Tuesday, 28 April 2009

SHOCK!!! -Shock Ads Don’t Shock!

You have to acknowledge the Rudd government for 2 important health initiatives related to substance abuse. First was the future PM, Kevin Rudd, who on the verge of winning the upcoming election declared his government would implement evidence based policies. This seemed like a call to finally change Howard’s non scientific, moral centric anti-drug strategies that plagued a once progressive Australia. The second important health initiative was the focus on alcohol as the prime drug of abuse amongst Australians and a promise to tackle the issue with a long term strategy taking up to 20 years to achieve.
One of the reasons why governments like fear is that is the sort of advertising they do in a political context
-Professor Noel Turnbull - Communications Expert
The Libs hated the idea of targeting alcohol over illicit drugs and looking back over their policies, it becomes obvious. The obsession of conservatives and the Liberal Party with being “Tough on Drugs” is still on display as they often attack the government for overlooking illicit drugs and focussing too much on alcohol. The government held out until this month to finally run a significant anti-drug campaign but the $18 million media blitz is only a rehash of previously released advertisements from the Howard government’s “Tough on Drugs” strategy. So much for evidence based policies that Rudd promised and to hell with reality. The campaigns against alcohol and drug abuse are again, run of the mill, scare tactics that parents, the media and governments love so much but in reality have very little effect on the target audience. It makes you wonder who the target audience really is?
We're not going to solve social problems purely and simply by regulating them out of existence
-Professor Noel Turnbull - Communications Expert
The long term strategy to change Australia’s drinking culture is a brave and noble gesture which was rightfully applauded by health and welfare workers around the world. it certainly isn’t a vote winning exercie and requires a tough, dedicated government to ride the political and social backlash. The problem is that unless the government has the guts to follow result driven research, however uncomfortable it is and ditch the short term grabs at popularity via ineffective but popular policies then it will never achieve any changes in the real world. The public need to change their attitudes voluntarily through education and facts and no amount of regulation can change that. Like the new measures to determine what binge drinking is, unless it’s realistic and conceivable for the public, it will fall on deaf ears. Like forcing clubs to shut at certain times, unless the club goers want to stop drinking, they will simply drink in the streets, attend parties or go to underground raves. Like scary, worse case scenario advertising, unless it resembles real life, it will be written off as just more preaching from the fun police. Setting in motion, hard hitting, voter friendly strategies that feel good without hard evidence and common sense will only keep the cycle of ineffective policy going around in circles.
There are alternatives available which treat people as citizens capable of changing behaviour without draconian regulation and punitive taxation
-Professor Noel Turnbull - Communications Expert
With an ample supply of research and expert studies available, it is disappointing that the main resistance to apply evidence based policies, comes from politicians. I understand the game of politics is brutal and based on popularity but this still doesn’t help society find the right approach to alcohol and drug use. The incredible influence on politicians from big business like the alcohol industry and big pharma surprises no one but continues on without a serious challenge. The religious right and agenda driven moral groups keep the media in a frenzy that ultimately influences government policy. The media themselves with dwindling regulation on ownership gives way to the likes of Rupert Murdoch to dictate public sentiment under the guise of news. I’m sure none of this is new to you but the mere fact it continues to exist as part of our so called democracy gives even more reasons not to feel confident with government policies especially on moral issues like alcohol and drugs.
Christian Kerr who authored the article below, is a great writer/journalist and often highlights the reality hovering under the public’s perception. Is he telling us something by reporting twice in the last few days about the government’s shonky attempts to tackle alcohol abuse? Maybe he’s just doing what the media is supposed to be doing ... exposing the truth. A few more like Christian Kerr in the media would be handy.
Shock Alcohol Ads Don't Work - Expert
By Christian Kerr
The Australian
April 2009

SCARE campaigns designed to tackle problems such as alcohol abuse do not work, according to a prominent communications expert who is now a director of DrinkWise Australia. Noel Turnbull, adjunct professor in the School of Applied Communications at RMIT University, says young people "think they're immortal".

"They simply don't believe the risks are as great as other people say," he said.

Mr Turnbull is a former political press secretary and top PR man who has worked on social marketing campaigns for various governments.

Today, he will use a forum of DrinkWise, an education body funded by the federal Government and the liquor industry, to push for a longer-term approach to tackling alcohol abuse.

He will warn against approaches that "generate widespread community hostility and seek to control the bulk of moderate consumers of alcohol as if they were people with significant alcohol problems".

He points to the ridicule heaped on draft guidelines the National Health and Medical Research Council issued last year, which said that more than four standard drinks a day constituted a binge.

"There are alternatives available which treat people as citizens capable of changing behaviour without draconian regulation and punitive taxation," Mr Turnbull's presentation says.

He told The Australian politicians might have been misled by their own campaign advertisements.

"One of the reasons why governments like fear is that is the sort of advertising they do in a political context," he said.

"They've demonstrated that negative advertising works when it comes to elections and assume that it also works when it comes to other forms of behavioural change, but the evidence for that is not quite so strong."

Instead, Mr Turnbull believes using social marketing to change behaviour will work.
"We're not going to solve social problems purely and simply by regulating them out of existence," he said.

"We have to actually build social capital.

"It's no good telling people this is the wrong thing to do. Long-term solutions are about building social capital and people's own capacity to change."

Mr Turnbull says governments run "tough and confronting advertising" so they can appear "tough and decisive".

But he will cite research into a Howard government campaign on youth drinking that showed young people vomiting and falling about.

"A significant response was 'that's like the sort of, like, party, like I'd like to go to'," Mr Turnbull said.

He points to photographs of drunken parties young people post on Facebook.

"They chose to display these images of themselves and their friends," he said. "If this is their choice, it is difficult to imagine that they are going to be shocked or discouraged by the scenes in the government ads."

Mr Turnbull says changing consumption is unlikely to happen overnight. "Long-term generation change is the most productive way to go," he says.

Related Articles:

Drinkers to face a budget hangover
Under 20 warned off alcohol
The Real Surprise: Only 50 Percent Thought the Ads Exaggerated

