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Coke Is It in Europe

Antonio Maria CostaAntonio Maria Costa is Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. His His previous piece on Webdiary was Afghanistan's Opium War.

by Antonio Maria Costa

European leaders need to get serious about Europe’s cocaine problem. The “white lady” is seducing a steadily growing number of Europeans, and remaining in a state of denial will only worsen the consequences.

Cocaine used to be America’s problem, to the point that the United States started a major campaign against sellers and consumers of crack cocaine in the inner cities, drug traffickers, and suppliers in the Andes. But now demand for cocaine in most of the world is stable or dropping. Coca cultivation has been slashed by a quarter in the past five years, and seizures of cocaine have almost doubled. An impressive 42% of all of the world’s cocaine was seized in 2005. 

Only Europe is bucking the trend. Cocaine use is on the rise, especially in Spain, Great Britain, and Italy. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence indicating traces of cocaine found on bank notes and in water supplies.

Here are some harder facts. For the first time, the level of cocaine use in Spain – 3% of the population aged 15 to 64 – now exceeds that in the US. And the United Kingdom is not far behind. In 2005, 2.4% of the UK population used cocaine at least once, up sharply from 0.6% a decade earlier.

Consider another telling indicator. Ten years ago, 20% of all new clients entering treatment for drug abuse in the Netherlands were addicted to cocaine. Now it is 40%. In Spain, the proportion has soared to 42% in 2002, from just 7% in 1995 – and it has no doubt risen again since then.   

Europe’s growing cocaine problem is due to several factors. First, drug users in Europe are switching to cocaine from heroin. Cocaine is fashionable because it is attractive: white, not dark; sniffed, not injected; consumed in a living room or a fashionable night-club, not in a dark alley. It is seen as a drug for winners, not losers. To many it is a symbol of success, until they end up in a hospital or treatment center. Cocaine use by high-profile entertainers, executives, models, and socialites who flaunt their illicit drug habit certainly does not help. Nor does uncritical reporting by the media.

It seems many Europeans need to be reminded that cocaine is highly addictive and harmful. That is why it is a controlled substance. While addicts may be in denial, thinking that they can control their “recreational use,” cocaine, to quote the famous song by J.J. Cale, “she don’t lie.”

Second, too many governments – particularly in rich countries – fail to invest political capital in preventing and treating drug abuse. They are ill equipped to deal with the problem, so their societies have the drug problem they deserve.

This raises a basic credibility issue: how can Europe urge Colombia and Peru to reduce supply when its own drug habit is driving cultivation?

The solution is to attack the problem at its source by addressing both supply and demand. Coca crops in Latin America need to be replaced with agricultural crops, and cocaine use in affluent Europe must be reduced. Solving the cocaine problem is a shared responsibility.   

On the supply side, there must be more support for poor farmers in drug-producing countries to give them viable alternatives to growing coca. Most illicit coca growers are extremely poor. Crop eradication will not work over the long term if there is no legal economy to replace drugs. Drug control and development assistance must therefore go hand in hand.
Environmental protection is also at issue. Coca farmers and producers slash and burn forests, polluting streams with toxic chemicals and damaging fragile ecosystems. The Andean region has less than 1% of the world’s land area, but more than 15% of its plant life. Vast areas of vegetation are being destroyed for lines of white powder. At a time of growing concern about climate change, Europeans should be made aware of the long-term destruction done to a precious and fragile habitat for the sake of a short-term high.
But controlling supply is not enough. If all of Colombia’s farmers stopped growing coca tomorrow, unrestrained demand by the world’s 13 million cocaine users would quickly generate as much cultivation somewhere else.

Clearly, the ultimate challenge is to prevent drug abuse and to treat and rehabilitate drug users successfully. Sweden is a good example of how to do it right. Drug use there is a third of the European average – the result of decades of consistent policies (irrespective of changes in government) that combine tough punishment of dealers and comprehensive treatment for users.

The more that can be done to prevent people from becoming cocaine addicts, the less damage these people will do to themselves and their families, the less money will get into the pockets of criminals, insurgents, and terrorists, and the less damage will be done to the environment.

But nothing will be done until Europe wakes up and faces its pandemic. 

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2007.

