Sunday, 31 August 2008

John Herron, NGOs and Signs of Change

As the internet helps spread the truth about the damage caused from current drug policies worldwide, many people are changing their minds about the approach we take with the issue of drug use. Harm Minimisation is starting to become better understood and misconceptions about legalisation and encouraging drug use are fading. Bronwyn Bishop’s attempt last year at destroying Harm Minimisation is slowly slipping into the dark depths of John Howard’s undie draw. The heavily criticised report, “The Winnable War on Drugs” is barely mentioned now except that it was fundamentally flawed and offered nothing to society except pain, misery and a false sense of security. This was at the height of the Zero Tolerance push by John Howard and his moral crusaders (as opposed to Kevin Rudd’s moral crusaders). That dark era may well be behind us if Kevin Rudd follows through with his promise of evidence based policy. Some much needed changes have taken place since then. For example, NGOs are no longer threatened with funding withdrawal or losing their tax-deductable status for donations if they became critical of government policy.
In 1991, just five years before the Howard Government came to power, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Community Affairs brought down a report in which it commented on the role of non-government groups. The Committee said: An integral part of the consultative and lobbying role of these organisations is to disagree with government policy where this is necessary in order to represent the interests of their constituents. Note that they said non-government organisations should ‘disagree’ with Government where necessary. Contrast this Parliamentary Committee statement with John Howard’s Menzies Lecture, delivered in 1996, the year he came to power. The lecture was entitled, ‘The Liberal Tradition: The Beliefs and Values Which Guide the Federal Government’. In it, Howard referred to the NGO sector as ‘single-issue groups’, ‘special interests’ and ‘elites’ and he promised that his government would be ‘owned by no special interests, defending no special privileges and accountable only to the Australian people’. [...] De-funding has shut down many voices, but it is only a small part of the picture. At the same time, forced amalgamations have silenced alternative views, purchaser-provider contracts bring NGOs closer to being an arm of Government and confidentiality clauses are explicit restraints upon freedom of expression. -Joan Staples Report - NGOs out in the Cold: Howard government policy towards NGOs University of New South Wales Faculty of Law Research Series
NGO’s no longer have a clause in their contracts that prohibit them from speaking to the media or releasing any report before seeking the approval of the federal government.
Thirdly, confidentiality clauses appeared at the same time that purchaser-provider contracts became the norm. They now appear in some form in most contracts that NGOs have with the Federal Government. These clauses have requirements that the organisation not speak to the media without first obtaining the approval of the appropriate department or minister. Some appear to forbid any public activity. Apart from the direct censorship involved, voices are likely to be silenced, even if a media release is approved, because delay risks lack of relevance with the speed of media stories today. Even groups working on habitat rehabilitation and feeding the homeless are now finding that any relationship with Government results in confidentiality clauses being imposed on them.
It seems, one important organisation in particular has also changed, The Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD). Although the changes are small, there appears to be a move away from Howard’s Zero Tolerance. The ANCD was originally chaired by Brian Watters, who was hand picked by Howard for his like minded, black and white approach to drugs. Over the years, there have always been members like Watters who have no interest in HM or evidence based policies. Ann Bressington, Craig Thompson and currently Jo Baxter, who along with Watters are all members of Drug Free Australia (DFA). The one constant has been Secretariat, Mr Gino Vumbaca. Reading through the transcripts from Bronwyn Bishop enquiry, Gino Vumbaca was continually attacked by Bishop for stating the simple truth. Bishop desperately tried to tie HM with failure but Gino stood his ground. This is a man with principles. It seems that current chairman, Dr John Herron, is also changing since the Rudd government. Maybe the pressure to mislead the public is off since the change of government. Who knows? An opinion piece by Dr. Herron in The Australian last week is a clear sign that finally evidence based strategies are replacing the mumbo jumbo that for so long was called drug policy.
Battle Against Drugs Needs Realistic Approach Dr. John Herron The Australian - August 23, 2008 IN 1998, the United Nations held a general assembly special session on drugs and set 2008 as the target date to eliminate, or significantly reduce, the world's drug production and use. Well, here we are in 2008, and while we've certainly come a long way, drugs still remain a worldwide problem. The elimination of drugs is an ideal many would like to see achieved, but we need to approach drug issues in a realistic and pragmatic manner. Fortunately, the next UN initiative sees the potential to formulate realistic goals and some positive changes for the future, including to the drug control conventions which govern global drug control, and to which many countries (including Australia) are signatories. Why do we need to make changes to our global drug control efforts? To start with, the three drug control conventions currently have a heavy law enforcement focus. While this is a key aspect of any comprehensive drug control effort, law enforcement is just one of many areas that need to be engaged when tackling drug problems. Even the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, has himself said that "tighter controls in one region, or on one product, produce a swelling of activity elsewhere. As a result of this balloon effect, the problem is displaced, but not solved." In addition, it is quite concerning to me and many others that human rights, and their protection, are only referred to once across all three drug control conventions. Frankly, this is not good enough, especially when considering that those with drug problems are often subjected to severe stigmatisation and discrimination in communities across the world. To put it simply, we have to update the conventions to reflect our most modern and effective approaches of tackling the world's drug problem. Both Australia and New Zealand have balanced and pragmatic drug policies compared with many other regions in the world. Why do we do this? Because it works: our national drug strategies are also among the few that are subjected to comprehensive evaluations, and as a result we have long had an evidence-based approach to formulating our drug strategies. This had led to declining levels of drug use and overdoses, and the maintenance of one of the lowest rates of HIV amongst injecting drug users. We have a global responsibility to share our knowledge and success with other countries and to learn from the approaches of other nations in areas they have done better. In our region, non-government organisations (NGOs) provide many services within the alcohol and other drug sector. Inevitably, NGOs are confronted with many challenges from being under-resourced and overworked -- which makes attracting and keeping staff a difficult task for many agencies. Despite this, or perhaps because of these circumstances, many NGOs often offer the most innovative treatment approaches. It has therefore been very unfortunate that NGOs and their invaluable experience has not been utilised more in important decisions made at the UN level on drug issues. This time, however, a historic achievement was made recently when the UN actively sought input from NGOs in a review on drug control since 1998. NGOs across the globe reflected on what has been achieved in the past 10 years and provided recommendations on how to improve and strengthen these conventions, but also for enhancing NGO involvement in drug policy at the government and UN level. In Australia, the Australian National Council on Drugs worked with our colleagues at the New Zealand Drug Foundation to develop a report outlining the response from our region. Our regional report confirmed what many of us already knew: NGOs have much to offer including frontline experience, independent perspectives and innovative strategies for how to make our drug policy even more effective. I was very pleased and impressed that so many NGOs across the sector participated in this project in the face of such great time and resource limitations. Why did they do this? For the greater good. It is something which drives the NGOs in this sector, and they wanted the opportunity to influence global decision making and to promote the successes of our region in the hope of achieving better outcomes for others in the world. In July, regional representatives, including a delegation from Australia and New Zealand, met at an international forum in Vienna to propose new drug policy resolutions. This meeting concluded that equal weighting should be given to supply and demand reduction across the three drug control conventions. Furthermore, that each country should consider drug misuse primarily as a health issue. The importance of such resolutions should not be underestimated -- they have the potential to change the face of drug issues on a global scale. There seem to be so few opportunities to celebrate our success within the drug sector -- numerous challenges will always be apparent. However, what we have seen recently has been no small feat, and I congratulate the UN and most of all the NGOs, which gave their time and resources to participate. I now wait in anticipation for March next year when a high-level UN meeting of government delegates will meet to discuss the last 10 years of drug issues, including a very important NGO perspective. I urge them to adopt a realistic and ground-breaking approach to battling the world's drug problem, to ensure that the many victims of some current drug control strategies are helped to overcome problems rather than be further harmed. Dr John Herron is the chairman of the Australian National Council on Drugs

