October 13th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: China the key to Burma crisis

HUMAN RIGHTS: Christian freedoms under attack

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Election outcome will shape Australia's future

DRUGS: Parliamentary report's tough stance on illicit drugs

TERRORISM: After APEC: security review urgently needed

SCHOOLS: What price should we pay for progressive education?

LIFE ISSUES: Abortion - women's choice or coercion?

OPINION: Doctor sued over unplanned second child

COMPETITION: Coalition strengthens Trade Practices Act

INTERNET-FILTERING: YouTube launch of AFA election brochure

RURAL AFFAIRS: Farmers protest as water crisis deepens

CINEMA: Australia's seamy underside laid bare - The Jammed


How to reward teachers in special schools? (letter)

That Swedish film again (letter)

Proving his manhood? (letter)

Peter Keogh remembered (letter)

BOOKS: DELUDED BY DAWKINS? A Christian Response to The God Delusion, by Andrew Wilson

BOOKS: THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS: Australian Edition, by Conn and Hal Iggulden

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Parliamentary report's tough stance on illicit drugs

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, October 13, 2007
For too long the pro-drugs lobby and its allies have been getting away - literally - with murder. At long last, however, a group of courageous politicians has been prepared to take them on. Bill Muehlenberg reports.
Bronwyn Bishop MP

Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop and her colleagues on a House of Representatives committee have a lot of guts. They have been willing to take on one of the most politically-correct entrenched bureaucracies around today, the drug "harm-minimisation" crowd.

Bronwyn Bishop and the majority of the committee have produced a new parliamentary report entitled The Winnable War on Drugs. While no report is perfect, this one is pretty darned good. It makes the case for harm-prevention, not harm-minimisation, and urges us as a nation to have a zero tolerance for illicit drugs.

Also, it tackles head-on what it calls the "drug industry elites". This is a great term for a bunch of bureaucrats and political activists who not only push the harm-minimisation line, but often are calling for the legalisation of illicit drugs as well.

Sympathetic media

For too long these folk have been getting away with murder, using heaps of taxpayer dollars to call for all the wrong things: needle-exchange programs, heroin-injecting rooms, more methadone programs, and so on. They have had a near monopoly on drug policy, a sympathetic media and a gullible public. And we have all suffered as a result.

But some might be asking, what is wrong with harm-minimisation? For the layman, the term harm-minimisation has tended to mainly mean one thing: kids are going to take drugs anyway; there is not much we can do to prevent it; so let's try to make it all a bit safer when they do take illicit drugs.

As such, it is a counsel of despair which traps many in a dead-end drug-affected lifestyle.

Consider an example that is unfolding at this very moment. There has been yet another reported casualty in the drug wars in the Australian Football League. A recently retired West Coast Eagles player, Chris Mainwaring, has just been found dead, allegedly after taking an ecstasy tablet.

Another West Coast player, Ben Cousins, recently in rehab, was reportedly with this man just an hour before his death. (Melbourne The Age, October 2, 2007).

Yet, incredibly, the "drug industry elites" wrote an open letter to various newspapers recently, arguing that the AFL drug policy is just fine, and that those concerned about rampant drug use, such as the Prime Minister, should just butt out.

The September 11 letter, signed by all the usual suspects (around 20 names altogether), defended the current AFL drug policy, saying moves to get tough on drug use were counterproductive.

The question is, how many more people have to die before we reject the foolishness of these harm-minimisation advocates, and their mistaken belief that illicit drug-use is just a health issue, and not also a criminal justice issue?

Instead of seeking harm-prevention - the only proven drug policy - and a zero-tolerance approach to drug use, they recklessly continue pushing the line that people will always take drugs, so we must try to make it "safer" when they do. This is not only a counsel of surrender; it is costing people their lives.

It is time the dangerous and failed ideology of the harm-minimisation crowd is replaced with some realism which is genuinely compassionate and responsible. That is what this new government report seeks to do. It provides first-hand testimony not only from some experts in the field, but ordinary Australians who have been harmed by the harm-minimisation policies.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects to this report is the willingness - and bravery - to take on the vested interest groups and bureaucrats which currently determine so much of Australian drug policy. Indeed, it speaks of drug policy in this country being "captured by influential drug industry elites".