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The life and times of moral panic

Britain's drugs laws are driven by "moral panic" and should be replaced by a more flexible approach that recognises most drug users harm neither themselves nor those around them, a two-year study concluded overnight.

"Current policy at best gives mixed messages and at worst is dishonest ... It is driven more by 'moral panic' than by a practical desire to reduce harm," the commission said in a report.

I believe we are in the midst of an anti-anti-drug culture. I have absolutely no scientific proof, but my personal belief is that much of it is driven by a warped view of what society is really like. Look, the word used is "moral panic" almost harping back to the good ole days when one laughed about the "reefer madness" and so forth. And the truth was that, that view of the world was laughable then.

However, times have changed and things have moved on. Given the nature of the people undertaking such studies (highly educated), I feel too many of them fall back on personal opinion through their own personal experiences. And I also feel that leads to a subconcious feeling that drugs are somehow harmless fun and almost bohemian (harping back to the good ole Uni days) for most people. Perhaps certain drugs were, once upon a time, and in small sections of society perhaps they still are. For the most part they are far from this idealistic concept.

"Moral panic" you must be shiting me. What age group are they talking about with this "moral panic"? How long have drugs been a mainstream staple of society? This is almost a reference to the "reefer madness" panic. This panic took place in the 1940's. Who seriously hasn't either experienced a number of drugs or does not know somebody quite well that has? Society hardly has its eyes closed to drugs and certainly is no babe in the woods.

The interesting thing with the "moral panic" approach is what actual drug seems to cause the most "moral panic" amongst a section of society? Would I be wrong in suggesting alcohol? Would I also be wrong that whilst a section wishes to move toward lesser and lesser restriction on illegal drugs, they wish to move more and more toward restriction on alcohol? It really is quiet a contradiction, no?

Now how bohemian are drugs really? Take mainstream culture and I will pick a film from England in which the drug of choice is cocaine backed up with alcohol. The number one interest for these men is fighting. Drugs, sex and everything else comes a very distant second. Merely props to enhance the fun of the fight. So this would not be seen as bohemian by any means. Familar to the "moral panic" of alcohol?

The point I make is that in many cases drugs are not just a personal harm issue. I aslo make the point the lounging around opium bohemian is as much a myth as the "reefer madness guy". In fact in Sydney the biggest drug problem at the moment is not heroin, it is meth amphetamine, namely ice, and it is smoked through a pipe. Users are hardly up for a nice little councilling and group hug session whilst under the influence. It is also a drug that can and does often cause extreme levels of aggression. Similar to the crack cocaine epidemic in the US during the '80s and '90s.

If you get deep into the "moral panic" you will find people's views in the pro-drug world are that some drugs are more equal than others and so are the users. "Moral panic" anyone?

PS most long term users of any drug are not proud, nor think it is "cool". In fact, for most addicts of anything it is a cause for major personal shame and embarrassment. Mr Hinch and his alcohol problem is just the latest example of this. A condescending pat on the head and lecture is not what these people are either looking for, nor do they need it. What they wish for is never to have been on it and secondly wanting to get off it.

There is no answer to drug problems and there never will be. A further exceptence of it in society through de-criminalisation will not only not cure the problem, it will not improve it one bit. Perhaps I am suffering "moral panic"?

Time to get real!

Monkey see Monkey Do

Why do kids do drugs?

Because adults do drugs. I think you will find adults in just about all cultures have their drug/s of choice. It is a part of life itself that the kids will inherit the (good and bad) behaviour of their elders, this is well known.

The drug thing has gone on since Adam was a boy, but in this day and age the media can focus on and also assist in promoting drug use globally. They do this in many ways but need not go into that here.

The best a parent can do in this day and age is have a look at (and evaluate) their own drug taking, bearing in mind that alcohol is a drug, communicate with their kids, do a little (unbiased) research on drugs and their effects and definitely don’t preach.

The rest is up to genes, luck, environment, and character, you name it; but people who discover they have an unwelcome dependence on a particular poison will probably have a very good reason for it, at least in their minds.

The law will never stop substance abuse, only adults can do that.

Use vs abuse

Antonio Maria Costa writes of the problems of drug abuse.  This is quite a different issue from drug use.