Monday, 27 April 2009

Now We Have Proof - Decriminalising Drugs Works

UPDATE The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled. [read more...] -The Portuguese Experiment: Did Legalizing Drugs Work? - Time One of the main arguments against drug legalisation/decriminalisation is that drug use will explode and the planets will collide causing chaos on earth. The fact that most illicit drugs are already easily available should dump this theory on it’s head but there will always be uncertainty until it is tested. Adding to the debate was an interesting discovery where American teenagers said it was more difficult to buy alcohol and cigarettes than it was to obtain illegal drugs. The saturation of illicit drugs already in the market place is often overlooked by the doomsday crowd when it comes to the fear of increased use caused by legalisation or decriminalisation but conveniently reappears in other arguments. Common sense tells us that repeating the same current strategies expecting a different result is pointless and a new approach is warranted but until some country or state tests it, we can never really be sure. Portugal were fairly sure the planets would remain in their place when they decided in 2001 to implement a new policy of decriminalisation for small amounts of all drugs. With a rising drug problem, over flowing prisons and an increased demand on police resources, Portugal had grown frustrated that low level users were making up the bulk of drug arrests. The decision to decriminalise small amounts of drugs was a bold move and probably a necessary one if Portugal were serious about finding a better solution to their drug problem. That was over 8 years ago and now we have a detailed report on the results.
None of the fears promulgated by opponents of Portuguese decriminalization has come to fruition, whereas many of the benefits predicted by drug policymakers from instituting a decriminalization regime have been realized. While drug addiction, usage, and associated pathologies continue to skyrocket in many EU states, those problems—in virtually every relevant category—have been either contained or measurably improved within Portugal since 2001 -Glenn Greenwald
Some quick facts. Since Portugal decriminalised small amounts of drugs in 2001: •The number of users in Portugal has decreased in various age groups whilst it has increased in most EU states. •Rates of drug use in Portugal is lower than most EU states. Some EU states now have drug use rates that are double and triple that of Portugal •Opiate related deaths have more than halved in Portugal •Teen marijuana use in Portugal has nearly halved •Large increase in users seeking treatment Read an extract from the Glenn Greenwald’s whitepaper.
Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies by Glenn Greenwald Cato Institute EXTRACT Conclusion: None of the fears promulgated by opponents of Portuguese decriminalization has come to fruition, whereas many of the benefits predicted by drug policymakers from instituting a decriminalization regime have been realized. While drug addiction, usage, and associated pathologies continue to skyrocket in many EU states, those problems—in virtually every relevant category—have been either contained or measurably improved within Portugal since 2001. In certain key demographic segments, drug usage has decreased in absolute terms in the decriminalization framework, even as usage across the EU continues to increase, including in those states that continue to take the hardest line in criminalizing drug possession and usage. By freeing its citizens from the fear of prosecution and imprisonment for drug usage, Portugal has dramatically improved its ability to encourage drug addicts to avail themselves of treatment. The resources that were previously devoted to prosecuting and imprisoning drug addicts are now available to provide treatment programs to addicts. Those developments, along with Portugal’s shift to a harm-reduction approach, have dramatically improved drug- related social ills, including drug-caused mortalities and drug-related disease transmission. Ideally, treatment programs would be strictly voluntary, but Portugal’s program is certainly preferable to criminalization. The Portuguese have seen the benefits of decriminalization, and therefore there is no serious political push in Portugal to return to a criminalization framework. Drug policy makers in the Portuguese government are virtually unanimous in their belief that decriminalization has enabled a far more effective approach to managing Portugal’s addiction problems and other drug-related afflictions. Since the available data demonstrate that they are right, the Portuguese model ought to be carefully considered by policymakers around the world.
Related Articles: The success of drug decriminalization in Portugal More on the success of drug decriminalization in Portugal Portugal's drug decriminalization 'bizarrely underappreciated': Greenwald

Thursday, 23 April 2009

NSW Police Round Up Dangerous Criminals

The NSW police have been experiencing a PR nightmare recently but their latest escapade tops them all. In a woeful display of wasted resources, a Cheech and Chong show at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney’s Newtown was delayed as a team of 25 officers and 4 drug dogs screened the audience as they entered the foyer. The police were later seen at nearby pubs and the local railway station in search of more dangerous, middle aged pot smokers. In all, 6 people were found with small quantities of cannabis and were released without charge and instead were given a caution notice.

Whilst your head is exploding, I am still wondering what prompted the NSW police to conduct this useless drug raid when no one was charged. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit into the category of being ‘tough on crime’ because no one was arrested. It doesn’t help the public feel safer because the targets were mostly grandparents watching a comedy show in a theatre. It wasn’t sending any sort of “drugs are bad” message as the audience were way past the lecturing stage. Who knows what the incentive was? Interestingly, Tommy Chong’s wife, Shelby said it was the first time she had police with dogs in the audience at a gig. I know the NSW police might want some publicity but being singled out as the only police force to ever use drug sniffer dogs for a well known international act is embarrassing. It was a poor choice to target 40+ year olds (including many grandparents) for the crime of possessing personal amounts of cannabis. Most of the target ‘criminals’ would be older working people made up of senior public servants, school principles, executives, high ranking police officers, business owners etc. It’s reassuring the NSW police are keeping us safe from these dangerous criminals.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Trivial Dribble Trivialises Dribbling Trivial Dribbler

Nothing irks me more than reading articles by lying, myopic conservatives who write off drug addiction as a simple matter needing simple action (usually some sort of punishment). The claims that all addicts are just weak or selfish and they need prison time to ‘get them clean’ is always the underlying theme. Australia has Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Timmeh Blair leading the charge but they fade into insignificance when put up beside international meathead, Anthony Daniels, better known as Theodore Dalrymple. In Dalrymple's latest attack(below) on drug addicts, he down plays heroin withdrawals and calls the suffering involved as trivial.
Theodore Dalrymple is outraged by the mollycoddling of drug addicts coming off heroin and the notion that their predicament is a matter of human rights
-The Spectator
Dalrymple is a retired doctor and psychiatrist, author and writer for The Spectator and the City Journal, both ultra conservative UK publications. The later, is a magazine published by the Manhattan Institute, an infamous US think tank that praises everything from the right including those nutty neocons. The name Theodore Dalrymple is well known around drug policy debates and has written scores of articles on drug abuse. He is often cited by prohibitionists and moral crusaders as proof of a liberal world gone mad which he plays on with great zest.
Daniels(Theodore Dalrymple) has written extensively on culture, art, politics, education and medicine drawing upon his experience as a doctor and psychiatrist in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, and more recently at a prison and a public hospital in Birmingham, in central England. He has travelled in many countries in Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. In his commentary, Daniels frequently argues that the so-called "progressive" views prevalent within Western intellectual circles minimize the responsibility of individuals for their own actions and undermine traditional mores, contributing to the formation within rich countries of an underclass afflicted by endemic violence, criminality, sexually transmitted diseases, welfare dependency, and drug abuse. He contends that the middle class abandonment of traditional cultural and behavioural aspirations has, by example, fostered routine incivility and ignorance among members of the working class. Occasionally accused of being a pessimist and misanthrope, his defenders praise his persistently conservative philosophy, which they describe as being anti-ideological, sceptical, rational and empiricist.
Wikipedia : Theodore Dalrymple
I came across the article (below) by Theodore Dalrymple whilst reading Fired Man Fires Up at Timmeh Blair’s blog which unsurprisingly is part of that journalistic epicentre called the Daily Telegraph (I know, stop laughing). It was a response from a well known Timmeh groupie and right wing blogger that alerted me.
Heroin withdrawal is a load of codswallop. Dalrymple Islam would be better grounds for a insanity plea. Infidel Tiger (Reply) Thu 16 Apr 09 (11:56am)
Read Dalrymple’s article for yourself and you will probably come to the same conclusion as I did. Dalrymple is no different to any other right wing proponent of moral centric, fringe science. The article could have been credited to Drug Free Australia (DFA) if his name wasn’t attached. It is really that bad. I found his previous off hand dismissal of heroin withdrawal as being no worse than a case of the flu almost incomprehensible and being trivial is just as ridiculous. The millions of people who have all attested to probably the most painful experience imaginable are not a consideration? Disregarding the physical pain of withdrawal and saying it is “psychological in origin and caused by the mythology surrounding it” beggars belief, especially coming from a physician. If this is the best they can do, you have to wonder why the anti-Harm Minimisation, anti-drug, anti-science, anti-everything sensible crowd have so much power. If you go to the source article, you will find some well qualified responses from readers that debunk Dalrymple’s exaggerations. Also take particular note of the Dalrymple’s supporters who really sum up the mindset behind his conclusions. They are subjective, moralistic, dubious and typical of simple minds who want simple answers to complex issues.
Withdrawal From Heroin Is A Trivial Matter
By Theodore Dalrymple
The Spectator
Jan 2009

