Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More experts talk nonsense in the media

Researchers Don Weatherburn and Wayne Hall have seriously damaged their professional credibility in an opinion piece in today's SMH.

They attempt to rebut several arguments for drug law reform but contradict themselves and rely on obvious fallacies.

The pair write:
Argument number one is that the war on drugs has failed because it's still easy to obtain illegal drugs. This is like arguing that the laws against drink driving have failed because thousands of people each year continue to drink and drive.
What rot. Since the War on Drugs was declared in 1971, illicit drug use has exploded in western countries. By contrast, the drink driving laws have greatly reduced that crime. The analogy also fails because drink driving is a danger to others but 99 percent of drug use, a victimless crime, is not.

Then Messrs Weatherburn and Hall say the real purpose of prohibition is not to make drugs unavailable but to “keeps prices high”. Considering the UNODC's intention in 1998 was to create a "Drug-free world" by 2008, this statement is nothing more than a spin on that failure. The main supporters of prohibition are the right-wing Christians behind Drug Free America and Drug Free Australia, who received a $600,000 grant from Tony Abbot during the Howard government. So Weatherburn and Hall's assertion might be a surprise to them.

Meanwhile higher prices in fact create the massive profit that keeps criminals in the game, often better resourced than the police. An obvious comparison is Al Capone’s bootleg empire during alcohol prohibition in the US. So prohibition in fact creates the illicit drug trade.

This high price strategy is central to America's Drug Enforcement Administration. Yet they have been powerless to stop 28,000 people being killed in Mexico as cartels supply the US market, chasing the super profits the DEA makes possible.

Weatherburn and Hall argue that legitimsed legal supply would drop prices, thus encouraging more people into the market. Huh? Repeal of prohibition virtually stopped the dangerous and violent bootlegging of Capone et al. Why would more people enter a market in which the profits had been wiped out? Or did they mean that dropping prices would encourage more use? This sounds intuitive but there is no convincing evidence of this. Since drug use exploded even as prohibition increased prices, it is evident that normal price elasticity does not apply to drugs the same way it might to flat-screen TVs.

Then they argue it would be immoral for the state to supply toxic drugs like methamphetamines.

First, the state would not have to provide supply – under a regulated system private enterprise could do it, as it does for pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol and tobacco. 

Second, the piece also admits that “decriminalisation… has little effect on the prevalence of illicit drug use”. This is an admission that problem users will get their fix whether or not the state supplies them, so it’s a zero sum argument and a self-contradiction by the authors if they were arguing that lower prices would significantly increase use.

However under regulated supply, quality and potency would be ensured and documented, and the rest of us wouldn’t have to suffer the crimes committed by addicts to meet black market prices.

Please Mr Weatherburn and Mr Hall, stick to research, not fallacious assertions.


Terry Wright said...

Nice one!

Anonymous said...

“Everything has its poison, and there is no thing without a poison. It is only a matter of dose whether a thing be medicine or poison.” Paracelsus

Methamphetamine is poison when people take toxic doses of it, and take it by inhalation or injection. But we used to prescribe it, (and dexamphetamine), very widely until Nixon announced the "War on Drugs." It was medicine back then.

The state currently subsidises the prescription of dexamphetamine and methylphenidate (ritalin). There is no difference from a medical or pharmacological perspective between prescribing dexamphetamine and prescribing methamphetamine. The current difference is entirely ideological/legal.

Dr Jane.