Monday, August 11, 2008

Police, doctor back up realistic view of ecstasy

The lead letter in today's Sydney Morning Herald is from a Kings Cross doctor who observes first-hand the relatively benign effects of ecstasy (even in the impure form currently available in our illegal, unregulated market).

Today's Courier Mail also tells of frontline Police in Fortitude Valley (Brisbane's Kings Cross) who are grateful for the high numbers using ecstasy because they cause so much less trouble than the drunks.

These pieces underline the yawning chasm between real frontline experience and the official 'right message' spun by governments and prohibitionists.

This is not to say that prohibitionist activists are necessarily being dishonest -- along with the rest of us, they have for generations ingested torrents of propaganda and biased junk science designed to demonise certain drugs. Lacking for the most part any direct experience of drugs or alternative cultures, they do not have any reliable way to tell fiction from fact. (The NCPIC material described in the previous two posts is a perfect example of 'biased junk science').

Today's media grabs are solidly grounded in real experience, a rare occurrence in a society where most drug users keep their mouths shut for fear of arrest. Accordingly, open-minded observers need to give extra weight to the similar message both of these stories carry -- and then question the frame of reference that supports prohibition, a difficult thing to do if you believe in it.


Anonymous said...

Past does not justify future

Ray Seidler's startling claim that Australia had the highest per capita drug use in the world in 1936 (Letters, August 11) is misleading, unjustified and irrelevant. His laissez-faire approach seems to imply that we have had drugs before, so it is OK to accept them today. After all, it's just a question of supply and demand.

In his book From Mr Sin To Mr Big: The History Of Australian Drug Laws, Desmond Anderson says that between 1910 and 1930 illegal use of drugs such as opium, heroin, cocaine and morphine was not common in Australia, although the medical use of opiates was. He writes that "heroin was used for the alleviation of chronic and acute pain during the final stages of cancer and to ease the pains of childbirth pain. It was available from chemists as an ingredient in cough suppressants." Its use was promoted by GPs. It was not the recreational party drug Seidler refers to.

The past does not justify the future; it simply explains the present. Until we start to treat the social causes of drug dealing it will never disappear, regardless of the laws of supply and demand.

Andrew Woodhouse Potts Point

letter from a local resident in todays Sydney Morning Herald

The Editor said...

Australia's drug use in 1936 is a red herring in this discussion. The failed Prohibition of alcohol in the US during the '20s is a better analogue as it shows the folly of attempting to ban something which has wide public acceptance. Morphine, heroin & cocaine use was probably not widespread in 1936, as Andrew Woodhouse suggests.

Making illegal an activity which has no identifiable victim will rarely attract strong community support and also runs the risk of alienating and corrupting police, as we see in the case of both alcohol and drug prohibition.

Thus the $$ billions spent over time on trying to convince people that certain drugs are the devil.

But, Andrew, you err by saying that drug dealing might disappear if we treated 'its social causes'. While a worthy sentiment, it really applies only to the small minority of social outcasts you see on the street, many of whom indeed suffer from terrible life histories.

The vast, vast majority of drug users are functional members of society who simply realise that alcohol-only is a limiting lifestyle choice which denies the far greater pleasures and insights afforded by better drugs.

The pleasure principle is at the heart of this. It's hard-wired into our physiology and won't be going away short of genetically re-engineering humans into something like Daleks. No thanks.

Anonymous said...

Past does not justify future, says AW. I agree. Our shameful past of unjust and ineffective prohibition is not a heritage we should carry into our future.

The Editor said...

Andrew's letter got a different reply from an AOD professional:

"What Ray Seidler and Andrew Woodhouse do not say, is that up to 1953 heroin was legal in Australia, and consequently too cheap for illegal importers to bother to import it, and that 45 Kilos per annum was sufficient for Australia's needs.

45 Kilos per annum was indeed the highest per capita use in the World's official statistics, but in most countries at that time heroin was not legal, and they neither had, nor could estimate, the actual availability of the illegal drug.

Andrew Woodhouse got the name of the author wrong: should be Desmond Manderson, and well worth a read.

And while certain drugs are illegal, they will carry a degree of profit irresistible to Mr Big, and because all the drugs that have been prohibited are addictive, Mr Big has an assured market at his price, and a ready means of expanding it.

What a mess!"

-- Peter Watney

The Editor said...

,,,and another comment in a separate forum:

"Presumably the letter writer hasn't heard of one of Sydney's most "colourful characters" Tilly Devine, husband Jim and the 'razor gangs'

"In the late 1920s Jim Devine became more deeply involved in underworld activity, then dominated by cocaine and 'sly grog' traffic and competing razor gangs, while Tilly emerged as a 'chaperone of magdalenes' "Source:

-- Rob

Anonymous said...

How to remove hardened criminals from drug trade.

I agree with Andrew Woodhouse (Letters, August 12) that the past may not justify the future, but those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
Illegal use of opiates and cocaine in Australia between 1910 and 1930 was not common because the vast majority of those who abused those drugs could obtain them from a legal source, as do thousands of Australians who misuse over-the-counter and prescription drugs for recreational purposes today.

The difference is, in those days people who used drugs didn't need to mix with criminals to obtain them, their trade did not see mark-ups of many thousands of per cent and there was no incentive for networks of corrupt police and other officials to protect the trade or skim off these ample profits.

Many users would happily obtain currently illegal drugs on prescription or over the counter and would be chuffed to think the profits were going to build schools and hospitals or pay their nan's pension.

The "social causes" of drug dealing are that many people enjoy drugs, are willing to pay for them and, without any governmental controls on strength and quality, it remains a crook's market.

Andrew Potts St Peters

SMH letter 13 August

The Editor said...

Hear hear Andrew Potts! He talks sense. Now the government will ignore it. They are good at that.