Thursday, 30 December 2010

DIARY: Christmas Day and Beyond

Following on from the last article: DIARY: Christmas in Junkie Land (you might want to read this first)

Just a quick update on how Xmas day went.

First of all, I have to thank my family for giving me probably the best Xmas I have had. My Dad and his wife travelled over 500Kms to be here via bus and train. Most importantly, Dad’s wife brought along her home made Christmas pudding which was just sensational. My brother and his wife also came along which was great because I haven’t seen them for about 3 years. We had a fight many years ago so I was a bit nervous seeing my brother after such a long time. His wife (my sister in-law) was her typical friendly self and made the reunion as pleasant as possible. She is one classy lady and the best sister in-law you could ever want. In fact, both of my sister in-laws are everything you could hope for. Mrs Wright’s mother also came along but due to her age, she was confined to the dinner table for the day. I think she enjoyed herself even though she was surrounded by a packed dinner table, my family and 3 excited dogs.

Now for the most important details … presents. A generous Santa always comes to our house and this year was no exception. I got a new Apple Magic Mouse which has a touch surface for scrolling. I also got a new DVD burner, wireless phone for the office, some socks and, of course, some money for a hit. My family gave me some CK after-shave, Tea-Tree shampoo, natural moisturiser(dry skin from years on methadone) and Belgium biscuits. What a score!

Xmas lunch was everything I anticipated. An entree of prawns, oysters and salmon on a bed of lettuce. Roast turkey, ham and veggies for main course. And then the Christmas pudding with custard. My father is a seafood addict and repeated his satisfaction with the entree at least 13 times before I stopped counting. I recommended an excellent addiction treatment centre for him to kick his seafood habit. 

In the end, I didn’t take up my option to use heroin as it was after 7pm when everyone left. Instead, I had a few extra pills from my weekly prescription which calmed me down after such an intense day. I eventually took up my option a few days later which meant I didn’t have to take all my daily meds. This made up for the 2 extra pills I had taken on Xmas day.

This might be the last Xmas I will spend with Mrs Wright so it was very important to me. After 13 years together, she has decided that she needs someone who can provide the things that I can’t anymore. Being Italian means that family functions are an important part of her life and I just can’t be there like she requires. Also, my drug history has been an issue for her family ever since we first met and I will never meet with their approval. I fully understand that she needs certain things that I can’t give her so it’s best for me to eventually move out. Although we remain best friends, I can’t stay here and witness any new person in her life.

One of my brothers and his wife are moving to the NSW coast so I am seriously thinking of going with them. Their new house has a small unit attached which they wanted to rent  it out so it’s an ideal situation for me. Luckily, I get to take our beloved pooches which is excellent for me but a real downer for Mrs Wright. Without having kids, these 2 dogs have been an integral part of our lives and I can’t imagine how either of us would cope without them. On the bright side, this move will hopefully be the start of a new phase in my life that will enable me to deal with my depression and maybe even lead to the end of my reliance on opiates.

One advantage of my job is that I can work from anywhere with an internet connection. This means I can continue to service some of my clients regardless of my location. I have a few pending projects and hopefully I will be able to complete them from my new locale.  It also means that I can continue with The Australian Heroin Diaries. 

For the first time in over a decade, my future is scaring me. I love the house where I live and can’t imagine living anywhere else. I also can’t imagine not sharing my life with Mrs Wright. Am I making the right decision? Only time will tell.

BTW, thanks to all those who wished me a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Same to you!

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Friday, 24 December 2010

DIARY: Christmas in Junkie Land

Well it’s nearly Christmas and the end of another year. This means different things to different people but have you ever wondered what it means for recovering junkies?

For some, it’s a small miracle that they got this far as this time last year their future was measured one day at a time. If you had asked them what they will be doing in 12 months time, you would have got a shrug and a response of “whatever”.  Others might have told you that this year was the year to get clean. That meant no more heroin and a reduction in their methadone/buprenorphine until they were finally free. But for most recovering junkies, I dare say that they would have had no opinion either way about where they would be in the next 12 months. This is how I felt anyway.

The problem with heroin/methadone/morphine addiction is that you tend not see too far into the future because you already struggle getting through one day at a time. Even planning a week ahead is sometimes too difficult but we attempt it as best we can. Living with opiate addiction is like driving in a storm - lost, confused, disorientated with only a second of clarity when those wipers swish past. You think you know where you want to go but not being able to see the best route only adds to the feeling of being lost.  

So here we are again, faced with Xmas.

This year, Xmas day at my house will be hard to distinguish from any other average home. We will wake up early, open presents and drink lots of strong coffee. Mrs Wright and I will take turns at picking presents for each other from under the Xmas tree. We go to great lengths to make sure we have lots of smaller gifts which are all wrapped individually. It’s a great way to stretch out the morning. Later my family will arrive and this year is going to be a Xmas lunch similar to what we had when I was a kid. Oven baked turkey, roast potatoes, roast onion, peas, gravy and ham. Desert is Christmas pudding with cream. The only addition is a seafood entree. Pulling on Christmas crackers is still compulsory including the rule that everyone must wear the enclosed paper hat. Even the decades old jokes from the crackers must be read out. This is all accompanied by plenty of red wine and beer. Incidentally, our shopping cost us over $400 this year … what was I thinking hosting Xmas at my house!

