Saturday, 27 September 2008

More Drug War Casualties in Australia

According to the Sunday Herald, Melbourne is now losing a war against heroin because of the rising number of heroin users in lock-ups . What is really happening is that more addicts are desperately trying to deal with massive pain and suffering, committing crime to pay for their drugs and are then being jailed for it. Heroin addiction requires large amounts of money because of current prohibition type policies but the law based on these policies seem to overlook exactly what addiction is. Tough laws might deter some criminals for some crimes but the very nature of addiction makes these laws pointless. You need to be rational at the time of committing a crime to understand the deterrence but addiction overrides this rationality ... that’s what addiction is. Why can’t this simple concept be understood?

Melbourne City Losing War Against HeroinSunday Herald Laurie Nowell September 2008 VICTORIA'S illicit drugs crisis is worsening, with a study finding Melbourne is the nation's new drug capital. The research, comparing key police lock-ups across the country, found more than half those detained in Footscray were heroin users. The Australian Institute of Criminology study found the next highest rate of heroin use was 15 per cent at Brisbane central, then 12 per cent at Parramatta and Adelaide. The study also found more than 73 per cent of detainees at Footscray tested positive to an illicit drug - mostly heroin or benzodiazepines (tranquillisers). All those arrested for robbery, car theft, possession of drugs or as a result of a warrant tested positive to illegal drugs. And 80 per cent of those arrested for selling drugs were users. Half of violent offenders tested positive for drugs - 38 per cent to heroin - and half of drink drivers also tested positive to illegal drugs. The study found drug use among Footscray detainees had increased more than 12 per cent in the past year. Youth worker Les Twentyman said many parts of Melbourne were "awash with heroin". "It's back with a vengeance," he said. "We haven't seen so much on the streets since the late 1990s, when we were seeing more than 300 lethal overdoses each year. "Footscray, the CBD and Fitzroy, Dandenong, Frankston, Richmond, Collingwood, St Albans have all become beats again where users are going to score." An institute of criminology spokeswoman said the study would continue over four years. "The Footscray figures obviously show that heroin is becoming available again," she said. The Sunday Herald Sun revealed last month soaring use of heroin, amphetamines and cannabis in Victoria.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Corruption: The Price of Prohibition

Imagine you’re a police officer on an average wage with a large family. You have the usual problems like schools fees, utility bills and a never ending mortgage. What if one day you are sent to a special building to pick up evidence and are handed $100K in cash. The clerk tells you to sign the docket and to return the $80K in one week. As you look up at him to inform him of his mistake, he whispers “ten thousand each” as he takes back the pen. It’s only drug money right? 

No one would miss it and besides, it’s not going to hurt anyone. 

What if you are called to a domestic dispute in a high rise housing commission block. The door is already open and no one is there ... except on the table is $30K in cash? Drug money made illegally that would be used to buy more drugs. Do you turn it in knowing it will probably end up in the pockets of corrupt officers? Wouldn’t it be wiser to pay for your children’s education? What about your pension bound parents who could do with some financial relief? Certainly they deserve it more than the lousy drug dealer? 

There are many scenarios like this played out everyday. The lure of easy, untraceable cash is made easier knowing that it came from drug sales and not someone’s hard earned wages. For the less scrupulous, the opportunities are everywhere and being in a position that deals with drug money can lead to huge personal rewards. Face it, it’s only drug money ... and there’s a lot of it. 

The illicit drug industry is the second largest industry on earth apart from military and weapons spending. Estimated at between $300 - $400 billion dollars annually, it’s a criminal’s dream come true. Many, many willing clients with a daily need, large profit margins, easy to produce goods and of course, enough money to grease the palms of those who might stand in your way. 

The estimated profit margin for heroin from the poppy fields of Afghanistan to the end user is 17,000% Plenty of room to pay off officials and law enforcement along the way. 

Mexico is one of the great examples of how deep corruption can go and the damage at the end of it all. With nearly 3000 drug gang related deaths (many civilians) and 40,000 soldiers fighting the drug cartels, corruption is the oil keeping the wheels turning. Last month, Mexico devised an emergency plan to combat the wave of violence caused by drug cartels. Apart from providing security forces with more powerful weapons, special prisons for kidnappers and new tactics to combat money laundering and drug trafficking, the number one point was sacking corrupt police officers. 

One issue we need to keep reminding ourselves of is that huge profits made from illicit drugs is a recent happening. Prior to 1968, there was no DEA in the US but the Federal Bureau of Narcotics that never had more than 17 members of staff. The ever expanding influence of the US on demonising drug use rapidly pushed up the price of illicit drugs worldwide, creating this made man problem. The DEA now has about 10,800 staff and is part of the $69 billion dollars spent annually by the US in the quest to stop drug use. 

Corruption is a nasty side effect of creating this artificial multi-billion dollar industry and will never go away until the profit incentive is removed. I have seen police corruption first hand. I have witnessed several times, police taking cash from small time user/dealers. People I know have been pulled over in the street, searched and had money from their wallets taken with no paper work or official record. It’s part of the game on the streets ... some police are corrupt and they are the ones to avoid at all costs. They are the ones who will hound you even after your days as a drug user are over. Yes, I have notified the appropriate authorities on several occasions and have made official complaints. Like many who have had contact with corrupt police, you know there’s enough money to make your complaint go away. It’s just the rules of the game.