Although I enjoy wine, I feel fairly confident that this will not necessarily lead later  to my sloshing down  methylated spirits or hair oil.  Nor, when deprived of cigarettes, have I felt any inclination at all  to rob, mug, burgle  or commit any kind of crime to obtain them.  (Deprived of milk, though, I do get a kind of desperate feeling).

Drug use and abuse are separate issues, and need to be addressed as such.  Prohibition seems to be a silly response.

Why kids these days want to use drugs

Jenny Hume, "Why kids these days want to use drugs" is certainly the pertinent question.  What's the answer?

I regard all these substances as God-given pleasures.  I love wine, (which Jesus evidently did too), I smoke cigarettes....and, He created nicotine.  As he did the Coca plant, of such benefit to those who grow it.

But I have a real addiction ...  to milk.  I drink between 1 and 2 litres a day.   I cannot stand being deprived of milk.  I'm a milk junkie:  biodynamic full-cream milk is my rarely indulged Grange.  Milk, milk, milk - I love it.

As for the community costs of my first two pleasures: I had 2 children in the 1970's.  In the 2's, I had a black spot removed.  Otherwise I have been no cost at all to the public purse, (or my  private provider)over 30 years, and feel that I've built up a bit of credit. 

Hypochondriacs cost the public purse a lot, and there are plenty of wholesome ways of abusing yourself that lead to medical interventions.  I feel that your coments re this are a little witch-hunty.   Should we berate athletes for their joint replacements?  Should we ban the excessive activity that leads to this?  (Actually, I'd like to, but that's a different story).

Why do the kids want to use drugs, Jenny? I suspect that it is:

1. Because they are told not to; and,

2. Because it is cool. 

What do you think?

But, for higher-earning, higher functioning people, it seems to be just an extra pleasure. I don't have a problem with that.

Dancing was indeed exhilirating.   (In those days, that it was a sex substitute rings very true). I'm pleased that you, as a Presbyterian, were allowed to ... it must have been Methodists to whom it was forbidden ... (old joke: that sex was forbidden to them because it would lead to dancing).

"Now they need a pill...etc".   Yes, we obviously haven't served the young well, but it's not, too my mind, because some parents give their kids a lick of alcohol, but because of the culture we have allowed to develop since those days.  

So, it's back to our responsibility. How do we change the culture that we chose to implement?

And no, I don't believe we do it by prohibition.

F Kendall. Confused?

F Kendall, the comment No thanks F Kendall was not written by Ian Macdougall as you may have guessed. If he continues to leave himself logged on on our one computer then he must expect to have his name taken in vain. One would have thought he would have learned a lesson having been put in a Muslim girls' hostel in Pakistan by me last year.  But no. Maybe I should apply some of the old girl's discipline, a good dose of castor oil. On my way. Bye for now.

Epsom salts, Jenny.  

Epsom salts, Jenny.   Far worse than cascara....if you think I'm wrong, I challenge you to try a dose.

No thanks F Kendall

F Kendall, no thanks, I will take your word for it. Of course there was always castor oil coming in a close second. Another useful tool in my long suffering mother's bag of tricks. A whack was preferable any day to that.

As for milk! Can't stand the stuff unless it is mixed with vanilla and sugar or poured over porridge, pudding and boiled rice. But I milked cows from the time I could walk, and thereafter on and off for the next 55 years. So next time you down a jug remember those poor suckers getting up before dawn every day to feed your habit, and like those who grow the poppies, getting a pittance for it while the middle men cream off the cream so to speak. Ah the world was never fair was it? I took a photo of the last cow I milked in 1995. Never again.

Those ciggies will catch up with you my dear, but as one friend who chain smokes says, 'you have to go somehow'. I guess that is one way of looking at it. I tried it once as a teen and got so dizzy I never tried another. So what is there in life do I hear you say? Well there is OJ, Macquarie Valley is the best, and I keep the whole valley in business, of that I am sure.

Why do the kids use drugs? God knows. Society gone off the rails courtesy of the baby boomer generation and their kids?  Materialism, celeb and pop culture worship, dissatisfied minds with no spiritual dimension to their lives, greed, increased stress due to the need to keep up with the latest technology or be left behind, pressure by parents to perform, perform, perform, competitiveness. And the usual peer group pressure with the stuff so easily obtained. Criminal elements targeting children. Parents using. Lots of reasons I guess. But above all I guess because it is cool. It goes with the pop and let's rave culture.