Theodore Dalrymple is outraged by the mollycoddling of drug addicts coming off heroin and the notion that their predicament is a matter of human rights:

We live in Keynesian times: the answer to the economic problems created by a mountain of debt frittered away on trifles is clearly a whole mountain range of debt frittered away on trifles. In the circumstances it is good to know that a judge has done his bit to stimulate the general improvidence — sorry, the British economy. He has awarded £11,000 each to three prisoners in Winchester Prison who underwent withdrawal from heroin without benefit of further doses of heroin or of methadone and other heroin substitutes. It was against their human rights, he said. This is indeed odd. It is doubtful whether anyone ever dies from withdrawal of opiates alone. In reviewing the medical literature between 1875 and 1968, the doctors and researchers Glaser and Ball were unable to find a single case of death from withdrawal of opiates, despite the fact that the literature covered many thousands of cases. Indeed, such withdrawal is medically trivial, unlike that from alcohol and barbiturates (and sometimes even benzodiazepines such as valium). Let me quote Niesink, Jaspers, Kornet and van Ree’s book, Drugs of Abuse and Addiction: Neurobehavioral Toxicology: ‘[Withdrawal] is time limited... and not life-threatening, thus can be easily controlled by reassurance, personal attention and general nursing care without any need for pharmacotherapy.’ By contrast, 2,845 people died of methadone poisoning in Great Britain between 1996 and 2005. In 2006, 241 died of methadone, and 713 of heroin or morphine poisoning. In 2007, the figures were 325 and 829 respectively. In Dublin, more people die of methadone poisoning than of heroin poisoning. I repeat, no one dies of opiate withdrawal. I might add also that doctors have a very long history of treating the trivial condition of withdrawal from opiates in a dangerous, indeed fatal fashion. It goes without saying that we are all furious at Mr Putin’s treatment of Georgia, but few of us realise that the drug addicts of the country whose president brokered a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia — France — have caused far more harm to the population of that country than Mr Putin’s Russia. They have systematically diverted the drug with which their heroin addiction is ‘treated’, buprenorphine, to Georgia (as well as to Finland, incidentally), where scores of thousands of Georgians have addicted themselves to it. The fact that the French addicts have diverted it in this fashion is eloquent testimony to how much they needed it in the first place, and how easily they were able to deceive doctors. It might, I suppose, be argued that such drugs as heroin, methadone and buprenorphine are potentially safe when given under strict medical supervision; but such supervision is extremely difficult to enforce, given the levels of duplicity, deviousness and dishonesty among the population for whom they are prescribed. In one Canadian case, for example, a woman in a prison prescribed methadone for her withdrawal symptoms vomited it to sell it to another prisoner, who then died of an overdose. Guess whom the relatives of the dead woman sued? The evidence is pretty conclusive that the great majority, though not quite all, of the suffering caused by withdrawal from opiates, insofar as it is real and not feigned, is psychological in origin and caused by the mythology surrounding it. In the 1930s, experiments were done demonstrating that morphine addicts could not reliably distinguish between injections of water and morphine: when they received water thinking it was morphine, their symptoms abated, but when they received morphine thinking it was water, they grew worse. It has also been established that the distress of withdrawal is not correlated with the physical severity of withdrawal symptoms, and is often at its worst before, not during, withdrawal. Even accepting the ludicrous, corrupt and corrupting doctrine of human rights, it is difficult to see how it can be a human right to have a non-life-threatening condition transformed into a life-threatening one by supposed (and ineffectual) treatment. The old medical adage, first do no harm, ought to take precedence, and therefore the presumption must always be against, not for, treatment for withdrawal. That so evident and unassailable a point did not prevail in court, instead landing the British taxpayer with a total bill that no doubt ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds, is deeply emblematic of the moral and intellectual decadence into which we have fallen. This is not an isolated instance of it, either, even in the relatively small question of how we conceive of heroin addiction. The Sentencing Guidelines Council last week suggested that first-time offenders who steal from the vulnerable should be given stiffer sentences than they currently receive, but that courts should not send drug addicts who steal to ‘feed their habits’ to prison, but should consider instead drug or alcohol treatment programmes. The Sentencing Guidelines Council was attempting, as it has so often done in the past, to mislead the British public into thinking that the law has become harder on criminals when in fact it is becoming more lenient. The class of the former type of offender — the first-timers who target the vulnerable — is of course very much smaller than the second class, the addicted thief, robber or burglar. Thus, despite the impression given by headlines that say ‘Stiffer sentences for first-time offenders’, what is being proposed is a reduction in severity of sentencing. Now it does not follow from the fact that many thieves and burglars are drug-addicted that they are thieves and burglars because they are addicted. In fact, the evidence suggests that the relationship is the other way round: that whatever causes them to become criminals causes them to become addicts. In a survey in the prison in which I worked, I found that the great majority of heroin addicts sentenced to imprisonment had been imprisoned for the first time well before they ever took heroin. Since most people are convicted about ten times before they are sent to prison, and the clear-up rate of crimes is about 5 per cent (and even that, thanks to police dishonesty, is an exaggeration), it is likely that many of them had committed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of crimes before they ever took heroin. Therefore, it cannot be that they are criminals because they are addicted. Heroin addicts are not ‘hooked’ by heroin, as fishermen take fish; they ‘hook’ heroin. Most of them take it intermittently for quite a time before they take it regularly and become physiologically addicted to it. Moreover, taking opiates by injection is not incompatible with normal working. In the 1930s, the majority of morphine addicts in America went to work normally. Moreover, the Sentencing Guidelines Council must know that the Audit Commission recently found that 75 per cent of addicts did not even comply with the kind of community sentences that they recommend, and that Home Office research found that the re-conviction rate within two years of people given such sentences was 90 per cent, i.e. the re-offending rate must be close to 100 per cent. The Sentencing Guidelines Council is therefore aiding and abetting crime on a huge scale, and ought to be disbanded forthwith. Addiction should be treated as an aggravating circumstance, and an automatic additional five or ten years ought to be added to addicts’ sentences: that is, if the peace of the poor, who are the primary victims of crime, is to be protected by the government and the criminal justice system.
Related Articles:
Cold Turkey Is No Worse Than Flu - Anthony Daniels (Theodore Dalrymple)
Don’t Legalize Drugs - Theodore Dalrymple
Dalrymple and Drugs: The Value of Broad-Mindedness