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

WA Liberals Become Even Sillier

Why do we take take these people seriously? The WA Libs have already made some remarkable comments about repealling sensible cannabis laws (that have have beening working) because of some idelogy clap trap about that old furphy, “Sending the wrong message”. I’m sorry , but this just doesn’t cut it today and is just shameless politics expoliting the drug issue.

Now Opposition youth affairs spokeswoman ‘Dippy’ Donna Faragher has condemded the WA government for appointing Criminal lawyer Paul Roth as a magistrate. Why? because he once stood as an independent candidate on a pro-Australian Marijuana Party platform. That was back in the 1998 federal election. What Dippy Donna fails to explain is that The Australian Marijuana Party and other pro legalisation groups don’t want marijuana sold at 7-11s or the corner store but regulated and taxed like the far more dangerous drug, alcohol. If she was really concerned with youth affairs or “sending the wrong message”, she should also be critical of anyone who supports the legal sale of alcohol. Youth binge drinking (in the real sense not Kevin’s new definition) causes far more damage than marijuana use and to single out Paul Roth’s involvement in a group that would actual improve the health of people, is political posturing at it’s finest.

I would suggest that shows another soft-on-drugs attitude of this Government. I would not think a member of a former party involved with cannabis sends a very good message. We'll see what he does as a magistrate, but my view is we cannot take a soft-on-drugs attitude.
-Donna Faragher: W.A. opposition youth affairs spokeswoman

Does DD really mean, “sensible on drugs”? How does a rational policy that is supported by most experts, deemed to be negative? The answer is always the same - when it’s political. Colin Barnett, DD and co. are not just playing the usual game of sleazy politics but are playing with people’s lives. Their attempt to use drug hysteria as a tool to win office is selfish and dangerous. It might be amusing that these so called leaders still live in a world of medieval science and continue to use worn out phrases like “sending the wrong message” but the fact is they will cause a lot of damage to families and society.

This is about protecting our community and taking the issue of drugs seriously, rather than treat it as a joke the way Labor has since 2001.
-Donna Faragher: W.A. opposition youth affairs spokeswoman

They want to wind back evidence based policy, ruin thousands of lives and put many drug users at risk of disease or even death. The question is - where’s your evidence? When repeatedly asked if marijuana use in WA had increased because of the current drug policy, Dippy Donna’s repeated reply was that it could lead to harder drugs. Yes, that gateway drug theory that was disproved many years ago was her reasoning. To continually repeat something that is false as a reason to change a policy that works and reduces wrecking people’s lives, is outrageous. Where’s Labor on this? Where’s the other political parties taking this bullshiter to task? She is lying in public for personal and political gain and not a word? Is this what it has come to in politics in WA?

For Donna Faragher this is not new and she has made similar comments previously. For repeating the fabrications, the question remains; is she ignorant of the facts or she is lying. Either way, she are not worthy of holding office ... a position of trust and responsibility.

Ample research continues to show that cannabis can lead to a host of health and mental health problems including schizophrenia and can be a gateway to harder drugs. This is about protecting our community and taking the issue of drugs seriously, rather than treat it as a joke in the way Labor has since 2001.
-Donna Faragher: W.A. opposition youth affairs spokeswoman

How can we, as a society put faith in someone who uses junk science as an argument against proper researched medical knowledge? Ample research? A gateway drug? This is laughable and it feels like a quote from the John Howard handbook of propaganda. And it seems I’m not the only one to notice either. Here is an interesting take of the situation at the Politics West blog - Barnett Just Says No

The depth of anti-drug rhetoric is deep in the Liberal party and they often crumble to pressure from the MSM. A local newspaper actually printed a picture of Paul Roth, the newly appointed magistrate at the centre of the controversy, in front of hundreds of bongs. Using junk science from trash media is all the evidence they need to put forward their flawed preconceived ideas. Sometimes, those ideas border on being so ridiculous that you must wonder about the fate of mankind under this buffoons.