Drugs worth millions go missing from police 
John Silvester 
September 2008 

THE Victorian Ombudsman is investigating claims that seized drugs worth millions of dollars are missing from the police forensic science laboratory.

An internal police audit has found drugs listed as destroyed years ago have been kept, and chemicals that should have been stored are missing.

The failure to maintain stringent chain of evidence standards has the potential to have an impact on several coming trials.

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Potentially volatile chemicals, seized from drug raids over several years, are stored in a separate brick building at the rear of the Macleod laboratory and have not been subjected to the usual exhibit management standards.

Senior police have admitted privately they are unable to say whether the missing drugs have been destroyed, are lost or were stolen. A full audit would require checking thousands of computer page entries against lists of drugs and chemicals meant to have been destroyed.

"The truth is we will never know. Many cases go back years and it is impossible to find out what really happened in each case," one senior policeman said.

The now disbanded Ceja corruption taskforce investigated claims that seized drugs were recycled by the former drug squad and either sold or given to informers as a reward for information. One former Ceja investigator said there were suspicions at the time that some seized drugs were not destroyed as required by law.

Two previous police audits of the forensic unit have left the problem unresolved.

The Ombudsman - rather than the Office of Police Integrity - is overseeing the investigation because it involves unsworn scientific and administrative staff rather than sworn police. Police sources said that despite several warnings in recent years that the audit, storage and maintenance of seized drugs was inadequate, there have been no substantial improvements.

The Ombudsman's investigation began after it received information from within the police force that there was a serious problem with the handling and storage of drugs in the Macleod facility.

Ombudsman investigators have taken the allegations seriously enough to register a person within the police department with vital information as a protected internal source.

Police have twice received information relating to plans by organised crime figures and corrupt police to infiltrate the secure forensic science drugs unit.

In 1991 police discovered that 10 kilograms of an amphetamine chemical had been switched with red tile grout after it had been seized by police. Later police found that drug squad detective Kevin Hicks organised several burglaries on the Attwood police storage area to allow criminals to steal back seized chemicals.

Hicks was later sentenced to a minimum of five years' jail after pleading guilty to theft, bribery and burglary charges.

A spokeswoman for the Ombudsman's Office refused to comment. "We cannot provide any information at all," she said.

Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon's spokesman said: "As this is a whistleblower matter we will not be making any further comment."

Judges and magistrates have repeatedly criticised the delays in obtaining drug analysis reports, but police say this is due to chronic understaffing in the specialist scientific unit.

Police are conducting a separate inquiry into DNA procedures after a murder case collapsed last month.

Deputy Commissioner Simon Overland said the inquiry would review 7000 DNA cases after a sample resulting in a man being charged over the murders of mother and daughter Margaret and Seana Tapp in 1984, was found to be tainted.

The charges against the man were dropped when it was discovered the DNA evidence was worthless.

The unit also came under fire from police, lawyers and the judiciary at the height of the Purana gangland prosecutions because of delays of up to 12 months in obtaining drug test results.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Drug Users - Good or Bad People?