Note: The third paragraph has been edited from "scores of books on drug abuse" to "scores of articles on drug abuse". Pointed out by BenjaminL.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The Propaganda Files - Drugs on the Table

NSW Police Minister: Tough On Drugs ... Soft On Maths ... Even Softer On Reality

There’s an old saying in the world of fighting drug crime - “Drugs on the Table”. When a politician or senior police officer need some publicity that they are being tough on drugs, they would produce piles of confiscated narcotics and put them on display for the press and public to admire. Then a few important people would stand behind it, declaring they are taking drugs off the street. The saying is still used today ... except without the table. The press loves to report on mountains of drugs and the public see it as a success in the fight against the illegal trade. All of which suits the PR machine behind our anti-drug, crime fighting heroes.

Putting the “Drugs on the Table” might work most of the time but any simple analysis usually unfolds the nasty truth of unpublished statistics, costly operations and lashes of propaganda. So when a “Drugs on the Table” media release from NSW Police Minister, Tony Kelly and the NSW police recently appeared in the newspapers, I sat down with a calculator and did some figures.

Organisation: NSW Police Force & NSW Police Minister, Tony Kelly
Campaign: Cannabis busts in NSW

When: 2008-2009
Link: Press Release
Propaganda: 8/10

Laugh Out Loud Rating: 5/10

The headlines scream:
Police Seize More Than $18 Million Worth Of Cannabis

MORE than $18 million worth of cannabis crops have been seized in a series of aerial drug raids across NSW over the past five months, police said.

The haul had effectively wiped out a large percentage of the NSW summer crop, which would otherwise have now been on the streets of Sydney and NSW country towns.

Removing $18 million dollars worth of cannabis off the streets is impressive for 5 months work. 9,645 cannabis plants were destroyed and 20 people were charged (or issued with Field Court Attendance Notices). The NSW police and NSW Police Minister, Tony Kelly are claiming a huge dent has been put in the illegal drug market and they are “cutting into the sale of cannabis on the streets by attacking the source”.

Whoooo there, slow down a bit sherif. We need some perspective here. Last year, the Australian Crime Commission conservatively estimated the value of the Australian illicit drug trade at about $10 billion. So lets do the maths, subtract 18 million from 10,000 million ... [calculator pounding away] er, [redoing calculations] um, [resorting to pen and paper for calculations] mmm, that leaves 9,982 million. That's less than 0.2% of the total drug market. Not really earth shattering figures.

This past summer the pro-active work of NSW Police managed to put a huge dent in the illegal cannabis trade across the state
Tony Kelly - NSW Police Minister

In 2006/07, 4,782 kilograms of cannabis was confiscated by police which equates to about $96 million dollars at $20 per gram. To allow for discounted sales and we halve the value it comes to $48m. It is estimated that only 10% of all drugs are seized by police each year so this calculates out to about half a billion dollars a year in cannabis sales. The thrill of seizing and destroying $18 million dollars worth of illegal cannabis suddenly abates and the reality factor hits home that this “huge dent in the illegal cannabis trade” might only be a minor scratch in the paintwork.

The State Command’s Cannabis Team is made up of Drug Squad detectives working with the Police Air Wing, Dog Squad, Radio Electronics Unit and officers from the various Local Area Commands, all working together to locate and destroy cannabis crops across NSW. These different units have successfully pooled their resources with the single focus of disrupting the cultivation and distribution of cannabis.
Tony Kelly - NSW Police Minister

So how much do us tax payers spend on this 'formidable outfit' that includes drug squad detectives, a police air wing, a dog squad, a radio electronics unit and police from local area commands? I would really love to know this but conducting a cost-benifit analysis for our efforts at eliminating illicit drugs is virtually impossible. First of all, without control of the market i.e. prohibition, we can never obtain real information. And how do you measure success? Forcing outdoor cannabis growers out of business might lead to a surge in the stronger form of hydroponically grown skunk or a shift to production of harder drugs. Is this success? No government has ever commissioned a proper cost-benefit analysis of their local "War on Drugs" as far as I know. Maybe I’m wrong but the only serious attempt I know of is from the non government Transform Drug Policy Foundation in the UK. The point is, are we wasting our dwindling financial resources for the benefit of politicians? Is the targeting of outdoor cannabis crops the best way to help with the drug problem? These are valid questions but without some sort of audit or study, we are left with the opinion and media releases from those directly involved. And as I’ve shown, their figures don’t quite add up.

This sends a clear message about police determination to attack the illegal drug trade at its foundations
Tony Kelly - NSW Police Minister

Police determination means jack-shit to organised crime. They are too far up the ladder to seriously fear getting caught and there’s always the greasy wheel of bent cops that insane profit margins guarantee will keep them at an arm’s length from the law. If anything, police determination just gives more support to their favourite law ... prohibition. The losers are the private growers and the tax payer, both who are just fodder in this endless cycle. If police determination is a factor, what about the determination of those who make millions of dollars from this drug trade? As we are seeing in Mexico, even the military can’t quell the determination of drug cartels that make more tax free profits than the oil industry.

Some Figures to Ponder
  • From the NSW Police Force Media Release Archives (25 Feb 2009 - 12 Apr 2009), less than 10% of the media releases involved drugs. These media releases are usually for major police news that warrant the attention of the press. This must leave a lot of small drug arrests deemed unimportant. In fact, out of the 500 police media releases from 25 Feb 2009 - 12 Apr 2009, only 9 were for cannabis. One was the $18 million summary in this article, 4 related to one case and 3 were for hydroponics.
  • Nationally, 82,300 people were arrested for drug offences in the 2006–07 financial year and nearly 70% of these drug arrests were for cannabis offences. That’s a whopping 57,000 plus people arrested for cannabis in 12 months. (The $18 million dollars worth of seizures only nabbed 20 people)
  • There were 627 detections of cannabis at the border in 2006–07, 24% more than the previous reporting period. However, there was a minor decrease in the weight of cannabis detected.
  • 62% of all border detections of cannabis involved the importation of seeds.
  • Some 85% of governments’ drug budgets are allocated to law enforcement and some 87% of arrests are of consumers.
  • Cannabis remains the most widely used illicit drug in Australia.

Police Seize More Than $18 Million Worth Of Cannabis
Daily Telegraph
By Simon Benson
April 2009

MORE than $18 million worth of cannabis crops have been seized in a series of aerial drug raids across NSW over the past five months, police said.

The haul had effectively wiped out a large percentage of the NSW summer crop, which would otherwise have now been on the streets of Sydney and NSW country towns.

But the increase in police aerial patrols since September last year had now forced dope growers, literally, into the hills.