The opposition claimed that about half the infringement notices would not be paid, because the people who received them would be too drunk, stoned, stupid or bombed out of their minds by some other substance to understand what they were meant to do.
-Simon O’Brien. W.A. deputy opposition leader. 2006

As Dippy Donna settles into retirement in many years time as Grandma Dippy Donna, she will be in the history books as one of the last wave of ignorant, self serving politicians who used the well being of her constituents to drum up drug hysteria for political gain. She may have regrets, she may not. For some, it might be easy to forget they were incompetent at the highest level or were lying to millions of people. In the end, history will decide.

Liberals Attack Pot-Platform Magistrate
Alana Buckley-Carr
August 13, 2008
The Australian

LIBERAL leader Colin Barnett promised yesterday to toughen Labor's "soft" drug laws as Attorney-General Jim McGinty refused to overturn the appointment of a magistrate with links to the Australian Marijuana Party.

Criminal lawyer Paul Roth was made a magistrate last week, but it has since been revealed he stood as an independent candidate in the 1998 federal election on a pro-Australian Marijuana Party platform. That included the legalisation of marijuana and licensing limited retail outlets to sell the drug.

Opposition youth affairs spokeswoman Donna Faragher yesterday condemned the Government and Mr McGinty for appointing Mr Roth.

"I would suggest that shows another soft-on-drugs attitude of this Government," Ms Faragher said. "I would not think a member of a former party involved with cannabis sends a very good message. We'll see what he does as a magistrate, but my view is we cannot take a soft-on-drugs attitude."

Speaking at a residential drug treatment facility in South Perth, Ms Faragher said a Liberal government would repeal current laws that allow police to fine cannabis users rather than charge them with a criminal offence.

Instead, a one-time cautioning system would apply. Drug paraphernalia would be banned from sale and stiffer penalties would be introduced for drug dealers who target children or manufacture drugs in a child's presence.

"This is about protecting our community and taking the issue of drugs seriously, rather than treat it as a joke the way Labor has since 2001," she said. "Over the past seven years, Labor has had ample opportunity to fix drug and related law-and-order issues but it has instead turned a blind eye."

Mr Barnett said the Government was sending the wrong message to young people that cannabis was a "social recreational drug". "It gave a sense that somehow drugs are acceptable -- I don't think they are acceptable," he said.

Mr McGinty said Mr Roth was recommended by a selection panel as the best candidate for the position. "The Solicitor-General's advice was that past political involvements should not bar an otherwise excellent candidate from judicial office," he said.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Q & A: Kerry Wolf -Certified Methadone Advocate (USA)

This is the first in a series of Q & As for people who have some relationship or interest in illicit drugs. 

First up is Kerry Wolf, Director for the Texas chapter of Advocates For Recovery Through Medicine Medically Assisted Treatment (ARMMAT). Kerry is well known in cyber space for her active role in promoting and educating people about methadone maintenance treatment(MMT). Using the alias Zenith, Kerry moderates several websites and forums for MMT patients wanting to discuss methadone or seek help regarding treatment. 

Kerry is also a Certified Methadone Advocate(CMA) through the National Alliance of Methadone Advocates (NAMA)

NOTE: You can ask Kerry question via the comments.

Name:  Kerry Wolf
Role: Director of ARMMAT
Date: August 2008
Contact: ARMMATA.T. Watchdog NAMA

You are currently on MMT? What was your addiction? 
I have been on MMT for almost 4 years now. My primary addiction has always been Rx opiates, particularly a hydrocodone containing cough syrup called Tussionex. I also used IV heroin for about 7 months. 

Do you use drugs(including alcohol) recreationally? 
Not any more. I stopped all recreational drug use when I got on MMT. It was never really "recreational" for me anyhow--it was always severely compulsive and always an attempt to self medicate my depression. I always used alone (except for the heroin episode). I also drank pretty heavily when I could not get opiates. 

Do you consider you live a productive life in comparison to someone not with an addiction? 
Absolutely! As an MMT patient, I hold down a full time white collar job, pay all my bills, care for my family, and pursue my own dreams and goals. I am also able to give back to society. 

I have also known active addicts who were able to maintain fairly normal lives even while using--my husband worked steadily for 26 years while using IV heroin almost daily, and supported his then-family (this was before we met), and was never in any legal trouble. 

Are there obstacles being accepted into society for you as an ex addict on MMT? 
Many. In the USA, we have laws, both Federal and state, preventing those with any type of drug conviction from EVER obtaining housing assistance, food stamps, welfare, or student loans. This does not apply to murderers, rapists or child molesters--just drug convictions. In addition, in my state, my right to vote was removed. All employment applications now ask if you have ever been arrested or convicted and employers all do background checks. I was refused a job at Wal Mart because of this--a minimum wage job. Methadone prejudice is very strong. I used to be an RN, but I can never go back to nursing, because nurses in the USA are not allowed to take methadone--at least, not for addiction treatment. They are, however, allowed to take methadone for pain, so I suppose it only "impairs" the nurse when taken for addiction? Methadone is so heavily judged and frowned upon by every level of society that it just amazes me. 

Do you have difficulty telling people you are on MMT? 
Not really--not anymore. I feel strongly that people NEED to know--they need to see that I--a normal person with whom they interact daily--am a methadone patient, and am not a bum under a bridge somewhere looking to molest their kids and steal their rent money. 

You are a member of Advocates For Recovery Through Medicine Medically Assisted Treatment (ARMMAT). Can you tell us about it? 
As an ARM member I work locally and nationally to assist patients who need help with issues at their clinics and beyond. I work with agencies and help to educate people about methadone treatment, and empower patients by informing them of their rights and how to go about contacting the proper people to help them. 