It's Time To Get Rid of the Good-People-vs.-Bad-People View of Drug Use By Maggie Mahar and Niko Karvounis Health Beat June 2008 When discussing treatments for drug addiction, instead of arguing about ideology, let's look at science. In 1986, Nancy Reagan made it clear that there is "no moral middle ground" when it comes to drug use. You either don't take drugs, which means you are a "good" person, or you do take drugs, which means you are a "bad" person." The Reagan-era outlook on drug addiction has dominated our political culture for nearly three decades, though not without sharp criticism. In March, for instance, the writers of "The Wire," the critically acclaimed HBO series that brought the realpolitik of Baltimore's war on drugs to the small screen, made it clear what they thought of the Reagan approach: "What once began, perhaps, as a battle against dangerous substances, long ago transformed itself into a venal war on our underclass. Since declaring war on drugs nearly 40 years ago, we've been demonizing our most desperate citizens, isolating and incarcerating them and otherwise denying them a role in the American collective. All to no purpose. The prison population doubles and doubles again; the drugs remain." They're right -- we are not winning the war on drugs. But the question remains: What should we do now? Those who view illicit drug use as willful behavior believe that we have no choice but to jail those who choose to continue committing crimes. Others who argue that drug addiction is a disease that weakens the addict's ability to choose argue that rather than stigmatizing the addict and punishing him, we must find new ways to "treat" the patient. One could argue about who is right. But rather than engaging in yet another political argument about personal responsibility vs. society's responsibility to help its poorest citizens, it might be helpful to take a look at what medical science has been learning about drug addiction over the past few decades. Addiction Treatment: Science and Policy for the Twenty-First Century (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) does just that, and in the process "highlights the amazing discord between scientific knowledge and public perception," according to a review by Stanford University's Dr. Alex Macario in the June 4 issue of JAMA. In this collection of short, incisive essays, the authors don't always agree on specifics, but they do reach a consensus of sorts: The scientific community needs to educate the public about drug addiction -- and our approach to treatment should be based on medical evidence rather than personal ideology. Today, medical technology allows scientists to observe firsthand what happens inside the brain when it is, in the words of William R. Miller, a psychiatrist at the University of New Mexico, "hijacked by drugs." Thanks to brain imaging, for example, we know that regular drug use disrupts the frontal cortex, which regulates cognitive activities like decision-making, planning and memory. In other words, drugs affect an individual's capacity to make the choices that the Reaganites insist addicts should be able to make (Just Say No!). Undoubtedly the drug user could have said "no" the very first time he or she let desire override good judgment. But after that, Miller notes, "neuroadaptation involves biological changes in response to drug use that increase the likelihood of repetition and escalation, undermining the person's capacity for volitional control." Recent studies have even shown that drug addiction changes our brains at the genetic level, influencing how our DNA is translated into enzymes and proteins. As a result of this new information, experts are increasingly incorporating the recognition that addiction is, in part, a "brain disease" into their treatment recommendations. This perspective has even made headway in the halls of power. Last year Congress introduced the Recognizing Addiction as a Disease Act, which would institutionalize the disease model by changing the name of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to the National Institute on Diseases of Addiction and change the name of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to the National Institute on Alcohol Disorders and Health. The text of the act embraces the disease model, noting that "the pejorative term 'abuse' used in connection with diseases of addiction has the adverse effect of increasing social stigma and personal shame, both of which are so often barriers to an individual's decision to seek treatment." This statement reflects the logic of Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who notes in his contribution to Addiction Treatment that "addiction is ... at its core a brain disease," and that consequently, "addicts cannot simply will themselves to stop using drugs" because they are "in an altered brain state." If addiction is a disease, then addicts are patients -- and they need treatment, just as a cancer patient may need chemotherapy. Yet putting too much emphasis on the "brain disease" model risks oversimplifying the issue. Addiction is not simply biological; it is psychological. There are treatments that work for some patients that involve behavior modification and decision-making. Consider a promising strategy known as "contingency management," which provides rewards for reduced drug use. In these treatments, patients leave multiple urine samples with researchers over the course of a week and receive rewards -- like vouchers that can be traded in for goods like clothing and theater tickets -- for each specimen that tests negative for drugs. Or consider the successes of drug courts, community-based courts where drug offenders are sentenced to treatment and supervision programs. These programs, like contingency management, offer tantalizing rewards, like the reduction of prison sentences, for adherence to treatment, and the guarantee of punishment (jail time) if a patient fails. Studies show that drug courts are effective. Only 4 percent to 29 percent of drug court graduates relapse, compared to a whopping 48 percent recidivism rate among other users. Here we see the limits of thinking about drug addiction only as a disease -- that is, as an entirely biological condition. As Sally Satel, a physician at the American Enterprise Institute, notes in her contribution to Addiction Treatment, the fact that incentives can change drug behavior shows that there's more here than simply a biological problem. "Imagine bribing a cancer patient," she muses, "to keep her tumor from mestasizing or threatening her with jail if her tumor spread." Crude though this statement may be, Satel has a point: You can't really reason with disease -- yet it seems that sometimes you can reason with addiction. In the preface to Addiction Treatment, the authors note: "When treating most medical conditions, health professionals will explore several treatment options with the patient to determine which is acceptable and effective, whereas with addiction treatment a person is typically offered a single option in a one-size-fits-all" approach that fails many. Why do we offer the addict so few options? There's little doubt that our inflexibility is tied up with the fact that society has stigmatized not just addiction, but the addict himself. "Historically, people have disdained addicts because they thought addicts 'did it to themselves' and could just quit if they really wanted to," notes Leshner in his chapter, "Advancing the Science Base for the Treatment of Addiction." As a result, we haven't been terribly generous in the treatments we offer addicts, even when we have clear medical evidence of what needs to be done. For example, "it has been established that psychosocial interventions alone do not work well for the majority of opioid-dependent individuals," points out Dr. H. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Most need medication in the form of a methadone maintenance program. Yet as Mark W. Parrino, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence, points out in a later essay, "the stigma that surrounds heroin addiction has interfered with providing access to care both for the general public and for incarcerated" addicts. In a study that surveyed how correction staff in a large Southwestern jail felt about methadone maintenance therapy for heroin addiction, researchers found "negative attitudes ... that appear to be related to negative judgments about the clients the program serves. The survey results indicate that people don't object to methadone treatment per se, but they object to drug users in general, and heroin users in particular, getting any kind of treatment that might ... condone their behavior. An unexpected finding was that the older jail staff was much more sympathetic to methadone maintenance treatment than the younger staff." This may be because older staff came of age at a time when we were beginning to realize that alcoholism and other drug dependencies were diseases -- and not simply signs of a lack of character. Meanwhile, younger staff grew up in the post-Reagan era, when much of the public was led to believe that addiction is a moral crime that should be punished. Yet, as Parrino notes, "the Rikers Island KEEP (Key Extended Entry Program) program has demonstrated that providing access to methadone treatment for inmates is extremely cost-effective." And for heroin addicts who are not in jail, "Methadone/buprenorphine treatment is a low-cost medical intervention. In most outpatient programs, the cost for providing access to this treatment generally amounts to $5,000 per patient per year. This is much lower than the roughly $22,000 per inmate per year cost of incarceration, especially in view of the fact that a large number of methadone patients pay for their own treatment." But this does not mean that we want to simply "maintain" the heroin addict with methadone, and leave him or her on that lonely plateau. With proper incentives, counseling and reinforcement, addicts can still make choices. Like other patients, they need to be drawn into the treatment process, where they can share in decision-making. Much of 21st century addiction research focuses on understanding the fundamentals of motivation. In Addiction Treatment, the University of London's Robert West offers the PRIME model, a compelling framework for understanding what drives us. According to West, responses ("R") exist at the most basic level of the human motivation. These are basic actions, like starting or stopping an activity. At the next level are our impulses ("I"), which are catalysts for specific action (i.e. hunger impels us to eat). These impulses bridge our actions to higher-order mental states, like motives ("M"), our conscious desire for specific things, and evaluations ("E"), moral perspective on how the world works. At the most complex level lie our plans ("P"), which refers to how we think about and plan for the future. This model does a good job of linking various dimensions of motivation. And in a PRIME treatment, says West, "both medication and psychological techniques should be considered." Patients could be given drugs that help regulate their impulses or reduce the discomfort associated with quitting cold turkey, while psychological techniques can be used to restructure motivations, future plans and habits. PRIME gives you a real sense of how mind and body interact to trap the addict. As Maxine Stitzer, a professor at Johns Hopkins, suggests in her essay, drug addiction should not be thought of as either a choice or as a brain disease, but rather as a "chronic relapsing disorder." This is certainly true for some, if not all addictions. Again, there is no "one-size-fits-all" model or treatment for a disease that we are only beginning to understand. Finally, while "society at large may consider injury from addiction to be the 'just desserts' of drug abuse, this perspective is not shared by those responsible for the public health," observes Dr. Curtis Wright. "From a public health perspective, the path forward is to recognize that these disorders are a major health problem." Yet, "for whatever reason," he writes, today, "there are few physicians or medical institutions to speak to the need for addiction treatment. Many of the clinical experts and clinical researchers in this area were trained almost 40 years ago, and relatively few physicians are currently entering the field." Most likely, the Reagan-era notion that drug use is a moral problem discouraged many who might otherwise have seen it as a medical problem well worth exploring. Meanwhile, Wright reports, "the lack of strong physician advocates has been one of the factors leading to why the FDA treats these disorders as lower-priority illnesses than many other diseases." This is yet another area that the next FDA commissioner might want to investigate. We are very hopeful that 2009 will mark a rebirth of an agency that plays a major role in setting priorities for the nation's health.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Why Is Abstinence Not Possible For Some