Police fear crops would become harder to detect with growers moving to more rugged and inaccessible terrain, using sophisticated irrigation systems.

Police Minister Tony Kelly yesterday congratulated the state crime command drug squad's plantation unit for delivering what he described as a major dent in the cannabis industry.

"This past summer the pro-active work of NSW Police managed to put a huge dent in the illegal cannabis trade across the state," he said.

"During peak cannabis growing season the police pulled out thousands of plants, cutting into the sale of cannabis on the streets by attacking the source.

"This sends a clear message about police determination to attack the illegal drug trade at its foundations."

Mr Kelly said seven cannabis eradication programs were conducted from November last year to the end of March this year.

Regions targeted included Byron Bay, Richmond, Manning Great Lakes, mid-North Coast, Far South Coast, Coffs Harbour and the New England Area.

A total of 9645 cannabis plants were destroyed.

Police said 20 people were charged with either possessing or cultivating cannabis.

Mr Kelly said the state command's cannabis team was a formidable outfit with units including drug squad detectives, police air wing, dog squad, radio electronics unit and police from local area commands.

Since 2001, the cannabis eradication programs had resulted in the seizure and destruction of 100,536 plants, valued at more than $206 million.

More from the Propaganda Files

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Diary: Good Writers, Bad Writers, Undercover Cops & Heroin

DIARY: I have been feeling somewhat depressed lately with the never ending cycle of day-to-day life. Since I have taken 2 months off to sort out some medical issues, I am getting lost in the world of too much free time. I think I need work to help keep me focussed on something productive. I have heard it before including from my father but never paid any attention to it, “the more free time you have, the busier you are”. It’s incredible that I have all this free time but I never have enough hours in the day to finish everything. What’s with that? I’m bored out of your mind but can’t be bothered doing anything. Something might be exciting but I lose all interest in it the next day. For example, I finally got a Q & A from Sandra Kanck which I have been pursuing for 6 months but after I posted it, the excitement just fizzled. Maybe I’m relying on this blog too much to fill my days. Adding to this, no one has been commenting here lately which is bizarre because I am getting more hits than ever ... reader hits, that is. This is depressing me considering all the stuff I write and I have very little time to write it in ... er, you know, perceived time I have. OK, so I have heaps of time but that’s my point. C’mon, where all those great comments I used to get? You don’t want me to turn to drugs, do you?

Recently I came into a bit of cash which paid some overdue bills. Not working takes a toll on your finances and the extra money was welcomed. It was also an excuse to use heroin. I have been going without heroin for a while now and coping okay but when the opportunity arises to have 4-5 hours without any depression and to actually feel good, it’s hard to resist. This time though there was a dilemma. My partner, Angela got really pissed off at me which made the experience unpleasant. To feel good on heroin after the initial high actually requires a lot of concentration and the right environment is essential. When I use heroin now, it is after dinner so I feel good in my environment which is usually filled with ups and downs. I spend some time on the internet, do a bit of cleaning and then watch a movie. When I finally go to bed, I feel like I used to; relaxed, secure and optimistic. If Angela is shitty, then it’s all for nothing. It becomes just a waste of money, a hit I didn’t need and it doesn’t pick me up for the next several months of dealing with my situation. Although she understands why I do it, sometimes she finds it hard to accept. I have to realise that being a non-user, she is really never going to understand fully.

Over the last week, I have been reading and watching some insanely bad reporting from the Courier-Mail. The Queensland arm of Murdoch's trash media empire is doing a special report called The Drug Scourge which has the feel of a 1980s style drug hysteria story. It’s backed up with TV stories from related networks. No wonder the public are so misinformed and scared, this is the worst journalism I have ever seen. I wonder if the public will ever get a chance to make an informed opinion about drug policy with such crap infiltrating their lives. I heard one “specialist” claim that a third of first time methamphetamines users become addicted and a member of the Queensland State Drug Investigation Unit said this about ecstasy “Look, it's a drug, it can be abused. I think you could never safely administer it”. When you stand back and admire it for it’s total lack of credibility, it becomes very entertaining. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more written about it because you couldn’t write a better comedy about the subject if you tried. It’s really that bad. The serious faces and alarming clich├ęs, the suggestions that society has lost control, the use of words like “epidemic” and “scourge”. This is not to be missed!

Now, moving 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Every day, I visit a lot of websites and I read some great articles from talented writers. Every now and then, I find a writer who stands out as especially concise, accurate and very easy to read. One such person is Andrew M. Potts, an in-house writer and a board director from the Sydney Star Observer, a weekly gay and lesbian community newspaper/website. I recommend that you go and have a read.

Whilst I was out the other day, I saw some more undercover cops. Strolling along like ... well, a couple of undercover cops. The tracksuit pants, the K-Mart runners, the military haircuts etc. You know the look. I was coming out of the chemist with my meds which may have looked like a fit pack to them. They gave me a good long look before wandering off to catch some dangerous druggies. As I drove home, I started thinking about what would have happened if they stopped me. I was carrying morphine worth over $2,500 on the street (which only cost me $5). If they had stopped me and made a call back to HQ, my name would have come up for previous drug charges. It was then that I got a cold shiver. Would they have taken me back to the police station? Would they check my prescription first with the chemist? I have seen cops pocket drugs before and let the user go but that was a long time ago and it was heroin. Still, the idea of bent police scares me. The other possibility is that they might be over zealous cops. It takes a certain kind of person to volunteer for a career of busting druggies on the street and I’m sure it’s not because they’re humanitarians. Over zealous cops are just as dangerous as the bent ones except they get congratulated and feel no guilt when they ruin your life. Legally I had nothing to hide but I have learnt to avoid the police at all costs. Cops are suspicious by nature so if you’re not in the picture, they can’t link you to anything whether it’s real or not. An ambitious undercover police officer who hates druggies or a bent cop could have turned my trip to the chemist into a nightmare very quickly. Memories of previous visits to the police station are permanent reminders of what can happen if they really want to screw with you.

Note to self: take a carry bag when going to chemist to pick up medication.
Another note to self: don’t be tempted to yell abuse at undercover cops when visiting chemist.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Harm Minimisation - The Christian Thing To Do

