, however it manifests, is the key to solving the problems.

Jenny...

Jenny: "Roslyn, but do you really believe that drugs, once legalised will not simply be like alcohol, (like lollies if you like) available at reasonable cost for all who may wish, want, need to consume them?"

No - Roslyn is not suggesting making these drugs "legal". Rather she is suggesting a prescription system where drugs are administered to verified addicts by licensed staff in a controlled environment. There is certainly no comparison here with alcohol supplies - we are not talking about pubs, but about medical facilities. It is possible to medically test for addiction to these things so as to identify who really are the addicts, and so it is possible to limit lawful supply to such cases.

This will not result in availability to all who "want" drugs because the prescription supply to addicts in a controlled environment takes the biggest part of the market off the street. If you take away the addicts, demand is radically reduced for the same drugs on the street, leading to a rapid drop in the asking price on the street and a corresponding drop in supply. This is quite literally Microeconomics 101. By requiring addicts to get their supplies on the street you create the profit for the criminal element and give them the incentive to make the initial supplies that cause addiction.

Without a sufficient initial supply the rate of new addiction drops.

When you also criminalise use, you compound the problem by ensuring that neither party to the street transaction is able to report it without facing criminal penalty. Compare this with the case where purchase for personal use is not criminal - each customer of a supplier is somebody who has no reason not to report the supplier to the police. Sooner or later a report is guaranteed if only because some customer did not like the way the supplier looked at them, an especially high risk when you consider the paranoia-inducing effects of some recreational drugs. You want the sellers to see every customer as a major reporting risk, not to feel safe because the customer is in the same situation as they are.

Roslyn's major point is that this approach - restricted prescription supply to addicts - has been tried, has worked, and has not resulted in the consequences you claim.

Thanks troy

 Troy, thanks for explaining that.

Good points, Michael.

I tend to agree with all of them.

Non-prohibitive regulation also reduces supply

One point you omitted is the effect of non-prohibitive regulation (in which drugs of addiction are made available to addicts through legal but tightly controlled channels that are far cheaper than illegal ones) on supply.

Criminal supply of drugs is profitable due to the need for the addict to continue to purchase the product as well as due to a risk premium element. If the addict has somewhere else to go where the product is cheaper and of superior quality, the criminal element is limited to the revenue they can raise from early supply to people not already addicted. This is a small enough market that supply on the street dries up, and the lower illicit availability means there is less opportunity for people to become addicted.

The problem is of course not with the argument, the problem is that most people are being influenced by 15 second sound bites or reactionary shock jocks. You cannot fit this argument in a sound bite, where instinctive gut reactions rule the result.

You might stand a chance in the sound bite stakes if you could figure out a way (in 15 seconds) to convincingly pin drug prohibition policies on homosexual terrorist asylum seeker welfare cheats.

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