The realisation that 'will power' alone may not help someone beat certain addictions might have changed the medical world but for the general public, it’s a different story. I read daily about ‘weak’ junkies who use methadone as a crutch or even selfish addicts who aren’t really serious about quitting because they keep relapsing. Then of course there’s that common argument, “if so & so did it then anyone can” and my favourite ... kicking heroin is easier than quitting smoking. Wow. Dr. Robert Newman is one of the great commentators on opiate addiction and his article below might shed some light on why some addicts can’t just quit on cue.

Why Is Abstinence Not Possible For Some Dr. Robert Newman Opiate Addiction
Dole and Nyswander speculated that when people become addicted to heroin there is a physical change in their systems that may or may not be reversed with abstinence, and to the extent it isn't, it could explain the tendency to relapse after abstinence is achieved. Without question, long-time abstinence after dependence on morphine still leaves lab animals "different" - they develop tolerance vastly more quickly than opiate-naive animals though God only knows why or how (same difference in development of tolerance applies to humans, by the way). The other possibility they put forth was that some people are genetically, physiologically, predisposed to react differently to heroin when exposed than are the majority. We know virtually everyone drinks, but only some 15% or so go on to become progressive, self-destructive alcoholics. About the same proportion was found for Vietnam GIs coming homne after having used huge amounts of very pure heroin for a year or more - about 85% promptly quit upon returning to US and the remaining 15% were quickly indistingishable from addicts whose drug experience was entirely domestic. How did the 15% differ from the 85%? To this day no one has the answer. Many folks dismissed their hypothesis and I remember a very highly respected leader in the field (maybe the MOST respected leader) at a conference pointing to enforced abstinence in a prison setting, for instance, and the total inability to detect any abnormality among inmates who had been using heroin for years and then were incarcerated. But Dole and Nyswander stuck to their guns. And then, when endorphins were discovered, their hypothesis suddenly made great sense. Endorphins are formed by a hormone system, and we know that every hormone system gets screwed up (a non-scientific description, but it'll do) if one introduces from outside a substance that is essentially the same as the hormone. Take steroids long enough and it can be sheer hell to be weaned off them - and some people never can be. Same with thyroid hormone - or any other. So it makes absolutely perfect sense that taking into the body something akin in all respects to endorphins will screw up the endorphin system - maybe forever, maybe for a while, maybe a great deal in some people and hardly at all in others. Alas, no one has been able to identify - YET - just what that abnormality is and how it can be measured. But the bottom line: it don't make any difference. The fact is that most people who are addicted to heroin can't achieve and maintain abstinence - can't or won't, makes no difference. They will keep using dope and risk their own health and lives and harm others. That's the reality and wishing it were different doesn't help. And then there's methadone, which enables many (not all) people to lead productive, satisfying, reasonably healthy lives and dramatically lessens the danger of dying. So what's not to like? Beats the hell out of me. I've never understood it, and my experience with nicotine patches makes me even more amazed that so many people detest methadone treatment - I smoked 45 years, never went a day without smoking, hated it for decades and would have given anything to be able to quit. And finally with the patch for 2 years I cut down to about 5 a day and then quit. What kind of idiot would say: yeah, but what proves you needed the patch? And then go on, "I have an uncle whose maid quite smoking without anything" - as if that makes the slightest difference.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

A Day in the Life ...