Some people say ex addicts especially those on heavy medication like methadone don’t have a place discussing addiction treatment. Do you feel that being on OMT benefits you with your cause or are they correct. 
My feeling is that recovery has nothing to do with whether or not you take a prescribed medication to stabilize brain chemistry or not. Recovery is measured by the fruits of your life. Are you happy? Are you responsible, dependable? Can your loved ones count on you? Are you working (if able)? Are your bills paid? Do you have goals and dreams that you are working on? Do you give back to others? Do you feel good about yourself? Do your loved ones see the positive changes in your life? If you can answer "yes" to these things, then in my opinion, THAT is recovery. When I was abstinent and following an abstinence based program, I was drug-free, yes. I was also deeply depressed, unemployed, exhausted, had no hopes and dreams, and spent most of my day in bed. THAT was NOT "recovery" in my book. 

The US is infamous for it’s drug policy and opposition to Harm Reduction. Though the US has about 10 times the number of HIV/AIDS sufferers amongst injecting drug users compared to Australia, only recently has federal funding been allowed for needle exchange programs. Does this US approach effect OMT from what you have seen? 
My state (Texas) is the last state in the country to refuse to allow needle exchange programs, something I am deeply ashamed of for them. I also see that whenever a clinic tries to open anywhere in the USA there is an onerous protest with the people all saying the same thing..."It will increase crime, attract addicts to our area, and they will steal, rob and molest our children, nod out in the streets, urinate and defecate on the sidewalks, drive away like drug crazed madmen and kill us all, etc etc". Although it almost always turns out that the clinic is a good neighbor and none of these fears come to pass, this continues to happen with very few defending the patients, and so there are not enough clinics to treat those who need treatment--not even 1/4 of them. 

I have heard some horror stories about MMT clinics in the US. What is your experience? 
My clinic is fantastic! I am truly blessed to have a clinic director who is focused on her patients and on empowering them to speak up for themselves and to NOT buy into the stigma that surrounds MMT. The counsellors there are wonderful as well--some of them are also MMT patients. We have no security guard and no need for one. I have never once been offered drugs there or asked to buy any, nor have I seen anything "suspicious" going on. The clinic believes in adequate dosing, and truly pays attention to their patients. But I know that many clinics are NOT like this, and I am very lucky indeed. 

What is the worst case you know of? 
There is a clinic in Paducah, Kentucky that is just beyond awful. I have dealt with several patients there who have had to fight tooth and nail and wait for many agonizing months just to get to a dose of 50mg, only to be told that no one needs more than 50mg (average adequate dose for most patients in the USA is 80-120mg). Their patients are often told to "pray to God" if they are experiencing withdrawals and cravings from these substandard doses, and are forced to attend NA meetings if they want any takehome doses, despite the fact that NA has a written policy stating that MMT patients are "in active addiction" and are not allowed to speak at meetings. This clinic is directly violating the Best Practices standards that disallow dose capping, and almost seems to be an abstinence based treatment program masquerading as a methadone clinic. 

There has been a huge increase in methadone deaths recently in the US. Why is this? 
Actually, there has been a huge increase in the PRESCRIBING of methadone for pain in the past few years, primarily due to the recent Oxycontin scandals. Doctors turned to methadone because it was cheap, long lasting, and does not produce a strong high. However, many doctors were not aware of the special properties and need to carefully titrate this drug in new patients. In addition, the FDA prescribing insert advised doctors that they could give new patients as much as 80mg a day in divided doses--over twice as much as is prescribed as a starting dose to opiate tolerant patients at a methadone clinic! As a result, patients began dying from methadone overdoses. Often, they were not warned about combining the drug with other meds like benzodiazepines which can be a deadly combination. In addition, due to the increase in prescribing methadone for pain, it was much more readily available on pharmacy shelves and medicine cabinets, and curious teens and young people began experimenting with it. Often they would take more and more hoping to get the high they expected with other opiates, only to die without ever getting there. 

Studies by SAMHSA and other organizations show unequivocally that the majority of this diverted methadone comes NOT from the MMT clinics but from pain management and people who steal from pain management patients, or from higher up the chain. Diversion from clinics DOES occur, but it has been low and stable for the past 45 years, and occurs mainly to other opiate tolerant addicts who cannot get their drug of choice and want to avoid being sick. 

What do you see as the main problems with OMT in the US? 
The clinic system itself. There is no standard of care--rules are applied haphazardly across the board and enforcement of accreditation standards is almost non existent. There is no one to speak for the patients. Methadone is grossly over-regulated, to the point that only 10% of those who need and would benefit from MMT can access treatment. Costs are exorbitant in private pay clinics--often over $400 a month, and this continues even when the patient gets only 5 minutes of unneeded "counseling" per month and no other services besides the medicine itself, which is less than 1/8th the cost of the monthly bill. Patients who have been stable in treatment for years--decades, even--have to continue to attend the clinic and pay for ancillary services they neither need or use, rather than receiving the medication from their own doctors, despite decades of evidence that this works and works well for stable patients. 

What do you want to see changed first and foremost with OMT? 
Office Based Opioid Treatment for stable patients, and required, standardized training for all medical and counseling practitioners in MMT. 