But underneath this perfect vision lurks something that only us opiate addicts will experience. While most of us will smile politely and attempt to join in with the festive activities, our minds are constantly drifting off elsewhere. Desperately trying to cope with the uneasiness that we suppress, we will utilise all the tricks we have learnt from years of hiding our addiction. Smiling and appearing relaxed is compulsory behaviour. There is no bigger giveaway than sitting alone while you fidget with whatever is at easy reach. The awareness of your situation by friends and family only increases the focus on your actions. You can hear their thoughts questioning every move you make; Is he high? Will he disappear any minute to look for a fix? Why is he wearing long sleeves? Is he nodding off? Why is he fidgeting?

One major downfall of being reliant on a permanent opiate fix is that alcohol tastes atrocious. I don’t know if this is the same for everyone but for me, wine tastes like balsamic vinegar. Beer and spirits might not taste that much differently at first but after a few, I am reaching for the water bottle. Even that glorious past time of drinking too much becomes a chore. Alcohol was my favourite drug once upon a time and I gladly indulged like any other young Aussie male. I know Xmas would be much more bearable with a few drinks. From out of all the booze on offer, it’s red wine that I miss most. It has cost me many, many thousands of dollars and a good 20 years to acquire a respectable palate, only to have it ripped away and replaced with the taste buds of a 13 year old. Remember how disgusting red wine was when you first tried it? The real crunch is that being a diabetic, I can’t drink soft drink either. Try going to a pub and drinking water! 

When you’re on substitution treatment like methadone/buprenorphine etc., you spend a lot of effort trying to keep mentally balanced. Once you have your dose, you must make the most of the initial effect and this is vital to how your day turns out. Then you have the delicate task of managing the numbing effect that lingers afterwards. Any disruption to your day can send the most stable of recovering addicts straight to their local dealer. Xmas is hectic enough for a normal person but when you have to manage every minute of the day or risk slipping into a state of depression that demands a hit of heroin, you have a real task on your hands. That is of course if you intend on not using that day. 

Like a true junkie, the Xmas tradition means I do get to treat myself to a special present. But it’s not a present that most people would want. Yes, of course I’m talking about heroin. But is it really a tradition or is that just my excuse to use? I like to think it’s a reward for surviving another year. Go on - frown if you’re not a user or addict. I can see the looks of disgust now - weak junkie making excuses for himself.

I would love to know what other addicts do for Xmas. Do you spend the whole day with family or do you visit for just a few hours? Do you reward yourself with heroin or is it just another day? What about those who don’t use? Does this anger you? Is it just a piss weak excuse to use drugs?

What it all boils down to is that addicts, whether they are in recovery or not, act differently. Each year that passes by can be an achievement or just another year closer to death. Many will have reduced their maintenance dose of methadone and be closer to that day where they are totally clean. Others will be in the same position as last year or the year before. There are no hard rules in place except in the fantasy world of policy makers and a critical media. They subscribe to the simple theory that one solution fits all and if you can’t act within the guidelines then you deserve what you get.

I hope to enjoy this Xmas. It’s the first time in many years that I will have most of my family at my house. They may not understand my situation but they mostly accept it and Xmas should play out like many other celebrations around the country. Whether I use or not or the fact I need a daily dose of morphine to feel normal will not make any difference to them - just as long as I smile a lot and don’t fidget.

Finally, I want to wish everyone a safe and merry Christmas. Also, a big thanks to those who have emailed me and to everyone who visits this website.

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DIARY: Christmas 2009 - The Verbose Thank You List

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Drug Prohibition Under Fire by UK Politicians

Last week, ex UK Home Office Minister, Bob Ainsworth, proposed that illicit drugs either be prescribed by doctors or sold under licence in the UK. Bob Ainsworth is one the highest profile UK politicians to publicly announce his support for drug legalisation. 

After 50 years of global drug prohibition it is time for governments throughout the world to repeat this shift with currently illegal drugs.

We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs.

Politicians and the media need to engage in a genuine and grown up debate about alternatives to prohibition, so that we can build a consensus based on delivering the best outcomes for our children and communities.

Prohibition has failed to protect us. Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harms to individuals, communities and entire countries, with the poor the hardest hit.

Crime Prevention Minister, James Brokenshire was quick to reject Bob Ainsworth’s comments. He rattled on about drugs being harmful and that they ruin lives etc. but it was all just the usual dribble you would expect. He even went as far as saying that decriminalisation is a simplistic solution and “Legalisation fails to address the reasons people misuse drugs in the first place or the misery, cost and lost opportunities that dependence causes individuals, their families and the wider community”. You have to wonder why he thinks that sending addicts to prison is going to address these problems especially considering we have been doing this vigorously for half a century.