There has been some interesting feedback about the Who Is April Morrison article. For those who don’t know, April Morrison is a secondary school teacher and a functioning heroin addict. After reading the article, David contacted me, telling a similar story about himself and his partner that also challenges the stereotype image of junkies. David and his girlfriend are I.T. professionals and heroin addicts but not necessarily in that order. Between them, they have a double degree, 2 diplomas including one advanced and a swag of highly regarded industry certificates. They both work for large multinational companies and have senior positions. This does not sound like the kind of desperate, dangerous junkie that I hear about so often in the nations media. This is a day in the life of David in his own words.

You can say I’m some what of a "normal" person, I have family, a job, live with my girlfriend and do some part time study in my free time. I keep myself semi-active on weekends enjoying a game of basketball or badminton with mates. 
However, there is one thing about me that I dare not advertise to the faint hearted. ... I’m an heroin addict. 
I am currently 26 years of age and have been working in the I.T. industry for the last 9-10 years building my career. You can say that I look totally "normal". My arms don’t have track marks, I don’t have a face full of zits and I wear a suit on a daily basis. I spend most of my day working for a multimillion dollar I.T. firm that is known worldwide, my job is tough ... but my secret life I hide from others is a whole lot tougher. 
7:00AM Monday morning, my alarm goes off. As I struggle to pry my eyes open I need to get ready and dressed for work. Instead of heading straight to the bathroom, I instead roll over to my night stand and pull out my "kit". Yawning constantly from withdrawal symptoms I go ahead and prepare a shot of heroin. The shot is ready, I inject the solution into my body .... instant relief ... warm tingles and a sense of well being. I am ready to tackle my day head on. I sit there for 10 minutes, enjoying a cigarette. After 15 minutes of psyching myself up I head to the bathroom for my morning shower. 
When I get into the office, a pile of work is sitting there waiting for me in my inbox. My day has truly begun. As lunch time arrives, my mobile rings with Joe displayed on the caller ID. "G'day mate, can we meet up?" Joe says. "Yep sweet, how long", I reply. Joe is a long time acquaintance of mine and we have known each other for a good 5 years or so. You can say we are friends but there is another reason he wants to meet up with me. No, we are not meeting up to have lunch together ... he too is a heroin addict. I head down stairs and out to meet up with Joe. A few minutes of chit chat and he then hands me some money. I, in turn hand him a small package I had prepared earlier that morning for him. I am as cautious as possible and look around to make sure no one from work sees me. Joe himself is a working man, with a wife, 2 kids and a mortgage. Sometimes I feel like he sees me more than he sees his own wife, but such is life for an addict. I may possibly meet up with 1 or 2 other people before I head back to the office. Same deal here as with Joe. Im not meeting these people for lunch but to give them their daily medicine. I head back up stairs to the office to have lunch. By this time my stomach is churning and groaning. The funny thing is I’m not hungry or have an appetite. I need another fix before I can even think of putting food into my mouth. I quickly grab my "kit" and innocently head to the toilet. Mulled up and prepared, I have my shot. Instant satisfaction ... man I’m hungry and could do with some lunch now. I am in board meetings most of the day. As I sit there listening to someone blab on, stroking their own ego about how much of a good job they have done, my mind drifts. I wouldn’t mind a hit right now, I ponder. As I look around the room, I wonder... what if these people know about my secret? If I told them would they understand? Would I still have a job if I told them I just shot up half a gram in the toilets before lunch? I think not! I know for a fact I would be out on my arse and jobless. 
Being a Gemini, I should be able to easily keep up with this escapade of hiding my other self. To be honest, hiding my secret seems like a full time job in itself. Its not easy putting on a smile or concentrating on a large project when hanging out ... withdrawal symptoms suck. To maintain a normal life, I have to deal. I’m not a big time dealer, but I make enough for our personal use. I put myself in a position where I do not spend a single dollar of my hard earned legitimate salary. Unfortunately though, an addicts life never quite works out to be how you want it to be and half my salary at least is spent on gear each week. As the clock ticks by my work day is coming to an end. I finish up my workload so I don’t have much to do the next morning. I then head home. 
I cook up dinner with my partner, sit down on the couch and watch TV or a movie. With dinner finished, I clean up the dishes and head straight to my room to see Lady H one last time for the night. I prepare, shoot and head back outside to continue to the movie or play some games. As I start to get worn down, I get ready to turn in for the night and hit the sack. Ahhh thank god Monday is over, I wonder what tomorrow will have in store for me? 
I had been chasing the dragon for 8 years and started injecting H for the last year and a half. I use to be scared and against needles, having so many friends die from overdoses or seeing so many of them getting locked up for crime to finance their habits. I actually despise those that steal from family and friends for heroin, or anyone that steals at all. I can proudly hold up my head and say that I have never once tricked, lied or stole for my drugs, I was raised by great parents which taught me to work hard from an early age and do not act deceitfully towards anyone. I believe in karma. 
Over the years, I have developed depression and anxiety. These days my anxiety has been getting quite bad so I have pushed my ego aside and I am currently seeing a psychiatrist. I have a lot of issues that I need to deal with and I know that it would be a good idea for me to quit. I have detoxed a total of 27 times over the years with each detox harder than the previous one. I haven’t given up but for now I have just come to accept that I am an addict and will not quit until I am truly ready to ... someday. 