What are your views on other OMT’s in use or on trial in Europe like slow release morphine, injectable hydromorphone and prescription heroin? 
I feel that these are needed therapies. No one treatment works for everyone. As with diabetes, some patients are able to control their disease with exercise and diet, others require oral medications, others need injectable insulin, and still others are extremely brittle diabetics and may not do well even on insulin, yet it does improve their outcome to some degree. With opioid addiction, some may do well with abstinence based treatment. Others may need an oral partial agonist like Suboxone. Still others may need a full agonist like methadone. And there are those who do not do well even on methadone, yet who are able to maintain a more stable life on controlled doses of heroin or morphine. My feeling is that opiates are a naturally occurring chemical in our brains (endorphins) and seeing them as some type of evil substance is erroneous. In a sense, we are all "opiate addicts" in that we need a normal level of natural opiates to be able to feel pleasure and enjoy life. When that level is depleted, whether genetically or by long term drug usage, supplementing it with exogenous opiates simply restores the patient to normal function. Giving the same amount of opiates to a patient who already has normal endorphin function will simply cause the "cup to run over" so to speak, but for those who need it it simply stabilizes them. I feel there is a place in addiction treatment for these therapies for carefully selected patients. 

"War on Drugs" and prohibition has been a huge failure. Do you support legalising drugs in anyway? 
Yes, I do. I feel that legalizing drugs would remove the criminal element from it, stop the black market trade, provide a purer and less deadly form of drugs for those who use them, and would not, as many fear, increase the addiction rate. I don't think there are tons of people out there who are holding back from using drugs simply because they are illegal and who would run out tomorrow and shoot up heroin were it to be legalized. I think our prisons and jails are full to bursting with petty drug offenders whose lives have been ruined forever, and this costs taxpayers an incredible amount of money. 

I do not think people should be able to do things which impact others, however, such as driving while intoxicated, using drugs in the presence of children, ignoring responsibilities, etc. 

In 1999, John McCain proposed a plan to remove most methadone programs for abstinence based treatment. Do you feel Barack Obama follows the same ideology as McCain or will he support a more evidence based drug policy if he wins office? 
I hope that Obama will have a more open minded drug policy, but I don't think it will be as open as I hope for. However, it will surely be an improvement over what we just had or over McCain's closed minded ideas. 

Finally, if you were President Zenith and you could change one law relating to drugs or drug treatment, what would it be?
I would decriminalize all drug possession for personal use, while making it clear that the person is responsible for their behavior while taking the drug. 


Q and A: Dr. James Rowe - Lecturer at RMIT, School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning
Q and A: Gino Vumbaca - Executive Director of the Australian National Council on Drugs
Q and A: Sandra Kanck - Former South Australian MLC. South Australia spokesperson for Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform (FFDLR)
Q and A: Tony Trimingham - Chief Executive Officer, Family Drug Support

Saturday, 23 August 2008

How DFA Logic Exposed the Real Fifth Columnist

A Special Report By Greg Iverson

To some in the AOD sector, the name of a Mr. Gary Christian may be well known. To those of us that contribute to the ADCA list-server called ‘Drugtalk’, this name is instantly recognisable (and is normally followed in the thought process with a mental groan). 

Drugtalk is a subscribed e-mail list. It was set up so that workers in the AOD sector had a space to share information and debate topics of varying importance to the sector. 

Gary, and his fellow cohorts at Drug Free Australia (DFA – a right wing Christian-based think tank and pot-stirrers that aims to influence government policy on AOD issues in Australia), are fond of making a variety of accusations on this subscriber list against a range of people in the sector, mainly because their methodologies disagree with the Zero Tolerance approach that Gary and his ilk firmly (and blindly) believe in.

I have contributed to the debates on this server for many years now and have been a keen observer of the behaviour of Mr Christian and the DFA and, like others on the email list, I am often aghast at the statements that are placed there by this group … especially this individual.

His behaviour includes;

  • An attempt at linking Dr Alex Wodak (one of the most pre-eminent and respected AOD professionals in the country) with illegal activities in Afghanistan (when in actuality, Alex was there advising on HIV and Harm Minimisation issues) 
  • Constant accusations that the AOD sector is staffed and led by “so-called experts” who are only interested in keeping people addicted, so that they have a livelihood (despite the fact that – as has been pointed out to him several times – it would be more profitable for the workers in the field to actually BECOME drug pushers and dealers. Far more profit on that side of the fence than ours and with the vagaries of government funding being what it is, a whole lot more secure!)
  • Accuses anyone who contemplates any alternative to the Zero Tolerance approach as being a ‘drug pusher’ or dealer which accounts for at least 90% of the sector
  • Regularly twisting words around in a debate, placing statements never uttered by an opponent into their posts
  • Flatly refusing to read any research that runs counter to his pre-determined ideology – and then comments on that research as being a load of ‘junk-science’ (while openly admitting that he has not actually read the paper. Pretty neat trick that one)
  • Using the ‘reliable’ sources of right wing media commentators such as Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine for the source of his arguments.

There are more items that I could write about here in relation to Gary, but that list would continue for many, many more pages.

Suffice to say, it seems that this man has simply no idea of any real life experience when it comes to dealing with substance abuse issues. If he has, then he has ignored any lessons from this engagement. 

His approach to the sector is informed by one thing only, and that is his Seventh Day Adventist beliefs. Don’t get me wrong; I have a lot of respect for certain church affiliated groups in the AOD sector. Without them, a lot more people would be suffering a lot more harm if their work and engagement in the sector were to suddenly cease. But when the dictates of your faith blinds you to the reality of a situation, then unfortunately, the harms can only increase to both the individual and society. Fundamentalism is dangerous – in religion or in any other field. This was displayed as far back as the Crusades in the Holy Land and even today, the issue is still with us.

But recently, there has been a couple of debates on the list that I feel have finally shown Gary in a very real – and ultimately, truly hypocritical light.

One of these debates centred on a Mr Julian Critchley – who held the post of the Director of the UK Anti-Drug Co-ordination Unit in the Cabinet Office. When he first gained this position, Mr. Critchley states he was: 

“more or less agnostic on drugs policy, being personally opposed to drug use, but open-minded about the best way to deal with the problem. I was certainly not inclined to decriminalise.”