Ironically, current UK PM, David Cameron once supported the principles as Ainsworth including a study into prescribed heroin, downgrading ecstasy from Class A to Class B, as well as moveing towards a policy of Harm Reduction.

We recommend that the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways-including the possibility of legalization and regulation-to tackle the global drugs dilemma.

David Cameron is infamous for not denying he used cocaine and cannabis in his youth and was even caught using drugs at school. But like most politicians, the need to further his career meant renouncing previous ideals and towing the party line.

When you look back 40 years, 40 years ago there were a few hundred heroin addicts who had their heroin prescribed by a doctor. There are now 50,000-60,000 registered addicts creating an enormous amount of crime. It would be very disturbing if some radical options were not at least looked at. We are now getting into that and it would be interesting to see what you come back with.

Bob Ainsworth’s comments have stirred up much debate in the UK especially since the announcement of a new drug strategy from the UK government. These new proposals have been slammed as regressive and a move in the wrong direction. Under one of the new proposals, ministers will not be required to seek the advice of scientists when making drug related decisions or policy. Another planned proposal is to remove social security benefits from drug users who do not seek treatment. And there is to be an increased focus on stopping supply. Again, a government fails to take on evidence and expert advice, instead opting for just more of the same old useless "War on Drugs" tactics.

The government says that this new strategy will put more responsibility on addicts to seek treatment. Those who don’t act on the government’s guidelines will lose their social security benefits or suffer other punishments. Sadly, it reeks of conservative ideology where “personal responsibility” is king,  Forget compassion and medical reasoning, junkies deserve what they get. Forget the latest research. The fact is, although many addicts will finally kick their habit, many will not. Those who don’t respond to conventional treatment are often born with a predisposition for opiate addiction e.g. an imbalance in their brain's chemistry, some of the 66 known genes that promote the need for opiates, a persistent impairment of synaptic plasticity in a key structure of the brain etc. This drives them to seek out a cure which usually ends with heroin use. It may be impossible for some people to comprehend but this small group of addicts have a physical problem and are not simply selfish losers with no will power. If the government bothered to read the advice given to them from medical experts, they would know this. I dare say they actually do but it’s easier and more popular to punish these people or exploit the “personal responsibility” tactic.

It’s probably no surprise that the government is critical of Bob Ainsworth’s comments when they are prepared to introduce such a backward strategy.

Although some politicians and anti-drug zealots have been quick to reject Bob Ainsworth’s comments, there has also been a lot of support. 

This could be a turning point in the failing UK ‘war on drugs.’ Bob Ainsworth is the persuasive, respected voice of the many whose views have been silenced by the demands of ministerial office. Every open rational debate concludes that the UK’s harsh drugs prohibition has delivered the worst outcomes in Europe – deaths, drug crime and billions of pounds wasted.
--Labour’s Paul Flynn MP, Founder Council Member of the British Medicinal Cannabis Register

Prof. David Nutt, the former chief adviser to the government on drugs (AMCD), made the most sense. According to the BBC, he said that most MPs actually agree with Mr Ainsworth, but feel they cannot say so publicly because of "the pressure of politics”.

The current approach to drugs has been an expensive failure, and for the sake of everyone, and the young in particular, it is time for all politicians to stop using the issue as a political football. I have long advocated breaking the link between soft and hard drugs – by legalising cannabis while continuing to prohibit hard drugs.   But I support Bob Ainsworth’s sensible call for a proper, evidence based review, comparing the pros and cons of the current prohibitionist approach with all the alternatives, including wider decriminalisation, and legal regulation.
--Peter Lilley MP, former Conservative Party Deputy Leader

The Labour Party was also quick to distance themselves from Ainsworth’s comments and party leader, Ed Miliband, called them, “irresponsible”. This was just more of the mass stupidity on display from UK politicians as flimsy and tired old excuses were rolled out once again. It was only a handful of brave pollies who finally stood up and backed Ainsworth. Luckily, attitudes are changing and defending a failed, useless drug policy no longer automatically wins the public’s support.

Liberal Democrats have long called for a science-based approach to our drugs problem. So it is without hesitation that I support Bob Ainsworth’s appeal to end party political point-scoring, and explore sensitively all the options, through an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
--Tom Brake MP, Co-Chair, Liberal Democrat Backbench Committee on Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities

The comments from Bob Ainsworth have showed us that attitudes are changing away from maintaining the current "War on Drugs" approach. There are dozens of articles every day in the global media that expose the failure of current drug policies. And like all major issues, the last to act are politicians. Ainsworth’s comments come at the beginning of a new era where politicians will gradually admit their opposition to current drug policies. Politicians like Ron Paul in the US, who were once seen as radical for opposing the drug war will soon appear as visionaries. Hardliners pushing for Zero Tolerance policies will become marginalised as governments look to blame someone for the fallout of a failed policy. 