Hot and tired and 600 ks to go tomorrow, and I need a cup of tea. Yes need. Goodnight and goodluck my dear. You better save up as if the drought goes on much longer milk may be a bit scarce and very expensive.

Users and addicts

Mike, all addicts were at first simply users. Use long enough any addictive substance and you risk becoming an addict as you know. It is only when a person tries to stop and finds that they cannot that they then are faced with the inescapable reality. How often do we hear users say, oh I can stop any time I feel like it. But they don't. And probably because they are addicted but do not want to admit it. So they delude themselves.  I think treating users and trying to get them to stop before it is too late is as important as treating the confirmed addict.

What do you think has happened in society over the past thirty years that has led so many young people to seek their highs in life out of addictive substances? Is there are a declining sense of purpose, a lack of meaning in life for them? Do they feel they live in a spiritual vacuum now that religious faith has declined? A vacuum they seek to fill with articifially induced highs?

Having been around a couple of young people with an addiction problem what really amazes me is the amount of money they can go through.  Four, five, six thousand dollars in the space of a month or more. And it amazes me the extent to which some families will go to deny the magnitude of the problem, even after finding their credit cards have been drawn down and a few thousand removed from their bank accounts through forged cheques.

And instead of treating this as the crime it is, they protect their kid from the consequences, without realising that once the family vault is locked, the public vault is likely to be the next port of call, and the crime that goes with getting access to it.

I admired one woman when she simply had her daughter charged after finding she had been relieved of 12 grand from her bank account. Kids with addiction problems prey on the blood ties, and allowing them to do that is not a very good idea in my opinion. It leads to co-dependency and enabling and that is a one way street, all downhill. 

If what the Swedes are doing is working, then they must be doing something right. But somehow we have to get kids to see that using drugs and acohol is not cool.  I think that is where we really need to concentrate a lot more effort., right from primary schools. 

Jenny, all users do not become addicts.

Jenny, all users do not become addicts.

Does everyone who drinks eventually become an alcoholic? No. The vast majority do not. The same goes for illicit drugs.

If someone enjoys a few drinks on occasion, should others force them into a treatment program out of fear that there is statistically a one in ten chance that they will eventually become an alcoholic? That would be Big Brother run amok.

The risk of addiction with cannabis is even lower; with cocaine it is higher. But still, people are free to take a variety of risks, aren't they?

Dangerous sports like rock-climbing and skydiving are legal. A recent U.S. study found that cheerleading was four times as dangerous as using the illicit drug MDMA (ecstasy) in terms of hospitalisation and injury. Should cheerleaders be forced into therapy to stop them from cheerleading?

I agree with your second to last sentence. But telling them in school that drugs are bad has not proven effective in the U.S., where it was implemented on a large scale and was followed by an increase in drug use by students.

Addiction and delusions

Mike: Your comment has the tone of one who thinks the use of illicit drugs is fine in moderation and that few finish up as addicts. Well I think that is highly debatable. And as I said, many think they are not addicted when in fact they could not give either drugs or alcohol up if they tried. They fool themselves but no one else. And society is increasingly being asked to pick up the cost of their delusion through ever increasing health costs, domestic violence, child abuse, drug related crime, poor performance at work and school, not to mention vehicle and work accidents and absenteeism. 

Many people can still function adequately while being addicted and never present as a problem in the community till they start needing to use the scarce health resources. So a person can be an alcoholic for much of their life, and deny they have a problem till they require expensive medical care for a badly damaged liver. I read some years ago that there is a very  high level of hidden alcoholism in the community, and no doubt now, drug addiction as well.  Family enablers play a role here, often helping to conceal the problem, till it gets out of hand and beyond them, which can take years..    

I happen to think that one ectsasy tablet, one snort of coke, one cone is one too many. BTW trying to make comparison between sports and prancing girls' activities is with respect  rather silly.

As for marijuana being non addictive, well this issue arose on at least three threads over the past year or so, with many links cited as I recall. So there seems little point in revisiting it. But there is not a health professional I know, and I know quite a few, who now holds the view that this drug is non addictive. Quite the contrary.  There is enough research in now to show that marijuana is far from benign. But many users continue to believe that it is. As you said on another thread, many people are easily deluded.  