During his time in this position, after looking at all the data and research that his work exposed him to, he realised the futility of the prohibitionist approach and became a supporter of the legalisation side of the debate. The full text of his post can be seen here:   - his post is No. 73. 

He then resigned from his position, realising that his change of stance meant that he could no longer support official Government policy and therefore, his position was untenable.

Gary’s strange response to this was to post the following item:

The UK media are treating the Julian Critchley opinion on legalisation as if an anti-drugs analyst has rolled over and come to see the light of an opposite point of view.  This is hardly likely given the history of drug control in Britain.


Nobody would say that Mike Trace, as deputy to drug tsar David Hellawell, was ever really against illicit drug use, especially when he was exposed by the Daily Mail as communicating with George Soros drug legalisation Generals Nadelmann and Neier asking their feedback on his plan to create a unified web of organisations which would influence politicians against the United Nations Conventions. In his own words:



‘The basic objectives remain the same - to assemble a combination of research, policy analysis, lobbying and media management that is sufficiently sophisticated to influence governments and international agencies as they review global drug policies in the coming years. The key decision points remain the reviews of the European Union Drug Strategy in 2003 (and again in 2004), and the political summit of the UN Drug Programme in Vienna in April 2003.’ 



This is the guy who said that he, when accepted as head of the UN Drug Demand Reduction section, said he was going to act as a fifth columnist to undermine te UN.  Just as well Sweden's Torgny Peterson outed him and the Daily Mail got him sacked.


So why would we not assume that Julian was not another Mike Trace, posing as someone working against illicit drug use, while laying the groundwork for its legalisation?

Until this point, no one had mentioned Mike Trace, nor was there any links placed between Mr Trace and Mr Critchley – and yet, Gary’s comments seem to indicate that because person X (Trace) believes fact Y, then Person Z (Critchley) must think and behave in exactly the same way as person X. Huh?

As you can imagine, some of us were baffled by his sudden linking of these two individuals and queried Gary on this matter. Many posts were placed to and fro on the list where there were accusations of fifth columnists everywhere and conspiracy theories in every corner, spouting from Mr Christian’s keyboard. From one email alone, there was this:

My statement about Critchley is simply that if Trace was working as a fifth columnist, secretly undermining British and UN drug policy while appearing to be in support of it (what else does a fifth columnist mean?), there is no reason to think that Critchley's stance on legalisation has not always been the same…. 


So Paul, my statement that we should not merely assume that Critchley changed from being against drug use in society to a supporter of drug use in society is premised on something very real and very historical. 

It still didn’t make sense to any of us on this list. How can someone be accused of being a fifth columnist if they acknowledge their change of stance and then instantly resign from their post when they realise that this change means that they cannot work towards the goal for which they had originally been employed. It sounds like an honourable action to me, rather than anything under-handed.

But then, this confusion was not unusual in a debate with Gary – as we all knew on the list. He is well known to change boats midstream and attempt to take debates off into areas that only his imagination could dream up. As I stated above, this would include subtle word substitutions in quoting others, which changed the intent of their original statement (I should correct that and say ‘sometimes subtle’ – at other times, the change was so dramatic, that it was laughable).

The second separate discussion on the list that started me thinking about Mr. Christian’s leaps of logic was when Gary was called to task over his attempts at sabotaging the UN Beyond 2008 Vienna NGO consultations. For those that are unaware, Mr Christian embarrassed himself (and his fellow Australian and New Zealand delegates) at this forum in a very amateur attempt to destroy the proceedings in a last minute accusation of unfair processes. To this day, he still claims that his points were valid, despite being dismissed by the UN representatives, the Forum’s organisers, all of the other Australian and New Zealand delegates and (from what I have come to understand) around 90% of all the other delegates that attended. Complaints on his behaviour were received from all over the world – literally. Read the story here

It was then that the penny dropped.


I finally realised why Gary felt justified in his ‘leaps of logic’. This linking of Julian Critchley’s thought processes to Mike Trace’s actions and his constant accusations of conspiratorial activity and Fifth columnist individuals started to make sense. The revelation involved the realisation that his reactions were all based on his and the DFA’s own actions and approach to AOD work and the sector. 

I would point out just two examples (out of many more that I could discuss in this article) that has led me to this conclusion:

Point 1

The DFA (where Gary is one of the lead individuals in the organisation) claims to be an AOD peak body, yet no AOD organisation that I know of openly acknowledges them as their lead organisation or recognises them as their peak body. The members of the email list had asked for the evidence of this support many times, and the only response that we received from Mr. Christian was a demand on the politicians in our Federal Parliament who support drug law reform to ‘come out’. Then, and it seemed only then, would the DFA release this information to the general public (at least, according to Gary’s posts to the list).

It is my contention that there is a world of difference between the public acknowledgement of sector support for a ‘peak’ NGO and a politician’s public stance on a controversial subject. 

Indeed, this is one of the reasons for the very existence of the NGO sector. One of the purposes of NGOs is to provide professional advice to the body politic, so that politicians can base their law-making decisions on un-biased conclusions drawn from valid research data – no matter how unpopular those decisions may be in the wider public sphere or the political arena. This separates the ‘politics’ of a situation from some hard and unpopular choices that sometimes have to be made.

We had often seen on the email list how invalid the research that the DFA and Gary himself would quote could be; we had been forced to comment on this fact on many occasions. 

They used this rather shonky material to influence government decisions – and for some time, this had worked under the Howard government; it can only be hoped that this will now change. The current Prime Minister has already indicated that it will, which was a relief to all in our sector to at least hear those words – we wait to see whether the actions do follow through on the spoken commitment from Mr. Rudd to make their decisions on valid research data and the advice of ‘experts in the field’.