We've got so used to 40 years of prohibition which, in my experience of over 30 years of policing, has led to massive cost, a failure to achieve the primary aims, which is the reduction of drug use, and a range of unintended harmful consequences
--Tom Lloyd: Former Chief Constable Of Cambridgeshire Police

History will not be kind to those who snubbed science and research, especially in the UK. For many years, the UK listened to it’s doctors and stood it’s ground by rejecting the UN/US attempt to ban prescribing heroin to addicts. But recent governments have swapped this tradition to participate in the drug war. The UK once utilised it’s medical expertise to form sound and appropriate health strategies but since the 1970s, we have seen the slow death of evidence and research dictating health and drug policies. Technically, licensed doctors can still prescribe heroin to addicts with about 400 people still receiving their dose each week. A recent study into expanding this practice like the pre-1970s, hi-lighted how successful prescription heroin really is. Add to this the Prof. Nutt debacle and the proposal to make drug related decisions without consultation with the AMCD and you have a political process that is in stark contrast to the UK that was once based on compassion and medical expertise. Politicians have a lot to answer for.

Bob Ainsworth and David Raynes of the National Drug Prevention Alliance discuss the link between drugs and crime.

On a lighter note, you know when David Raynes becomes involved, you have probably won the argument.  David Raynes is part of the anti-drug network consisting of nutters from all over the world. Their arguments are as flimsy and flawed as one would expect from fanaticals or fundamentalists. They are the “Drug Free” crowd who still believe that we can rid the world of drugs and anything but a Zero Tolerance policy is not acceptable. 

David Raynes himself is a disgraced former customs officer who is notorious for his anti-drug comments that defy logic and his links to Narconon. How he got to be interviewed by the BBC is beyond me. Maybe it’s part of their comedy programming?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

NSW Drug Raids - Police Need to Tell the Truth

Police capture a dangerous 60 year old in a bathrobe
When it takes six military style police officers with automatic rifles, machine guns and a tank to escort an old man in a bathrobe, you know we have a problem. But this is just lost on NSW police as Commissioner Andrew Scipione declared, "Today we haven't taken a tentacle off the beast, we've removed a very, very big beast”. Yeah, a beast in a red dressing gown.

For an operation that had been planned for 12 months, needed 500 officers and involved “alleged drugs barons” at the “top of the tree”, only $9 million worth of drugs were captured. Basically, a drop in the ocean considering how big the drug market is in Australia.

But like traffic cameras, the real prize is the income with over $14 million worth of seized assets. This might help explain why the NSW police used a tank and hundreds of paramilitary style officers.

Commissioner Scipione’s spin is just the latest in a long line of chest beating speeches where we, the public are duly informed that drug syndicates are running scared and will suffer greatly from a reinvigorated police focus. Of course, we have seen this numerous times before and most of us just forget as drug dealers return and go about their daily business.

A number of the people who were arrested today were people I started working on 30 years ago when I started working in the police force
--NSW police as Commissioner Andrew Scipione

Mixed in with the excited claims of success are some worrying discrepancies. Not that the police really notice when there’s so much to tell the awaiting media. Admitting that some of those arrested have been around for 30 years might make the commissioner feel good in front of the bright media lights but it’s also confession that the drug ring leaders have built a three decade old crime empire under the nose of the law. Not something to boast about.

Like the recent drug raids in Victoria, we are being led to believe that the police are winning a battle against drugs. The assumption that catching some drug dealers, especially drug syndicate leaders is going to have a lasting affect on the drug market is fanciful. In fact, it’s a down right lie … and the police know it. 

Ask yourself if you can remember the last multimillion dollar bust? Have we already forgotten that in 2008, WA police uncovered 22kg of methylamphetamine and 35,000 ecstasy tablets worth $77 million? What about when the Federal police seized 464kg of cocaine worth $160 million from a yacht in Brisbane. That was only two months ago. In September this year, 50kg of cocaine with a street value of $12.5 million was confiscated by NSW police in Minto. In January, police found 9000 mature cannabis plants worth $18 million in the Chaelundi National Park. Only two years ago, the AFP and Customs uncovered 3000 tomato tins that contained 15 million ecstasy tablets when they were shipped from Italy to Melbourne. It was a total haul of 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy with a street value of $440 million. They arrested 20 people for the crime. Any of this ring a bell?

The fact is, we will never make any significant dent in the drug trade. We will send many people to prison, reap hundreds of millions in assets and continue to smile for the cameras in front of an eager media. But the illicit drug market stops for no one. There is just too much money to made and there’s plenty to go around. Enough for drug mules, street dealers, corrupt authorities, crooked cops and those at the top.

History and experience from other countries clearly show that no amount of policing can stop the drug trade. The black market for drugs is valued at over $400 billion annually which is the 2nd largest industry on the planet. Larger than oil, manufacturing and food sales combined. Only military sales generate more income. With a global user base of up to 250 million people or 5.7% of the world’s population, it’s no wonder the illicit drug market is booming.