Education kids about drugs has to go beyond just telling them they are bad. Your comment appears to suggest that the US program had the effect of encouraging kids to try drugs, but you do not support that with any evidence. Drug usage may have increased for many reasons, but it may well have increased a whole lot more without the program.     





Jenny, do you want alcohol made illegal?

You ask for facts. The facts are that about 5% of (regular) cannabis users become addicted, vs. 12% of alcohol users, and perhaps 20%-30% of cocaine users and heroin users. All of these drugs are addictive in the sense that some people become addicted to them.  But the majority of users do not. I personally really don't care if someone decides to use alcohol or other intoxicants. (I only use alcohol myself.) However I think everyone who does so should be aware that they are taking a risk, just as with any potentially dangerous activity. And there are far more dangerous activities than, say, taking Ecstasy, even cheerleading if that U.S. study is to be believed.

As someone who works with these issues I have followed the debate over the outcomes of the DARE (Drug Resistance Education Program) in the U.S. and the facts are that schools that used the DARE program on average had an increase in student drug use. The problem is that you cannot honestly tell the truth about drugs without telling kids why people take drugs in the first place. If drugs were just bad, no one would take them.

Observations Mike

Mike, as you say alcohol is high up on the list of addictive substances and as you know it probably does more harm than any other drug, simply because it is so widely used, and is so often involved where there is domestic violence and criminal activity such as during the Cronulla riots, traffic offences and generaly loutishness.

Of course it will never be banned now.  That battle was lost long ago to the enormous cost in the end of the whole of society. As you may be aware the greatest increase in hospitalisation of young people due to intoxication is due to alcohol which far outstrips even ice and other illicit drugs.

And the most incredible thing I believe is that many parents actually introduce their kids to it when they are not even in their teens. Have a sip dear. I have seen many parents give their little kids a sip. The trouble is with legalising addictive substances, it gives community endorsement to it.  And ultimately the cost to the community is enormous both in terms of social problems and health problems. We pay the price of the legalisation of alcohol every minute of every day.

I never touch the stuff or any addictive substance. It brought havoc to my life from the age of five, and so I have a deep psychological aversion to it, but in adulthood when I did get to try it, I found the taste of it revolting, almost as bad as cascara. Now probably few these days know about the taste of cascara but I doubt there was anything worse. The threat of a dose of cascara by our long suffering mother was enough to pull us kids into line, more than any waved stick! 

But I am not a wowser. If my other half must once in every thirty years of marriage fall over in the gutter in his kilt on New Year's Eve, I will let it pass, resisting the temptation to kick the fallen man. But I do not need drugs or alcohol to get me through the day or give me a high. I have been through the mill in my life, since a very early age but I have done it cold turkey. On the worst day of my life the doctor wanted to give me a valium tablet, but I declined. Medications for grief and stress simply put off the hour and the day when one has to cope oneself. I think it is better to do that without also having the burden of trying to break with the happy pill. That is not to say that some people don't need a bridge back to emotional equilibrium in their life, but getting off the bridge is not alwasy easy.

I think one of the worst endorsements I encountered of marijuana was a psychiatrist who used the drug herself and told a patient I knew with severe paranoid schizophrenia that it would not do any harm. I think she should have been sacked. 

I think we have to ask why kids these days want to use drugs in the first place. We did not need them to have a happy time when we were teenagers. What has changed? Dancing was always exhilerating. But these days they seem to need to add a pill to get themselves going. Sad, and rather pathetic really. Now we are on the road tomorrow so I need leave this issue.  Cheers.

But do "users" really require "treatment"?

Addicts certainly require treatment, but users do not. I smell a hint of the re-education camp approach being taken by Sweden, which does not surprise me as Sweden appears to be the ultimate "nanny state." They also control alcohol consumption by taxing the drug so much that most cannot afford it, unless they take the ferry to Denmark and buy large quantities to bring home (which many Swedes do I'm told). Although alcoholism and drug addiction are terrible conditions that must be addressed, somehow I do not feel comfortable with the sort of approach described here.

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