Although religion can rub me up the wrong way, those who have true faith tend to be pleasant and I find their company enjoyable. I’m talking real faith here, not brainwashed fundamentalists or hypocritical evangelists or the once-a-week-to-church, traditional catholics. Those who genuinely believe in goodwill to mankind, peace and tolerance. These are things I alwas thought were supposed to be god’s teachings. Real people of faith care for others regardless of their faults. Sure, they may snot someone if they’re really provoked but they are basically good people. They aren’t restricted by dogma and they don’t ponce about with their eyes closed muttering JEEEESUS OH JEEEEEESUS like Benny Hinn reaching an orgasm. Faith for them is personal. They trust science, don’t believe in magic underwear and are tolerant of other religions. Most importantly, real people of faith are humane and compassionate. When I see so called religious groups or individuals criticising Harm Minimisation, I know they’re not those of real faith ... they have a more earthly agenda. Opposing Harm Minimisation is breaking every rule in their particular religious handbook that they are supposed to follow. So when I see religious folk brushing against the grain by supporting HM, I can’t help but feel a sense of victory over the frauds who use religion as a weapon. It hammers home how religion can be so divisive when hijacked by self righteous egomaniacs. There is an organisation called the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative (IDPI) who are dedicated to true Christian values in drug policy. They support HM and safe practices for users. They believe in compassion and the dignity of drug addicts and their time is spent helping people in trouble, not judging them. A far cry from the professional Christian-political groups who infest the drug treatment industry. It’s always a good feeling to find opposition to the powerful Christian lobby who are so hell bent on destroying HM. So when I recently stumbled onto an article from a group with similar aims to IDPI, I was pleasantly surprised and wanted to share it.
Needle-Exchange Programs Christian Thing To Do By William Martin Houston Chronicle April 2009 The Texas Legislature is currently considering bills that would allow the establishment of programs to enable injecting drug users to exchange used syringes for sterile ones, as a proven means of reducing the spread of blood-borne diseases. The Senate version of the bill has already passed, by a vote of 23-6. An almost identical bill is under consideration by the House Public Health Committee, where its future is uncertain. Texas is the only state in the Union that still prohibits the purchase or possession of syringes for purpose of injecting illegal drugs. As the state with the fourth-highest HIV/AIDS rate in the nation, this is not a lone star of which we can be proud. Consider the following relevant facts: • The sharing of needles by injecting drug users contributes significantly to the spread of blood-borne diseases, most notably HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. • Treatment of these widespread diseases is enormously expensive — more than $300,000 in lifetime costs for a single case of either disease — much of which is covered by taxpayer funds. Between 2001-2005, Texas Medicaid paid more than $300 million for the treatment of HIV/AIDS alone. • Extensive worldwide and long-term experience with needle-exchange programs has demonstrated conclusively that they reduce the spread of disease without increasing or encouraging drug abuse and, in addition, serve as a bridge to treatment for a substantial proportion of participants. Supported by repeated scientific research, American medical and public health personnel overwhelmingly support making sterile syringes available to injecting drug users. Despite the evidence, many politicians, often reflecting the sentiments of their constituents, oppose the establishment or public funding of needle-exchange programs. Conservative Christians have been among the most resistant to these programs. Though some sincerely question the scientific evidence supporting various forms of needle exchange, the major opposing argument continues to be, “It sends the wrong message.” Before we accept that rationale, we need to think about the message we currently send: “We know a way to dramatically cut your chances of contracting a deadly disease, then spreading it to others, including your unborn children. It would also dramatically cut the amount of money society is going to have to spend on you and those you infect. But because we believe what you are doing is illegal, immoral and sinful, we are not going to do what we know works. You are social lepers and, as upright, moral, sincerely religious people, we prefer that you and others in your social orbit die.” Less than a decade ago, this was the attitude most churches manifested toward people afflicted with HIV/AIDS. If people were determined to engage in sinful behavior, they should expect to reap the full terrible harvest of their actions. God might be merciful toward sinners, but we were not. Then, in 2002, Franklin Graham hosted Prescription for Hope, a global conference attended by more than 800 Christians from many countries and denominations. PBS Frontline pointed to that gathering as the moment at which Christians got involved in confronting HIV/AIDS. Soon afterward, Rick (author of The Purpose Driven Life) and Kay Warren launched a major HIV/AIDS initiative. Today, many other churches, large and small, minister to people stricken with this disease. These ministries do not screen the people they serve to make sure they were infected through no fault of their own. They meet them at the point of their need and offer what help they can. Suppose we worked in such a ministry and were confronted by a person who had contracted the virus from a contaminated needle. While we may rightly decry drug addiction and find injecting drug use abhorrent, what defense could we offer if that person said, “You knew that, by using a sterile syringe, I could lessen my chance of getting this disease, and yet you refused to support programs that would make those available to me. What kind of neighbor are you?” How can we justify saying it is permissible, even laudable, to help people after they have contracted HIV/AIDS, but wrong to approve of measures that significantly reduce their chances of contracting that disease? Jesus had nothing to say about needles, but we do know how he treated social outcasts and sinners, and he had a great deal to say about people who let prim concern with their own righteousness interfere with offering needed assistance to those in peril. Needle-exchange programs save money, demonstrate compassion, preserve lives, and offer a helping hand to people in desperate need. These are criteria for public policy that thoughtful religious people can support with a clear conscience. Martin is the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy at the James A. Baker III Institute at Rice University. For more on this issue, see “Needle Exchange Programs: Sending the Right Message,” at http://www.bakerinstitute.org/programs/drug-policy.

Friday, 3 April 2009

New US Drug Czar - New Era?