We should avoid congratulating ourselves on our efforts rather than our outcomes.
--Dr Don Weatherburn - Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research

What we need to focus on is that there is a big difference between what the police claim and what the experts say. A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald has Dr Don Weatherburn, Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research doubting the success of the latest NSW raids. He points out that “research had so far been inconclusive on the long-term impact of drug law enforcement”. This view was reflected by Dr. Katie Willis, a senior research analyst at the Australian Institute of Criminology. Dr. Willis said it was also necessary to look at health-related results such as drug deaths, overdoses, and drug treatment. Our insatiable hunger for arresting people is blinding us to the human fallout as we lose sight of whether our strategies are benefitting society.

The big question is whether our attempts to wipe out the illicit drug market actually works. And like so many experts tell us, the answer is no. This presents us with a huge problem. Why do the police and governments continue with such a failed policy when there is no evidence whatsoever that it is successful? Shouldn’t this send the media and political opposition into a frenzy that the police and government are trying to fool us? Where’s the scrutiny? Where’s the demand for an enquiry into our flawed drug policy? Where’s the outrage that we are being lied to by our authorities and police?

At the end of the day while moralists pray, governments talk tough and police incarcerate people, criminals just keep getting richer and society becomes more dangerous. If the experts tell us this, why can’t the police?

Premature Cheers For Drug Busts
Geesche Jacobsen and Nick Ralston
December 10, 2010

POLICE say they plan to target anyone seeking to fill the vacuum left by the arrest of 31 alleged drug distributors this week.

But the head of the Bureau of Crime Statistics warned yesterday that the results of the arrests should be judged on their impact on the price, purity and availability of the relevant drugs.

Police said the drug raids this week had taken out those they believe to be the major players in the middle level of the three tiers of the drug supply chain. Local police are targeting street-level drug supply, and specialist officers also work on putting the third level, drug importers, behind bars.

But Dr Weatherburn warned: ''We should avoid congratulating ourselves on our efforts rather than our outcomes.''

Research had so far been inconclusive on the long-term impact of drug law enforcement, he said.

Drug seizures in the early 1990s had had no impact on price, purity or availability of the drug, but later seizures and arrests of heroin kingpins had led to an enduring heroin shortage, he said.

Some researchers said the heroin shortage was not the result of police work, but other factors.

A senior research analyst at the Australian Institute of Criminology, Katie Willis, said it was also necessary to look at health-related results such as drug deaths, overdoses, and drug treatment.

Dr Willis said it was also difficult to assess the impact of law enforcement because the size of the drug market was unknown. The police, she said, might have been tackling just ''the tip of the iceberg''.

But she said she expected the purity and availability of drugs to fall in the short term as a result of the arrests.

Yesterday, Henry Landini, 66, alleged to be one of the key players arrested on Wednesday, made a brief appearance in Bankstown Local Court. In a blue polo shirt, with his hair slicked back and wearing glasses, he did not apply for bail and it was formally refused.

He has been charged with supplying large amounts of amphetamines in Sydney's inner-west and knowingly dealing with the proceeds of crime.

In court his solicitor, Paul Kenny, rejected claims made by police that there was a risk Mr Landini might flee the country.

Another man arrested on Wednesday, Adel Muustafa, 24, also did not apply for bail but he did not make an appearance before the court. He has been charged with supplying cocaine in Sylvania and with firearm offences.

Related Articles in the Sydney Morning Herald

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Thursday, 9 December 2010

Drug War Success - 14 Year Old Hitman who Beheads People

Winning the War on Drugs
"El Ponchis" or 8th-grader, Edgar Jimenez is a 14 year old hitman for a Mexican drug cartel. He was recently caught by Mexican authorities and will join the growing list of detained children who were once employed by drug cartels to murder people. Not surprisingly, one psychologist has already classed Jimenez as a “psychopath”.

I don’t recall having ambitions to join a drug cartel when I was 14 years old and I certainly never imagined I would cut off some stranger’s head. There really must be some extenuating circumstances for young kids to behave in such a barbaric manner. But let’s not procrastinate here. These kids and indeed, much of society are victims of a bloody but futile crusade known as the "War on Drugs”. 

What did we really expect to happen? What was the outcome we envisaged when we freely let fanatical anti-drug zealots, religious nutters and ruthless, agenda driven politicians have their way without any formal scrutiny? Where were the evaluations? Why didn’t we take notice of the prison population explosion or the incredible level of street violence that grew each decade?

We watched on as drugs ripped apart communities. We didn’t help those ravaged by addictive drugs but instead, sent them to prison. We broke up families and incarcerated millions without caring for one moment if what we were doing was actually productive. There were only token attempts to address the underlying problem. Drugs were public enemy number one and the only approach was to be "Tough on Drugs”. But the "War on Drugs" and "Tough on Drugs" were not what it implied - it was a war on people. 