   The DFA itself seems to be no more than an organisation that has been set up, not to undertake any research itself or support the government sanctioned and approved Australian Drug Strategy, but to secretly work against that strategy in an attempt to undermine it. This is a fifth column approach to an accepted strategy if ever I have seen it.

Remember that the DFA is a body that was granted seed funding from the Federal Government for it’s very establishment, and so as such, they have an obligation, as do all in the NGO sector, to be accountable to government policy and to assist in maintaining that policy.

Point 2

The other point is Gary’s behaviour at the recent United Nations Vienna Beyond 2008 NGO Forum. He – in an attempt to negate the deliberations of the meeting – made a speech on the final day, just before the closing ceremonies were due to commence.

From what I can surmise of the situation, Gary, the International Taskforce on Strategic Drug Policy  (in whose name he made his rather foolish statement) and the DFA, who he was there representing in the discussions, seemed to have all been engaged in the process of consultation from the beginning – with no expressed qualms about the processes involved – at either the regional discussions or during the 3 day Forum itself. 

Then, after the period of regional consultations had been conducted, the Vienna meeting held and the discussions at the Forum concluded - to the extent that a consensus had been reached by all the delegates at the Forum - Gary, on this very last day, after as I said, discussions had concluded, proceeded with an attempt to undermine and negate the whole process by publicly declaring it invalid from the very start – to the jeers of most of the delegates assembled.

  If Gary, the DFA, or the International Taskforce, felt this way, then why was no commentary on the process given until after the Forum was basically over? There would have been ample opportunity to make this commentary during the process. 

But no, Gary – and by extension the Taskforce and the DFA - waited to see what the outcome was and then decided to dismiss the meeting as a complete waste of time and an irrelevancy. 

This was purely because the result of the meeting was not their desired one. The recommendations coming from this meeting would largely have the support of most of those in the AOD sector – particularly in Australia. In other words, Harm Minimisation was finally gaining some acceptance in United Nations’ considerations. This was despite Gary and his cohorts’ best attempts at the meeting to push their minority view onto the other delegates, with US Government officials supporting them in the background.

This was an attempt at sabotage by Gary and the Taskforce, purely because the outcome did not suite their agenda and pre-conceived notions.

I ask, is this not the actions of a fifth columnist? Certainly seems that way to me. 

So, these two points got my ‘light-bulb’ blinking. Is it any wonder, when an individual, who has a shown and a proven modus operandi and can see no other approach, to then believe that because he operates in this manner, all others involved in the sector also follow this methodology? Makes sense to me and does explain Mr Christian’s extremely odd behaviour and strange ‘leaps of logic’ rather well, don’t you think?

Not to mention his fear of any reputable research that may question his beliefs. Don’t start me on his beliefs around ‘creation science vs. evolutionary science’ – that will have to wait for another time…

About the Author: Greg Iverson:

Greg worked in the HIV sector for around 15 years. He needed a break, so decided to move cities and start a new career path. Somehow, he ended up in the Youth AOD sector in Melbourne and has never looked back. After 5 years of working in AOD, Greg has come to realise that the Harm Minimisation principles that he learnt during his time in the HIV sector gave him an excellent grounding for tackling the challenging work in Youth and AOD issues. He remains open to all forms of approach to AOD work, firmly believes the work should continually evolve and develop, and that there is more than one answer to the complexities of the sector. 

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The New Face of Heroin

One of the goals of The Australian Heroin Diaries is dispel the myth that all heroin users live in a deserted factory and look like Jack Black. Heroin use crosses all socio-economic boundaries, is not racially prejudice and doesn’t care how old you are. Some people have been users for 20+ years and will never get addicted whilst others fall in love with their first taste and ultimately end up as a research statistic. The only certainty is that the public perception of heroin users is probably wrong. Shaped by a media in a permanent state of drug hysteria and with governments playing who’s toughest on drugs, the image of the heroin user is not good especially the poor old junkie.

As usual, heroin addiction has been allowed to wallow amongst the undesirables until it reached the tree lined streets of those who ignored it. I wonder if those people who cried out for tougher penalties and encouraged barbaric treatment of heroin addicts will be so vocal when the police come knocking on their door.

The New Face of Heroin

By Scott Michels

ABC News

August 2008

Heroin Is Attracting New Users Who Are Young, Middle Class and Suburban.

The first time Lauren, a suburban teenager in Connecticut, took a prescription pain killer, she says she was sick with strep throat during her freshman year in college and grabbed a Percoset from her parents' medicine cabinet. She never dreamed where that one pill would take her.

A few weeks later, she took an Oxycontin to help her sleep. The next day she took another. "Once I started, I never stopped," she said.

In less that two years, Lauren, who asked that her last name not be used because of privacy concerns, said she was spending $300 to $400 a day on pills. She stole jewelry from her mother and aunt in North Haven, an upper middle class bedroom community near New Haven, Conn., and passed back checks, racking up close to $20,000 in debt, according to her mother.

But when she still couldn't afford pills, which can cost more than $60 each on the street, Lauren turned to something more affordable and more deadly to satisfy her addiction: heroin.

"When you think of a heroin addict, you don't think of me," she said. "But that's what I became."

"When you're sick" from withdrawal "nothing else matters except making it go away," she said. "I took whatever I could find, whatever was there."

Though overall heroin use has remained relatively stable nationwide, numerous police agencies across the country say the drug, once the scourge of poor inner cities, has in the last several years attracted a new generation of users who are largely young, middle-class and living in rural and suburban areas.

At least part of that resurgence, police say, is a side effect of the explosion in prescription drug abuse. Federal statistics show that nearly 7 million Americans abused prescription drugs in 2007, more than marijuana, cocaine, heroin and Ecstasy combined -- an 80 percent increase since 2000.

Police fear the boom in pain killer abuse is leading teens and young adults, like Lauren, from pills to heroin, a cheaper and more powerful  and far more dangerous - opiate.