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Decriminalisation Pushes On

Should someone who has a small quantity of marijuana be open to the threat of jail? What about the tens of thousands of people who go to night clubs every week and take ecstasy? These drugs are much less harmful than alcohol yet drinking dangerous levels of rocket fuel is legal which often results in violence, accidents and self inflicted harm. One of the sad facts of living under drug prohibition is the many laws that penalise the small time recreational drug user or addict. Some countries like the USA can ruin your life for simply possessing less than a gram of cannabis e.g. half a joint.
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." -Kerry Wolf. ARMMAT - Texas
Although the US has the highest drug use in the world, it also has some of the harshest drug laws. Drug screening for potential employees is common place and there is drug testing in some schools. The US government and some states take a strong stance on drug users and often impose an extra burden to an already difficult transition back into society. Once you have a drug record, you may permanently lose some government issued services like student loans, welfare and even the right to vote.
So many times I have seen the women I was incarcerated with lose custody of their kids or get re-incarcerated simply because they could not meet the requirements of probation fast enough, such as getting a job that pays enough money for you to supply yourself with housing suitable for you and several kids, (and no sharing bedrooms for kids of opposite genders or with the parent, so you may well need several bedrooms), plenty of food, clothing, pay all your bills, pay your probation fees and fines, any class fees you are obligated to take, and much more, and you cannot get food stamps or housing assistance, because you might spend it on DRUGS, and if you want to go back to school to better yourself, again, sorry--no student loans for druggies (this varies by state--some states opt out). It just makes it almost impossible for these folks to get back on their feet. -Kerry Wolf. ARMMAT - Texas
Strategies like mandatory sentencing and the 3 strikes rule were supposed to deal with career criminals but instead have plagued the countries and states that have implemented them, especially the US. The US has almost 50% of all people on parole or in prison on drugs charges with nearly one in eight prisoners in jail for marijuana related offences. Prisons are big business for the Americans with 1 in 32 of their citizens in jail, on probation or on parole and 1 in 100 actually in prison. Per capita, they have more prisoners than any other nation on earth including China and Iran. Many countries are now trying to minimise the damage that current laws inflict on recreational users by decriminalising small quantities for personal use. The burden of processing minor drug charges like cannabis possession also has many law officers supportive of decriminalisation. Recently, Argentinan, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner repeated her call to decriminalise personal drug use and instead crack down on traffickers and dealers.
I don't like it when people easily condemn someone who has an addiction as if he were a criminal, as if he were a person who should be persecuted -Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner - President of Argentina
Two years ago, the Mexican President Vicente Fox proposed decriminalising drug possession but was forced to back down by the Bush administration. Brazil and Colombia have already decriminalised drugs for personal use and it is a growing trend in Latin America. Though many European countries have already decriminalised drugs for personal use, new, more liberal laws and attitudes are starting to take shape. Recently, Austria has effectively removed the limits on personal use for drugs by totally separating trafficking and using. Although cannabis possession is still not legal but decriminalised in Austria, a man was put on 2 years probation for having 10Kg of cannabis leaves because the judge was convinced he never intended to sell it. One of the problems with decriminalisation is of course, the elephant. That elephant in the room called the drug dealer who is needed to get your drugs. But by using some European ingenuity and a close look at the law, the pot club was born. The first association of cannabis growers was created in Belgium which took drug dealing for money out of the equation. The members combine their efforts to either take turns at growing or having one large crop that has the total maximum allowed per person. A case in Spain was recently tested in court and given the judges nod for 66 members of a Spanish pot club.
Cannabis Clubs in Spain Legal - Belgium Forms 1st Club Recently Canna Zine 18 August 2008 Recently several charitable "cannabis clubs" were founded in Spain. The lawfulness of which are now confirmed, and sanctioned by courts in Catalonia and the Basque region. People join the cannabis clubs to grow cannabis together and distribute it to members of the club at cost price. Only members have access to the growing rooms and the cannabis. In Spain trade with cannabis is prohibited, but possession for personal use is legal. Its a European Dis-Union so far as cannabis is concerned. In Spain you may grow your own supply thus keeping you away from those nast drug-dealing types, but doing the same thing in the UK is liable to see you convicted on a 5 stretch. So what exactly is the point of Europe? A court in Bilbao, the biggest city of the Basque region, cleared four defendants of a cannabis club with 66 members from the prosecution of illegal cultivation of 150 kg of cannabis (fresh whole plants that resulted in 17.4 kg dried cannabis). 39 members use cannabis for medical purposes. ENCOD (European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies) , a European organisation for the change of the drug laws regards the Spanish cannabis clubs as a model for other countries. Recently the first association of cannabis growers was created in Belgium. As in Spain the possession of cannabis for personal use in Belgium, is legal. Isn't it about time your government acted out a similar law change?
While some countries consider the well being and rights of their citizens as important, others do not. Recently in the UK, the Brown government upgraded cannabis to a class B drug, up from class C, increasing the penalties for minor cannabis possession from a verbal warning to a maximum of five years in prison. Even though cannabis use dropped while being a lesser class C drug, politics again won out over evidence and facts. But did it win? Those in the front lines away from the leather chairs and back room deals of the so called leaders, had different ideas. The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) declared that they would not be changing their tactics and cannabis for personal use would remain a low priority.
Police will not adopt a tougher approach to cases of simple possession of cannabis when ministers upgrade the legal status of the drug to class B, the Guardian can disclose.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) confirmed last night that the current policy of "confiscate and warn" would continue, despite Gordon Brown's determination to reclassify the drug in an attempt to "send a tough message" to young people about its use -Guardian News. U.K.
Australia is another country that is turning the clock back against world trends. Although several Australian states had made progress by decriminalising cannabis, some politicians are trying to revert back to the well worn out path of zero tolerance on all users. It’s a damn shame that politicians and moral crusaders will selfishly sacrifice the futures and careers of our youth for personal gain. With the recent admission to smoking cannabis from several Australian politicians, one has to wonder if it is a matter of what’s good for us is not good for you.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Who Is April Morrison?