Why is the carnage caused by the drug war so oblivious to our leaders? Amazingly, it took many, many decades of worsening problems before they took notice of scientists and experts. But they even misused this scientific data and research to spin their own reasons for continuing their assault on drug users. Still, evidence through careful research was making the news and this led to the introduction of Harm Minimisation. Our experts and medical professionals were finally allowed to propose evidenced based programs that dealt with the realities of drug use and offered a humane, medical approach. Unfortunately, we had already endured almost a century of propaganda and most of the public didn’t know any better so any new ideas that made our leaders nervous were ceremoniously dumped, all with just one shriek of being ”Soft on Drugs”. 

Even in countries like Australia, global drug policies have created a wartime environment. Military style police units smashing up homes, paramilitary dog squads placed at train stations and government sanctioned, “Stop and Search” laws are not conducive with a civil society in times of peace. Locking up family members who suffer an addiction or choose to use relatively harmless drugs will not lead to a more cohesive community. The constant drone that we need to attack drug use in a war like manner hasn’t reduce drugs in our communities. Instead, like any war, it has produced massive casualties, especially children. 

The emergence of killers like 14 year old Edgar Jimenez is the result of our fanatical efforts to stop drug use. But it doesn’t stop there. All over the world, governments create the situation where violence and societal disarray are commonplace. Driven by political greed, the public are told how necessary the drug war is but there is very little effort to address the fallout. Nearly 30,000 drug related deaths in Mexico isn’t even enough to stop the government continuing their failed strategy. In the US, daily occurrences of inner city violence and murder fuelled by drug gangs isn’t enough. Terrorists funding their activities with inflated profits driven by drug prohibition, isn’t enough. So why would hundreds of kids running around cutting off people’s heads be enough either.

Teenage Cartel Hitman Is a U.S. Citizen
By Elspeth Reeve
December 2010

The floppy-haired 14-year-old turned, like any other modern teen, to YouTube to make his confession. But unlike a typical 8th-grader, Edgar Jimenez's was confessing to beheading people for a Mexican drug cartel for the price of $2,500 each. A hunt for the boy ensued, and this week, Mexican authorities nabbed the "hit boy" known as "El Ponchis" at an airport; he was en route to Tijuana, where he and his teenage sister were planning to sneak into San Diego. Why? He's an American citizen.

Jimenez was arrested Thursday night, suspected of working for Pacific Sur, a gang that splintered off from the notorious Beltran Leyva cartel. The teen was paraded in front of news cameras, even as police guards wore masks for their own protection, yet another symptom of the persistent horrific violence that has plagued Mexico since the start of its drug war. As an American citizen, Jimenez will get "all appropriate consular assistance," CNN reports.

But shockingly, Jimenez is not unique as a child participant in this violence. Drug cartels--like their fellow fans of beheadings, Al Qaeda--are increasingly leaning on kids and women to help them maintain control over large areas of the country. Here are a couple of accounts on offer in the media as outlets attempt to contextualize.

Gangs Recruiting More Kids  
"The number of young people aged 18 and under detained for drug-related crimes has climbed steadily since President Felipe Calderón launched his assault on cartels in 2006," reports The Telegraph's Harriet Alexander. "Figures from the Attorney General's office show that there were 482 arrests of under 18s in 2006, and 810 in 2009. The tally this year is set to be even higher." A psychologist says Jimenez is a "psychopath," and that kids like him "like to kill, to steal, and they don't need to conform to society because they are mistreated and become very hostile from a young age." But The Houston Chronicle's Dudley Althaus points out that other teens have also been arrested for drug killings: 

Several Laredo teenagers were convicted in 2007 for carrying out killings on behalf of the Zetas, the violent organization entrenched in Nuevo Laredo and other towns along the South Texas border. One of those teens, Rosalio 'Bart' Reta, killed his first victim at age 13 and might have murdered more than 30 others before being captured.

Gangs Recruiting Women, Too
The Guardian's Jo Tuckman and Rory Carroll add, describing a taped confession of a women who said she worked for the Zetas "killing taxi drivers, police officers, innocent people and children." Photos of "her severed head in an icebox" were posted online a couple days later. The "number of women imprisoned for federal crimes, most of which are drug-related, has quadrupled in three years," a study found. Women are pulled into the cartels by their husbands or boyfriends.

Violence So Pervasive It's Changing the Language
Fox News' Steve Harrigan writes about his own experience in the area. "'Narcofosa' is a word I heard for the first time in Juarez. Narco means workers for the drug cartels and fosa means grave. We were standing in a mass grave where 20 narcos had been buried outside of Juarez. Because many of the bodies were decapitated, identification is unlikely. So the bodies are just put in unmarked graves in one section of the cemetery known as the narcofosa or 'the graves for the headless.'"