After years of appointing woefully inadequate candidates for the role of Drug Czar (Director Of National Drug Control Policy), the US government has finally broken with tradition and nominated someone with substance. Although Seattle Police Chief, Gil Kerlikowske has a law and order background and ideally the candidate should be a medical professional, his nomination by the US President is still a significant choice. Seattle is known for it’s progressive drug policies under the watch of Gil Kerlikowske which, along with his speech signifies an abrupt change of direction to previous selections for the role as Drug Czar. Reading through his nomination speech, it becomes apparent that under, Gil Kerlikowske, the US is ready to move away from possibly the most dangerous and unsuccessful drug policy the world has seen. Kerlikowske mentions science and evidence based strategies which will put him at odds with the current cronies who have become part of the woodwork at the Office of National Drug Control Policy(ONDCP). I wonder how long it takes for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Drug Free America Foundation(DFAF) to welcome his nomination? With a clear change of direction, I can’t see propaganda merchants like Calvina Fay, Executive Director of DFAF being too pleased.
Testimony of The Honorable R. Gil Kerlikowske April 1, 2009 Statement Of R. Gil Kerlikowske Nominee To Be Director Of National Drug Control Policy Before The Committee On The Judiciary Of The United States Senate Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Specter, and Members of the Committee, it is a great honor and privilege to be sitting before you today as the nominee for Director of National Drug Control Policy. I am deeply humbled by President Obama's request that I serve in a position of such importance. I wish to thank the members of the Committee and your staffs for providing me with the opportunity to meet with many of you over the past few weeks. Each of these meetings has been productive and informative, and if confirmed, I look forward to our forming closer relationships and engaging in richer discussions about the future course of the nation's drug control strategies. I want to specifically thank Senator Murray and Senator Cantwell for their support today. As Chief of Police in Seattle, I relied on their assistance and leadership in helping me reduce crime rates in that city to record lows. I also want to thank my wife, Anna Laszlo, who is here with me today. She has supported my commitment to public service these many years. Additionally, while they are not here today, I must acknowledge the support of both my mother, Norma Shands, and of Anna's mother, Eva Laszlo. Anna and I, both only children, are deeply grateful to these two women for their commitment to us over the course of our lives and careers. I would also be remiss if I did not recognize Judge Thomas W. Shands, my step-father, who has since passed but would be very proud to see me appearing before you today. He was an inspiration to me while growing up as an individual who could hand down stiff sentences when necessary but also was in the forefront of campaigning for modern treatment for incarcerated juveniles. I would also like to thank the many organizations and individuals who have offered their support for my nomination. I look forward to conducting expansive and open dialogue with all stakeholders as I develop a powerful and effective national drug strategy. I have proudly spent the past 36 years of my life in law enforcement and public service. It has been my privilege to lead two of this country's largest police departments over a period of thirteen years. In my current role as the Chief of Police in Seattle, where I have led for nearly nine years, I have brought innovative solutions to the problems of drugs and crime, and their effect on society. A key element in my approach while in Seattle has involved enlisting the support of the entire community to reduce crime. While this approach is commonly referred to as, "community policing", I prefer it be recognized as "policing". The transparency and collaborative approach of this concept has ultimately led to the lowest drug use and serious crime rates in Seattle since 1967. My goal is to use similar principles in the development, articulation, and implementation of an effective, comprehensive, and coordinated national drug control strategy. Let me assure you that I know President Obama is committed to developing and implementing a rigorous drug control agenda, while bringing ONDCP back to its original leadership position. I am also grateful for the strong support of Vice President Biden. Our Vice President has long been a leader in protecting communities and families from the harms of illegal drugs. His continued dedication to solving the drug problem will be a key resource for ONDCP's success. Upon confirmation, I will immediately coordinate with my colleagues in the federal government, as well as our counterparts at the state and local level, to ensure that the national drug control strategy is: • Balanced and comprehensive, based upon the best possible understanding of the drug threat, and incorporates a science-based approach to public policy; • Vigorously implemented through development of a national drug budget that contains proven, effective programs; and • Rigorously assessed and adapted to changing circumstances, Essential to these efforts is restoration of the vitality of the Office of National Drug Control Policy by recommitting the agency to its policy leadership mission. ONDCP was created by the Congress—under the guidance of this Committee—to focus this nation's efforts toward solving the drug problem by developing and implementing a balanced, comprehensive national drug control strategy. ONDCP will effectively build consensus on how best to use interdiction efforts, law enforcement, treatment, prevention, and sound research to achieve measurable results in reducing drug use and its consequences. Dialogue will be continuous. Debate will be inclusive of disparate ideas. Deliberation will be comprehensive and collaborative. I will work diligently to ensure that our efforts are supported by a properly balanced federal drug control budget—one which logically implements research-based programs to support and implement that Strategy. There will be a renewed focus on evidence-based approaches to reduce demand for drugs, through prevention as well as treatment. Additionally, we must also work to create strong partnerships to reduce the overall impact of drug trafficking and use. Increased cooperation with the international community must also be included in any comprehensive strategy. Our nation's demand for drugs often fuels drug production and trafficking, as well as violence and corruption, within other nations. Domestic drug use directly funds the terrible drug-related crime currently wracking Mexico and fuels illegal armed groups in Colombia. Our international drug control programs help strengthen law enforcement and judicial institutions, while providing alternative livelihoods for poor farmers. While these international supply reduction programs play a vital role in improving security, supporting the rule of law, and denying terrorist and criminal safe havens around the world, the greatest contribution we can make toward stability would be to reduce our demand for illicit drugs. Finally, under the assumption that if you can't measure it, you can't improve it, I will set a goal for the development of a strong, transparent monitoring system. While highly complex, performance evaluation of the national drug strategy is key to both validating and tracking the efficacy of the strategic goals and objectives established by the National Drug Control Strategy and the individual programs which are funded to support it. With a robust monitoring system in place, we will know better how to respond to the ever-changing international drug situation and will have the information required to guide the mission-essential coordination and collaboration efforts of the office. We will be better able to report on our progress, justify the level of funding requested, and satisfy the interest of the citizens of this nation that their money is being well-spent and that their needs for a safer and more secure environment are being met. I want to thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you today. It would indeed be an honor to serve this nation in its effort to reduce drug use and the problems it creates for every American and the international community. I look forward to answering any questions the Committee may have.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Q & A: The Hon. Sandra Kanck

Name: The Hon. Sandra Kanck

Role: Former South Australian MLC. South Australia spokesperson for Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform (FFDLR)
Date: March 2009

A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded … Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes.
-Abraham Lincoln
Sandra asked me if I could include the above quote from Abraham Lincoln. It seems like an apt summary of her political career and the basis for many of her principles. The Hon. Sandra Kanck was a member of the SA parliament for over 15 years which included being state leader for The Australian Democrats. During her time in politics, she was constantly hounded by the MSM and fellow politicians for her uncompromising views on social issues. The problem with criticising Sandra Kanck is that she is usually right and is only ever guilty of not conforming to the dismal practices within Australian politics. Her pragmatism and dedication to human rights are legendary in Australia and she will be sadly missed from South Australian politics where, more than ever, they need her now.

About Sandra Kanck:
Having grown up in a family of nine, and with a background as an anti-nuclear, peace and environmental activist, a commitment to community is an essential base of Sandra's work. To keep sane she indulges in a weekly workshop and occasional performance of acappella gospel singing.

More from Wikipedia


You have taken on the role of spokesperson in SA for Families and Friends of Drug Law Reform. Can you tell us what you will be doing?
During my time as an MP I was almost the only person in South Australia regularly commenting on and criticising the policies of the state government in regard to drug laws (although occasionally Dr David Caldicott has spoken out). As SA spokesperson for FFDLR I intend that the state government’s policies continue to be put under the microscope, so that there is a voice continuing to criticise stupid policies.

You have strong views on local drug policy. Where did your interest come from?
I generally take a scientific, rationalist/humanist approach to issues. Becoming an MP back in 1993 meant looking at drug laws in the same light, and it was increasingly obvious that the “tough on drugs” approach being taken by government was not working and indeed was counterproductive. This was fairly easy to do, given that my political party, the Australian Democrats, held the same view.

Do you feel it’s someone’s right to take illicit drugs?
Apart from human rights, I am uncomfortable with a rights-based approach. I prefer instead an informed choice approach, where users access as much accurate and scientific information as is possible, including the illicit classification (regardless of the sense/senselessness of the classification) and the legal consequences of breaking the law in using that particular drug. The rider to that is age-related. There is evidence to show that the brains of young people develop better if they are not exposed to drugs (including alcohol), so I do support restrictions based on age.

Do you use drugs(including alcohol) recreationally?
Apart from doctor-prescribed pharmaceuticals, I use only alcohol, and that is only in very small amounts socially (although liquers used for ice-cream topping are divine!). As a non-user of illicit drugs, I believe that, from a media perspective, it gives a certain credibility, because I am seen to have nothing personal to gain i.e. I am not validating any drug-taking of my own.