"It's an economics thing. If someone is hooked on Oxy and can't afford to pay $80 per pill, then they turn to heroin," which can cost as little as $4 a hit, said Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Garrison Courtney.

National statistics show that heroin use among high school students and young adults is relatively uncommon compared with other illegal drugs and has remained basically unchanged in the last few years.

But local law enforcement agencies say that an increasing number of young people are using the drug.

"People say that heroin went away. It's never gone anywhere," said Special Agent Douglas Collier of the New Jersey division of the DEA. "But the user group has changed. The old time heroin user was the guy on the street corner. Now we have kids from the suburbs."

Heroin, an opiate made from the poppy plant, works on the body in the same way as many prescription drugs such as morphine and Oxycontin. It is among the most addictive drugs and can be injected, smoked or snorted.

The 2008 National Drug Threat Assessment from the National Drug Intelligence Center, a division of the Justice Department, called prescription drug abuse leading to adolescent heroin abuse an "emerging concern" to law enforcement and a trend that was likely to continue as prescription pain killers become more difficult to obtain.

The Center, also based on anecdotal reports from local law enforcement, says heroin use is growing outside the Northeast, where the drug has traditionally been a problem, and into areas such as Appalachia and Ohio. Law enforcement agencies in areas such as Maine, Alaska and Wisconsin told that the drug is growing in popularity.

"Unfortunately, 18 to 26 is our big target audience," said Dave Spakowicz, a special agent at the Wisconsin Department of Justice who heads the Milwaukee High Density Drug Trafficking Heroin Initiative. "The price of Oxycontin has doubled in the last year and a half in the Milwaukee area. People are moving to heroin."

Nationwide, the number of people who said they used heroin in the last month grew from 119,000 in 2003 to 338,000 in 2006, the latest years for which statistics are available, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In 2006, 3.7 million Americans said they had used heroin at some point; about 60,000 were under 18.

While use of most illicit drugs by 8th through 12th graders is down, heroin use has remained steady over the last several years, with roughly one percent of high school students saying they had used the drug in the last year, according to the Monitoring the Future Survey. After a boom in heroin use among high schoolers in the last decade, the numbers have dropped since 2000.

But in some areas, particularly in the Northeast, the numbers are higher. Nearly twice as many New Jersey young adults admitted to using heroin at some point than the national average, according to national surveys. Similar results have been reported in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

"Heroin used to be thought of as a drug of the poor, in depressed areas," said Anthony Marotta, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA in Columbus, Ohio. "Here, it's across all lines. We have everything from well-to-do affluent areas to depressed housing."

Aside from the reduced cost, law enforcement experts say the increased purity of the drug is contributing to its prevalence. Kids are more apt to try the more potent drug, several times more pure than the drugs coming into the country in the 1970s, because it can be snorted or smoked, rather than injected.

"When you can snort it and you're already snorting other drugs, it becomes no big deal," said Lt. Chris Martin of the Brewer, Maine, police department.

The path from prescription pills to heroin was a common one among teens at the Daytop residential treatment center in Mendham, N.J., said Brian Gamarello, the clinical director. "Why am I taking 10 pills when I can do a bag [of heroin] and get 7 or 10 times as high?" Gamarello asked.

Dale Freeman said he didn't think much of it when a doctor prescribed Oxycontin for his daughter after she fell and fractured her tail bone.

But, after her treatment had dragged on for more than a year, Danielle was hooked to the powerful painkiller, Freeman said. "Two weeks after her surgery, her back was fixed," he said. "But her Oxy problem wasn't."

With her prescription having run out and pills running as much as $80 each on the street, Freeman said, Danielle, a one-time "A" student from a stable family, turned to heroin.

The next several years, Freeman and his wife said, became a nightmare. Danielle stole money from his diving business in Quincy, Mass., a blue collar city outside Boston. She lived for a time in motels, between stints in rehab. She is now in jail on a probation violation after she left a sober house sponsored by a drug court, her lawyer said.

She faces several years in prison if she is not accepted back into the drug court program. Danielle had used other drugs and had struggled with mental illness before her problems with heroin, her mother said.

"There was no end to what she could have become," Freeman said. "Now she's locked up in a women's prison. She hasn't seen her kids in over a year. It crushed my family and it's ruined her family."

Danielle was arrested in 2006 for allegedly stealing checks and credit cards from her father's company, after her father turned her in to the police. She admitted in drug court that there was enough evidence to convict her of larceny, check forgery and improper use of a credit card, according to the Quincy court clerk's office, and was placed on supervised release.

"And we don't see any end in sight," Freeman said.

Both Lauren and Danielle had used other drugs before using painkillers.

Experts say it is easier to overdose on heroin than on prescription pills, which have regulated dosages. Emergency room visits due to heroin use grew from 47,000 in 2003, eight percent of total drug-related emergency room visits, to 164,000, or about 20 percent of the total, in 2005, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, which monitors drug-related hospital emergency department visits and drug-related deaths.

Heroin addicts have much trouble staying clean, with some studies showing relapse rates as high as 75 percent after treatment.

Lauren, now out of rehab and clean for several months, said she relapsed several times. She said once she began using drugs regularly, she found she had easy access to prescription pain killers and heroin in her tony suburb. "I just had to call up one of my friends. I just had to go around the corner," she said.

As her addiction escalated, she said began taking more and more money and jewelry from her family and friends. "You would see jewelry and you would just have to take it," she said. "No matter where you were. You just see it as drugs. Any rational thought process is out the window."

"She was my daughter and I loved her, but at the same time I hated her at that moment so much for what she had done to her family," said her mother, Valerie.

Lauren is now working and hopes to be a lawyer. "I come from a good family. You never imagine yourself stealing from your own family. You never imagine yourself as a heroin addict. But it grabs onto you and it doesn't let go."