WikiLeaks Docs Show U.S. Frustrated with Mexico's Drug War
the Los Angeles Times' Tracy Wilkinson writes. "In contrast to their upbeat public assessments, U.S. officials expressed frustration with a 'risk averse' Mexican army and rivalries among security agencies ... The cables quoted Mexican officials expressing fear that the government was losing control of parts of its national territory and that time was 'running out' to rein in drug violence." One cable says: "Official corruption is widespread, leading to a compartmentalized siege mentality among 'clean' law enforcement leaders and their lieutenants. ... Prosecution rates for organized crime-related offenses are dismal; 2% of those detained are brought" to court.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Who Really Benefits from Operation Entity?

Victoria's largest drug raid - Operation Entity
The ferocity of large scale drug raids is awe inspiring for much of the public. Just look at the latest raid in Victoria - Operation Entity. It involved 630 people from the Drug Task Force, Criminal Proceeds Squad, Crime Department, Operations Response Unit, Regional Response Units, Australian Federal Police, local police, officials from the taxation department and even immigration officers . It has been described as the biggest drug raid in Victoria’s history. The raids were carried out on 115 different premises in Albanvale, Altona Meadows, Avondale Heights, Ballarat, Berwick, Burnside, Burnside Heights, Cairnlea, Caroline Springs, Dandenong, Dandenong North, Derrimut, Elphinstone, Footscray, Footscray West, Geelong, Hallam, Hampton Park, Hillside, Hopper’s Crossing, Horsham, Kings Park, Learmouth, Oakleigh East, Melton, Melton South, Narre Warren South, Noble Park, Noble Park North, Springvale, Springvale South, St Albans, Stawell, Tarneit, Taylor’s Hill, Tyrendarra, Warrnambool and Wyndham Vale. So far, 93 people have been arrested. So what was this raid about? 


Yes, pot was the target with 13,893 cannabis plants being seized. For the million plus cannabis smokers in Australia, this must make their heads spin … and not from the pot. How do the police rationalise the massive resources put into this raid? Imagine if they targeted human slaves forced into prostitution or violent gangs. The amount of resources used in this pot raid might have actually reduced more serious crimes to the point of extinction. The sheer numbers of police involved could almost wipe out complete crime categories in Victoria. What it didn’t do, is have any real effect on the drug trade. They could repeat this raid in every Australian state, every month without ever making any serious dent in the drug trade. It must be disturbing for rational thinking people to watch these huge drug raids especially when they know the police are well aware the void will be filled in just a matter of days. It’s even more disturbing when the police admit it.

We all know that once we take out syndicates of this sort, other people will step in to fill the vacuum and our job is to make this as hard for them as possible.

With the current focus on designer drugs and clandestine laboratories, it came as a surprise that cannabis was the main target. Amassing such huge resources - paid for by the public purse - is largely considered wasteful for a drug that is less harmful than alcohol. With rapidly changing attitudes and the growing evidence that cannabis only affects a tiny percentage of the population, the police are having to turn up the rhetoric to defend their actions.

Perhaps the greatest scourge in our community is the vile traffic in illicit drugs - lives and neighbourhoods are destroyed while those who profit from this trade like to think their involvement goes on unnoticed. I say, think again.

Predictably, the key word used by police when facing the media was ‘drugs’ not ‘cannabis’. It’s much easier to sell ‘drug busts’ than ‘cannabis raids’ when the eyes and ears of the nation are fixed on you. But inevitably, when forced to reveal that the raids were just for pot, some sinister description like ‘high-potency’ was added. Why do the police have to resort to using the term ‘drugs’ when they talk about cannabis? The answer is simple. They know that a large percentage of the public are sceptical about the official government position on cannabis. The reality is that there are millions of users Australia wide and most of them have never had a problem. Add to this, the major concern of cannabis use - mental health disorders -  has most scientists finally concluding from years of research that moderate use will not greatly harm anyone with the exception of young people under 21 years old and those with a family history of mental health illness. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for the anti-pot brigade to put their case forward when the public, driven by scientific data, are rejecting their message as out-of-date, misleading and driven by an ulterior agenda.

The Event
The planning and resources used to carry out these raids is simply mind blowing. As we so often reminded, Operation Entity is the biggest event ever undertaken by the Victorian police. 630 people were needed to enact the searches with a massive level of support involved in the planning. 

The Operations Response Unit and the Victoria Police Crime Department led the charge with 410 officers executing warrants and searching premises. 12 teams of crime scene investigators then moved in and recorded the scene and collected evidence. 

The crime scene investigators conduct examination, enhancement and comparison of shoe, tyre and tool impressions, photography and/or video recording of crime scenes attended.

Police had to utilise the whole Transport Branch to get officers to the raids and the Central Property Management Unit had to altered their structure just to store all the evidence. They also had to arranged for 15 interpreters, 4 botanists and the Central Metropolitan Fingerprint Unit completed almost a year’s work in one day. Police hired 30 trucks on the day just to transport evidence, seized cannabis plants and equipment.