South Australia recently banned drug paraphernalia and rejected a call to test MDMA for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Why is the S.A. government abandoning its position as one of the most progressive states on drug policy?
The current Labor Party government in South Australia is a conservative one, dominated by the right faction of the ALP, so the race-to-the-bottom approach (as I call it) is not unexpected, particularly with an ultra-right Attorney-General and a populist Premier. It is unsurprising, for instance, that Premier Rann created a portfolio of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. The SA Government has cleverly read and cultivated fear in the electorate, particularly in the 50+ age group, and uses the issue of drugs to ensure that conservative voters side with them, rather the the Liberal Opposition. This in turn forces the Opposition to take an even more extreme position, and the whole thing becomes circular and self-reinforcing.

During your time in parliament, you were often challenged by independent Anne Bressington about drug issues. Were her actions mostly supported or rejected by your political peers.
The voting record shows that, again and again, the huge majority voted for regressive drug laws – the votes were always 19:2 in the upper house of the SA Parliament (with Mark Parnell, Greens, voting with me).

From your experience, do fellow politicians actually believe the hype that the war on drugs is winnable?
Not all of them do. There is a group called the Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform, which contains around 100 members of state and federal parliaments, including about 10 South Australian MPs, but those in the Labor and Liberal Party hide behind the majority decisions of their respective caucus and party-room decisions.

Have you have encountered many obstacles from politicians or the religious right on drug policy?
Attacks from such groups are to be anticipated, and I have certainly been publicly attacked by SA’s Premier Mike Rann. However, the most concerted attacks came from the Murdoch media.

You made an invigorating speech to parliament on Thursday, 27 November 2008 about medical marijuana. In that speech, you said “The message is absolutely abundantly clear that the signatories to this convention, despite problems that might be associated with narcotics, have an obligation to ensure availability of narcotic drugs for the relief of pain and suffering”. How was that received?
For the most part, ‘head in the sand’ was the best way to describe the response, with the exception of Ann Bressington who kept on interjecting the whole time. With the Labor and Liberal Parties having adopted strong anti-drugs positions, there is no prospect of any of those MPs diverting from that position – they have their preselections to consider!

The head of Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in the UK was made to apologise for a science paper he submitted to a prestigious medical journal. Is it ethical being forced by the government to apologise for stating facts simply because they do not agree with government policy? Are you aware of a similar situation in Australia?
Service providers which are dependent on government funding must be under immense pressures. Within government in SA, one can also imagine the pressure that must be on some people in South Australia. Mr Keith Evans, who is the Chief Executive of Drug and Alcohol Services SA, was instrumental in SA (and I believe Australia) adopting a harm minimisation policy in regard to drugs, and he now has to preside over an entity which is tied to the government’s anti-drugs position – a position which is increasing drug-related harm. The Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Dr Jane Lomax-Smith, is a pathologist who must know that her government’s position is not a scientifically justified one, yet she is bound to not only uphold her government’s position, but, as Minister, to implement it!

What are your views on Opiate Maintenance Treatment(OMT) in use or on trial in Europe like slow release morphine, injectable hydromorphone, dihydrocodeine and prescription heroin?
Wherever heroin prescription trials have been allowed to run their full course there have been clear economic and social benefits demonstrated, particularly in relation to a reduction in crime, and consequent reduction in the policing of crime. Other benefits include a freeing up of emergency hospital and ambulance resources. So, it just makes sense for Australia to adopt this approach.

Ann Bressington was once a member of Drug Free Australia (DFA), a staunch anti-drug, pro Zero Tolerance organisation. They refer to themselves as a ‘peak body’. Do you consider them a ‘peak body’ and do you have an opinion about them?
Ann Bressington founded ADTARP, and Drugbeat, an affiliate of DFA has an e-mail address that reflects the ADTARP name. Looking at the entire list of DFA affiliates, there are 17 Australian affiliates (I have excluded an insurance company from the total). In addition to those 17, the Board members of DFA are members of another 16 different anti-drugs organisation so that probably qualifies them for the title of a peak body.

Drug Free Australia (DFA) released a media statement calling for the celebration of 100 years of prohibition. How do you feel about this?
An examination of that particular statement leads one to ask what they are on! Their stance is certainly not evidence-based and it is contradictory of its own position. In that release they claim the effectiveness of prohibition and “a significant decline in the consumption of barbiturates and other hypnotic as well as amphetamines”. Yet in another recent release on the DFA website they state: “According to United Nations reports, Australia maintains one of the op places in illicit drug use in the OECD … the use of amphetamines and ecstasy poses the greatest threat”. Which one is it? They also demonstrate a lack of scientific rigour if they believe that ecstasy is one of the greatest threats. As a UK researcher recently pointed out, more people have died in horse-riding accidents than using ecstasy in that country!

Kevin Rudd said in an interview that his policies would be evidenced based. Do you think the Rudd government will expand Harm Minimisation based on evidence or continue with John Howard’s route towards Zero Tolerance?
I have been disappointed with the Rudd Government on many issues – as a government it is merely a slightly lighter shade of blue than the former Liberal government. They are good on symbolism, such as signing the very outdated Kyoto Protocol, but very poor when it comes to the actions that should meet the scientific evidence. If their record on climate change is anything to go by, then we should not get our hopes up about a shift to drug harm minimisation.

Do you have any predictions for the future of Australia’s drug policy?
Sadly, we can expect more of the same. Too many of those holding positions of power choose not to inform themselves, and most of those who know otherwise are fearful of their organisations losing government funding and so keep quiet.

Bronwyn Bishop chaired an enquiry into illicit drugs and produced a report called “The Winnable War on Drugs”. What did you think of it?
This was one of the most appalling pieces of anti-drugs spin that has emerged in Australia in recent years. Its preference for Australia to adopt a zero tolerance approach, which has so badly failed in the US, is indicative of its intellectual quality. The outstandingly worst recommendation was that of removing children from parents who use illicit drugs. It failed to recognise that alcohol is one of the most potent and abused drugs in our society, and did not embrace the users of alcohol in its recommendations. Thank heavens – think of the number of parentless children we would have to accommodate in Australia!

Who do you think are the people in Australia that the government should be consulting with and why?
Government should be consulting scientists and researchers, not moralists, and they should also speak with the users of drugs. But I would never cut any group out of a consultative approach. However, ultimately relying on religious faith to inform health policy is likely to produce at best an uninformed and at worst a dangerous policy. Moralising – categorising the users as bad people and the non-users as good – simply marginalises and makes criminals of people who are not in any way evil.

Finally, if you were Prime Minister Sandra Kanck and you could change one law relating to illicit drugs or drug treatment, what would it be?
It would be for governments to become the providers of drugs, just as the Australian Government farms the opium poppy in Tasmania. Overnight much of organised crime would collapse, the drugs provided would be of a known quality, crime would reduce, and prison numbers would drop.

Q and A: Kerry Wolf - Certified Methadone Advocate (USA)
Q and A: Dr. James Rowe - Lecturer at RMIT, School of Global Studies, Social Science & Planning
Q and A: Gino Vumbaca - Executive Director of the Australian National Council on Drugs
Q and A: Tony Trimingham - Chief Executive Officer, Family Drug Support