Thursday, September 23, 2010

More on the Don Weathurburn and Wayne Hall opinion piece

A friend defended by email one part of the piece by Don Weatherburn and Wayne Hall (first see post below),  writing the following:
Friend: This, for example, I agree with although I question the way drug law enforcement is enforced and whether certain aspects of the law is workable:

Weathurburn & Hall: "It's a sad fact that many dependent drug users only seek treatment when the personal and financial cost of continued drug use gets too high. The financial cost is attributable in large part to prohibition.

"The personal cost includes trouble with police and the courts, which is one of the most commonly cited reasons for entering treatment.

"Coercing drug-dependent offenders into treatment is known to be effective in reducing drug use and drug-related crime.

"We don't have to choose between treatment and drug law enforcement. We can and should support both."

This is nothing more than Drug War rhetoric. The first sentence would more accurately read "It's a sad fact that VERY FEW dependent drug users seek treatment only when the personal and financial cost of continued drug use gets too high."

The statement projects the Drug War myth that illicit drugs users are typically dysfunctional addicts and that drug use is a scourge on society. The facts, however, do not support this characterisation.

1. They are talking about maybe 1.5% of drug users. Why should the other 98.5% be persecuted, searched and jailed?

2. Even granting what they say is true for the 1.5%, only a tiny fraction of those actually succeed in getting clean after rehab. They nearly all relapse many times before they stop, regardless of police persecution. "Seeking treatment" is only a beginning.

3. Interdiction does nothing about the social and personal problems most addicts have that drive them into addiction. Until these are solved, the problem is unlikely to go away.

4. If you subtract the harms of prohibition, addiction (while I wouldn't choose it) is not actually much of a problem, certainly not enough to justify jailing the number of people we do.

5. Jail is not much of a deterrent to these people. They can still get drugs in jail, they get a bed and three meals a day. They get to see their long-lost mates, and don't stay in for that long anyway.

6. There are not nearly enough rehab places for those who do want them. The MSIC has a contingency fund to pay some upfront costs for people who want to have a go, because there are rarely any free spots available.

7. Police action has little effect on hardcore users. That's why we consistently see around 200 injections per day in the MSIC in the midst of perhaps the highest concentration of sniffer dog activity in the state. The dogs mainly get recreational users carrying pot or pills.

I could go on.


Anonymous said...

Weathurburn & Hall write; "It's a sad fact that many dependent drug users only seek treatment when the personal and financial cost of continued drug use gets too high. The financial cost is attributable in large part to prohibition."

So is Weatherburn's implication that if I never experience any negative consequences from my drug use, the state must use it's powers to inflict suffering on me, so that I will seek "treatment"?

Let's call it "Harm Maximisation".

"At DEA, our mission is to fight drug trafficking in order to make drug abuse the most expensive, unpleasant, risky, and disreputable form of recreation a person could have".
- Donnie Marshall, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)

Hardly anyone remembers that between 1926 and 1933 the US Federal Govt deliberately poisoned industrial alcohol to "prevent" diversion. At least 10,000 drinkers died as a result;

Dr Jane.

The Editor said...

You are correct, Dr Jane. Your characterisation of prohibitionists as avowing 'harm maximisation' explains their opposition to 'harm minimisation'.

In fact Don Weatherburn once wrote a similar opinion piece in the SMH effectively arguing that we have to inflict harm to prevent harm.

That oxymoron is a lot like robbing people to make them rich or killing people that they might live.