Last year one of my neighbours told me she was so happy that we don't get any "junkies" in this neighbourhood. When I asked her how she knew this she this she said we would know if they did because they would break into our houses and leave "AIDS infected needles" laying around. I tried to tell her that was a stereotyped view but she told me I was being unrealistic and would know better if i knew any junkies.
-April Morrison

Each morning, secondary school teacher, Aril Morrison gets up early for work. She showers, has breakfast, pats her cat good-bye and heads off for another day at a job she loves. April has been a school teacher for many years and is well respected by her peers.
I get a lot of positive feedback and praise from parents, staff and students for being a dedicated teacher who the young people respect. People often tell me that my job must be difficult because adolescence is a difficult age group, but I really don't find it to be that much of a challenge. All of my appraisals have been extremely positive. A few years ago I was also made a year level coordinator.
April lives in one of the better parts of a large regional city in NSW with good neighbours and close to the city centre. Although single at the moment, April has recently separated from her fiancé after a relationship of nearly 10 years. Her ability to have children is fading with time which was an issue of contention with her ex fiancé but for April, getting married and having children is not a priority.
I'm not sure I believe in marriage. I think it is too religious based and this is evident by the current refusal to let same-sex couples get married. I am reaching an age where I may miss out on having children if I do not do it soon, but I am ok with that. It may be a decision that I regret later on in my life but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. I have thought about adopting or fostering a child. There are many children out there who already need a home to live in, but my former partner was only interested in having his own children. I am not bitter about the breakup and I still have a lot of respect for him.
April is a contributing member of her community with the same concerns and worries as anyone else. She is polite, caring and humble, a hard productive worker, a tax payer with has no mishaps with the law, is an important part of a caring family and a role model for her students ... in fact she is probably a good role model for all of us.
Really, I am just a normal person, and I do also see myself as being a good person. I care about the world, I care about doing a good job and being a positive role model for my students, and I care about my friends, family and pet cat.
But something is different about April. After a hard day’s work, she doesn’t head straight home, she heads the opposite way to a neighbourhood that is not so good. April is going to her drug dealer to purchase heroin. Why would April purchase heroin? Because, April is a heroin addict. For over 10 years now, April has had to rely on heroin to maintain a balance in her world, our world. April Morrison might be your next door neighbour, work colleague or friend. You would have no idea that April was dependant on heroin and you probably never will. Her fiancé was one of the few who did know and although not a drug user himself, he accepted her decision before they committed to a relationship.
My partner and I had been in a relationship for nearly ten years and he struggled to accept how my use impacted on our financial situation. We definitely didn't struggle, but he made much more money than I and was unhappy with me spending my money on heroin. He did not use any substances besides the occasional beer, cigarette or puff on a joint. He knew that I used before we started the relationship but he grew less and less tolerant of it as time went on. I admit that I did hide it a lot to avoid arguments, but this approach was not very successful. When you have lived with someone for seven years they are able to read your body language quite easily. The pinged eyes are a complete giveaway. Another issue for us was that I did not want to have children while I continued to use heroin.
April might also be your local school teacher in charge of your children’s education. Even as you read this, your child may be looking up to their teacher, Ms Morrison, asking for her help on some school related issue. Do you feel uncomfortable knowing a heroin addict is teaching your children? I know most of the answers already. STOP. Why do you think a heroin addict shouldn’t be teaching your teenage children? Do you really have an informed opinion? Do you really know what a heroin addict is? Let me explain. Heroin is simply an opiate, derived from morphine. Millions of people are taking morphine based drugs daily. Teachers in NSW, politicians in Canada, judges in the US, pharmacists in Adelaide, priests in Italy, police officers in Canberra, Aboriginal elders in the NT, prosecutors in Britain, factory workers in Brazil, particles physicists in Germany, editors in Singapore, car salespeople in the Ukraine, grandmothers in Israel, health care directors in Paris, road crossing monitors in Greece, prison wardens in New Zealand and digital typographers in South Africa. Morphine is addictive and many people using morphine form a dependancy. Whilst morphine is the gold standard of pain medication, heroin was withdrawn from use in many countries after the US ruled it a drug with no medicinal value. The US has since waged a war on heroin via the UN which many countries feel obliged to follow. Heroin though, is still used in quite a few countries for medicinal purposes including addiction treatment. In their crusade to demonise heroin, the US led the way with propaganda campaigns and the spread of misinformation which has become the normal practice for other countries. The image of heroin junkies shooting up with dirty spoons and needles in rat infested hovels is the image put forward by governments for over 30 years leading to several generations believing this fallacy because that is what they have been told. In reality, heroin is just another opiate. Yes it’s more addictive and gives an instant effect when injected or smoked but after a few minutes, it’s like any other morphine based drug. In fact, the chemical structure of heroin just allows the morphine to cross the blood-brain barrier quickly and the end result is the morphine itself. The real problem with heroin addiction is current drug policy outlawing drug use that makes heroin expensive but someone working and on a methadone program can avoid the stereotypical image of a homeless, sickly looking junkie. They can pay for the drug and avoid most of the problems caused by having to fund their habit illegally. Heroin is basically non toxic with virtually no side effects except constipation. It’s the same as taking legally prescribed opioid medications. You have to ask yourself, would you even be worried if your child’s teacher was on medication for pain due to an accident? Of course not so really, what is the difference? The difference is perception. The perception that has slyly been drilled into us by government scare campaigns and a drug hysterical media that feeds that perception. Each morning, April visits a small pharmacy on her way to work to receive her methadone. This keeps her stable during the day and enables her to work without suffering withdrawal symptoms. Living in a small city increases the chances of being seen receiving treatment for addiction so April has to be very careful. She would love to tell her family, friends and co workers but experience has taught her otherwise. Also accessing clean needles is a problem where chemists don’t have the same mentality as in a large city. April instead goes to the needle exchange where they understand the realities of addiction. This simple task is also a risk if someone she knows recognises her.
My family do not know about my dependency. I don't want to risk losing them by telling them. When I started using heroin on a regular basis I did lose some friends who I thought would be more understanding and would stick by me. I was essentially the same, but I guess some people saw me as being less of a person. This hurt me a lot.
Being a heroin addict is not easy and certainly not glamourous. Why do people do it? Why not just go to rehab? This may seem a logical question but if you think of the numbers of drug addicts over the years and how millions of them have tried and relapsed, it is no longer a simple question. Firstly, if it was that easy then there would be no problem with long term drug addiction. Secondly, it is not a black and white situation as portrayed by the MSM and anti-drug groups. If we listened to gooseberries like Bronwyn Bishop or Piers Akerhead then you are already a “bad person” because you didn’t “Just Say No”. If you, being a bad person can’t be strong willed enough to pop down the corner and do a quick detox or rehab then you’re a nasty, dirty junkie who needs jail. Research shows us that long term drug addiction is a physical problem and will power has very little to do with it. It is often compared to diabetes where the body doesn’t produce the right chemicals to live a normal life and the patient needs a natural replacement. For diabetics, that is insulin, for heroin addicts that is opiates. What most people probably don’t realise is that drug addiction is a chronic reoccurring disorder and far more complex than a newspaper can explain amongst all the sensationalist hype needed to attract readers.
Addiction to drugs is a chronic medical illness. It is caused by a complex interplay of biological and environmental factors. Studies have implicated several genes in predisposing individuals to drug abuse and addiction.
-Medical Assisted Treatment of America

