June 2nd 2001

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Articles from this issue:

Indonesia's next President?

Editorial - Reality TV or Feral TV?

Budget sets stage for election campaign

HIH collapse: another case of socialising the losses?

AFFA stalls on NZ apples issue

Straws in the wind

The Media


Greater role for Navy in the Pacific inevitable

Learn from history on drug abuse

Is the political system for sale?

Revised Victorian Tolerance Bill no better

AFA statement on the Budget

Vale, Tom Luscombe

Books promotion page

Learn from history on drug abuse

by John Barich

News Weekly, June 2, 2001
John Barich, WA President of the Australian Family Association, gave this paper at the WA Community Drug Summit on May 16.

By 1838 China imported each year 40,000 chests of opium. The "levels of opium addiction grew so high that it began to affect the imperial troops and official classes. "The two Opium Wars forced the Chinese to legalise the trade and by the late 1800s had increased to almost 60,000 chests and "continued to increase rapidly for the next 30 years". In 1906 there was a complete ban and by 1917 the trade was almost completely stopped.

International trade in cannabis was first placed under controls during the International Opium Convention of 1925.

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs found widespread use of the drug in the Middle East.

The WHO declared when that "the harm to society derived from abuse of cannabis rests in the economic consequences of the impairment of the individual's social functions and his enforced proneness to asocial and antisocial behaviour".

Sweden and the US, for some years in the 1960s and 1970s, were liberal in their approach to pot. The corresponding lack of discipline by some US units in the Vietnam War is well documented. Both these countries now have a "zero tolerance" regime in place. The prevalence of pot smokers has dropped considerably, with Sweden registering a take-up rate of 9 per cent against 24 per cent in Australia.

It is clear from all this that misuse of mind-altering drugs affects the productivity of the workforce and consequently generates poverty. This, and the workplace safety issues, force employers to enforce "zero tolerance" rigidly. This is the case in Britain and the mining industry in WA.

Most governments do not argue that we must live with pollution, or that we must accept some rapes. We do not teach young people smoke to safely, so why do we do so with drugs? The Quit campaigns have helped reduce the smoking population from 60 per cent to 30 per cent. Therefore harm prevention, and not harm minimisation, is what works.

The UN International Narcotics Control Board in its Report for 2000 states:

524. "The Board notes with concern that, during the 1990s, parallel to the increasing abuse of illicit drugs, the social acceptance of drugs in Australia remained high, with many people vocally in favour of the legalisation of drugs, in particular cannabis. Indicators show that globally Australia is among the countries with the most widespread cannabis abuse. The Board notes however that the majority of Australians are not in favour of the legalisation of cannabis."

525. "The spreading heroin abuse in Australia has been followed by a rising death toll among heroin abusers. Therefore, the focus in that country should be on measures to reduce the number of heroin abusers.

"Some States unfortunately challenge the policy of the Federal Government and choose to support policies that run counter to the treaty obligation limiting the use of drugs to medical and scientific purposes only, by establishing heroin injecting rooms where illicitly obtained drugs can be injected under supervision."

The United Kingdom's Anti-Drugs Coordination National Plan for 2000-2001 calls for key performance targets in the following major areas:

1. Young People

To help young people to resist drug misuse in order to achieve their full potential in society.

Key performance target: to reduce the proportion of people under the age of 25 reporting use of illegal drugs in the last month and previous year substantially and to reduce the proportion of young people using the drugs which cause the greatest harm - heroin and cocaine - by 25 per cent by 2005 and by 50 per cent by 2008.

The plan sets out a comprehensive program of general drug education in schools, specific prevention activity targeted at young people at risk and communications activity.

The aim is to ensure that all young people are informed about the harm that drugs can cause and that those most at risk have specifically tailored programs to assist them:

* enhancing the effectiveness of drug education in all schools; and

* integrated prevention and communication programs targeted at young people at risk

2. Communities

To protect our communities from drug-related antisocial and criminal behaviour.

Key performance target: to reduce levels of repeat offenders amongst drug misusing offenders by 25 per cent in 2005 and 50 per cent in 2008

Under this aim, the plan seeks to break the drugs/crime link by providing opportunities to identify people with drug misuse problems in the criminal justice system and getting them into treatment. These include:

* Comprehensive coverage of police custody suites in England and Wales by face-to-face Arrest Referral Schemes - identifying problem drug misusers and encouraging them to take up appropriate treatment; and

* National rollout across England and Wales of Drug Treatment and Testing Orders (DTTOs). Under this order the court may, with the offender's consent, make an order requiring the offender to undergo treatment either in parallel with another community order, or as a sentence in its own right.

The plan also looks at strategies for neighbourhood renewal, helping communities to tackle drug misuse.

3. Treatment

To enable people with drug problems to overcome them and live healthy and crime-free lives. Key performance target: to increase participation of problem drug misusers, including prisoners, in drug treatment programmes which have a positive impact on health and crime by 66 per cent by 2005 and 100 per cent by 2008

4. Availability

To stifle the availability of illegal drugs on our streets.

Key performance target: to reduce access to all drugs amongst young people (under 25) significantly, and to reduce access to the drugs which cause the greatest harm, particularly heroin and cocaine, by 25 per cent by 2005 and 50 per cent by 2008.

The plan seeks to remove drugs from prisons by a comprehensive program of improved security measures and random drug tests in parallel with treatment and support to prisoners with drug problem. It seeks to continue annual increases in the numbers of trafficking groups disrupted, drugs seized and assets secured from traffickers. It aims:

* by 2002, reduce the rate of positive results from random drug tests in prisons from 20 per cent in 1998-99 to 16 per cent;

* five per cent increase in the number of trafficking groups disrupted or dismantled primarily involved in these drugs;

* maintain increase in drugs prevented and seized; and

* by 2002, increase by one-third the amount of assets identified and secured from drug traffickers (confiscated assets go into a fund for anti-drug activities)

We could do worse than to follow the lead of the Blair Labour Government which has been able to develop a bipartisan party policy. We could also provide more resources for dual diagnosis services because it is now quite apparent that many young Australians are becoming addicted to dangerous drugs through pre-existing mental health disorders or illness.

According to many studies, drug abuse is linked to crime, prostitution, suicide, violence (especially in the home), and family breakdown. Legalisation or dicriminalisation is not likely to reduce these social problems because mind-altering substances make people do bad things.

The central fact, which many of the players in this domain of medicine fail to understand, is that drugs are taken for their mind-altering effects. Mind-altering means that the higher functions of the brain are distorted or impaired.

Under the influence of such drugs, the person has difficulty with memory, self-awareness, focussing attention, interpreting information, making judgements and carrying out skilled tasks. Often behaviour is affected.

The regular use of such substances tends to lead to more consistent effects on behaviour, impairment of skills and personality changes, which in their turn have an impact on family and other social relationships. In the young, the maturation process is retarded and social integration becomes more difficult.

"Common Good"

From the perspective of public health and the "Common Good", the issue of the prevalence and incidence of chronic use of such drugs is a major consideration as they determine the magnitude of the central problem.

From our knowledge of the principles of public health, of the nature of the mind-altering drugs, of the psychology of human behaviour and its modification in the interest of the common good, we must seek a solution based on beneficence and justice.

The answer seems clear: we should aim for a drug-free society; we should reduce the demand for drugs; we should not normalise the use of such drugs; we should introduce measures of primary prevention and intervention for those who are now the victims of wrong choices.

Our experience with alcohol addiction should be re-explored, for we realise then that motivation begins with the elimination of the offending agent and the clearing of the sensorium.

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