Failed policies

This report rightly targets the failed policies of these drug "experts". They overwhelmingly support harm-minimisation, and many advocate "drug policy reform", which is often a euphemism for full legalisation, or decriminalisation, of drug use. Such policies of course directly work against a zero-tolerance approach.

The report notes that some of these so-called experts "do not believe that all illicit drug-use is harmful, despite the accumulating scientific evidence on how drug use affects the brain and physical development".

Consider one self-styled drug expert, Alex Wodak, who said in 1991 that heroin "has relatively few side-effects" and that it can "be safely injected for decades".

He also made this amazing claim, as recorded in the report: "Most of the present morbidity and mortality related to heroin use is consequent to its illegality."

There you have it. If we would only legalise all these drugs, disease and death rates would greatly fall! Thank you, Alex. And he is one of the "experts" pushing his radical agenda with our tax dollars.

Or take the words of surrender coming from Professor Margaret Hamilton, who argues that "psychoactive substances are and will be part of our society; their eradication is impossible; and the continuation of attempts to eradicate them may result in maximising net harms for society".

Incredible! To see how irresponsible and inane such comments are, just substitute the word rape or murder for the phrase psychoactive substances. People will always rape (or run red lights, or avoid paying taxes, etc.). It is foolish to think we can fully eradicate the problem. So let's try to minimise the whole problem. This is putting up the white flag of surrender, and condemning many to an early grave.

Worse still, as the report rightly notes, some of these elites in fact "benefit directly from the continuation of current approaches and expanding numbers of people in drug 'treatment' as well as research funding that is applied to finding the 'benefits' of harm-minimisation approaches".


The report quotes other elites in the drug industry who seem intent on pushing the politically-correct line on drugs, regardless of just how harmful such a position is.

It demonstrates how this policy is fundamentally flawed because it does not "have the aim of enabling users to become drug-free". For example, former drug-addicts told the committee how the harm-minimisation mentality sent mixed messages to them and worked to encourage them to stay in their drug-affected state.

And families gave stories about how a son or daughter was effectively urged to take risks with drugs by the weak messages given in drug education and/or counselling services, with the emphasis on using drugs "safely". Some horrified parents actually reported how their children were encouraged to continue using illicit drugs.

In contrast to our current failed policies, the report urges a realistic and genuinely compassionate approach which seeks to get people off harmful drugs.

As the report says in the very opening paragraphs, "What is required is policy to prevent harm to individuals from illicit drugs, not policy to merely reduce or minimise it."

It strongly supports the zero-tolerance approach which has worked so successfully in Sweden, taking it from being a country with one of the biggest problems of illicit drug use to one with among the lowest use.

Indeed, the restrictive drug policy in Sweden, which emphasises early intervention and treatment, has been a remarkable success story. "As a result of this approach, drug use in Swedish society has been dramatically reduced over recent decades and is now very low relative to the rest of the European Union and other industrialised countries, both on measures of lifetime prevalence and regular use."

Based on this realistic and responsible approach, the report makes a number of recommendations. For example, it calls for a "television-focused campaign of the same magnitude as the anti-tobacco campaign against illicit drug-taking". It also recommends that "the Minister for Health disallow the provision of takeaway methadone", while making naltrexone implants available on "the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for the treatment of opioid dependence".

Above all, it calls for the replacement of the current harm-minimisation focus "with a focus on harm-prevention and treatment that has the aim of achieving the permanent drug-free status for individuals, with the goal of enabling drug-users to be drug-free; and only provide funding to treatment and support organisations which have a clearly stated aim to achieve permanent drug-free status for their clients or participants".

Absolutely! Finally, some commonsense and genuine compassion in the drug debate.

Of course - predictably - the report has been widely attacked by the drug industry elites. All their frenzied responses were fully to be expected.

But for the sake of our young people, it is time we got serious about the dangers of illicit drugs, and started acting responsibly. This report deserves a wide readership, especially among our political leaders and policy-makers.

For those interested, the 400-page report The Winnable War on Drugs is available in hard copy or on the Internet at: www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/fhs/illicitdrugs/report.htm

- Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures in ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com

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