The general view of drug addiction as a social problem stems back to the US where most of the world’s drug perceptions are based.
Prior to the later 20th century, the general viewpoint of addiction, and particularly for opioid addiction, was that of a social and moral problem rather than a medical condition requiring treatment. The passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act (US) in the early part of the 20th century also tended to stigmatize those with an opioid addiction reinforcing the perception that these people were not only as social deviants, but also criminals whose behavior deserved punishment. Toward the latter part of the 20th century however, there was a growing change in the public's understanding and perception about addiction.Facilitating this change in public perception was the introduction of the medical model of addiction as a treatable condition that helped to bring about an increase in human rights laws.
-Medical Assisted Treatment of America

Why does April say of her heroin addiction?
I use most days and the days that I don't can be very difficult. I am on methadone and this helps. I don't just use simply to avoid physical discomfort. I'm not after any sympathy, but I do have a diagnosis of PTSD. I function very well in the sense that I am optimistic, usually happy and I hold down a full time job, but I have been through a bit of shit and sometimes that plays on my mind. I know I can only speak for myself, but I guess I am making this point because I don't think it is fair to say that people simply choose to use drugs. I didn't wake up one day and think to myself "the sun is shining outside and I have nothing to do. I think I might develop a heroin addiction". It is much more complicated than that. I admit that I dabbled in drugs prior to the traumatic incident, but it was only afterwards that I really developed a dependency. It was a way to get rid of pain when nothing else could (including counselling). It does frustrate me that I have to hide this part of me, but I do it out of fear of being judged. Even though I would still be the same person if I told people (not to mention that heroin use is only one part of my life and does not consume my entire identity), I know that people get hysterical about it. I have experienced that hysteria and have come off second best. I also want to say that I have never resorted to crime to pay for my habit. I have also never dealt. This is not to say that I judge people who do. I have been employed the entire time so my salary pays for it. I also used my savings.
All though April Morrison is not her real name, it is unimportant. What is important is that this lady could be anyone you know. Whether they have an addiction problem or not, they are human beings like you with the same needs especially understanding. The simplistic world of drug users that the MSM and others portray is usually not true and until we embrace drug addiction as a health issue, people like April will be forced into hiding. Prison is no replacement for hospital.

You can ask April questions if you like via the comments.