Here’s the list of the special police departments and other organisations involved:

Drug Task Force, 
Criminal Proceeds Squad, 
Crime Department, 
Operations Response Unit, 
Botany Branch – Forensics
Central Metropolitan Fingerprint Unit
Crime Scene Examination Unit
Transport Branch
Central Property Management Unit
Regional Response Units, 
Local police, 
Australian Federal Police, 
Office of Public Prosecutions
State Revenue Office
Australian Taxation Office
Department of Immigration and Citizenship
Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC)
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
Australian Crime Commission
Various power companies

The Result
According to Victoria Police, the result was a huge success. 93 arrests with more to come, 13,893 seized cannabis plants so far and the shut down of several organised drug syndicates. But how do they measure ‘success’? Was the success of Operation Entity worth the massive resources and planning? Those arrested were involved in criminal activities and the police have a duty to uphold the law. Growing industrial quantities of cannabis is a serious offence in Australia and the police acted accordingly by arresting them. But the big concern is the priority of Operation Entity and why wasn’t repugnant crime like forced prostitution, child pornography or violent street activity given the same treatment? What about organised extortion, the illegal gun trade and the gangs that terrorise our suburbs? These are insidious crimes that wreck lives and demean our society. Crimes against people will never be tolerated by the community and deserve a lot more focus from our law enforcers. Catching dope growers just doesn’t have the same urgency. 

One unspoken fact our law enforcement officers and law makers rarely mention is that no state in Australia has ever succeeded in dismantling the drug trade especially in relation to cannabis. Dope is so simple to grow, has an endless clientele and the profits are astronomical. The people who are happiest with Operation Entity are other growers and competing criminal organisations. There is a never ending list of potential growers to fill any void created by drug raids. The tougher the police are on cannabis, the more the price increases so growers will fight even harder for market share. This breeds violence and creates opportunities for organised crime to flourish. Cash is king in the criminal world and drugs offer an unlimited supply. I recall Chopper Reed telling us all that gone are the days of specialist crooks like safe crackers and bank robbers. Instead, he explains, that about 90% of all criminals are now involved in the drug trade. But it’s not just Australian states that have failed. Not even one single country has succeeded in making a dent in the drug market. This brings us to another unspoken fact from our law enforcement officers and law makers. Those countries with tough drug laws often have less success than nations with more liberal laws. In other words, being "Tough on Drugs" doesn’t usually lead to less drug use or a reduced drug supply. It can only be described as extraordinary why our politicians and police remain vigilant in their commitment to repeating the same mistakes every year. But it’s simply beyond words why they would push this approach even further.

The Hype
The Victoria Police website has posted seven news items about Operation Entity from November 23 to November 26. The media has responded by publishing an article about each post on a daily basis. It’s in our newspapers, on TV and updated online. We all know about it. But what is the message from Operation Entity? What has actually been achieved? The fact is we have seen these raids dozens of times before but the supply of cannabis remains in abundance. 

Today we have demonstrated that in protecting the community we will do all we can to stand between you and those who seek to exploit and prey upon you.'

The police keep telling us that without this operation, we are at the mercy of evil people who prey on our youth and exploit the community. We are told that these criminals make huge profits, derived from our misery, weakness and reliance on illicit drugs. What they don’t tell us is that most cannabis users get great pleasure from these evil wares and only purchase their stash from those arrested growers because there is no alternative … except becoming a grower themselves. There is also no mention of how the average pot smoker is now going to source their supply. Although most pot smokers aren’t compelled to keep a permanent supply, many will eventually start seeking out a new dealer. A lack of cannabis may also force some users to turn to harder drugs. This demand will drive new entrants into the marketplace as Operation Entity just fades into history.

It seems somewhat hypocritical that a much more harmful drug like alcohol is fully acceptable but a safer alternative is frowned upon. But it’s not just frowned upon, it’s actually illegal to the point where massive police raids like Operation Entity are rolled out. The dichotomy between medical experts and law enforcement on the topic of cannabis is staggering considering it’s 2010. It’s a real challenge to applaud the police when their message is so convoluted and contradictory.

This week's historic raids have struck a significant blow to organised drug syndicates across the state and have been an unprecedented success.

Reading through the dozens of articles about Operation Entity, I notice the police keep reassuring us that those nasty criminal organisations have been defeated and the lasting affects of the raids have made our communities safer. Sure, there’s talk of the need for ongoing operations but the message is clear - the crims have lost and the police have won. 

Disrupting networks of this sort is significant
Those involved will be brought to justice and their ill-gotten gains will be seized

Deputy Commissioner Sir Ken Jones revealed that during the two year investigation, an estimated $400 million had already been generated by the various drug syndicates. Oddly enough, he boasted that the police had seized $20 million in assets. That leaves a whopping $380 million shortfall which must surely raise some concern for those willing to do the sums.

Victoria Police were following the money trail. This has been very, very successful for us. We'll continue not only to seize the drugs, but we'll continue to seize assets throughout the day and later on in the week we'll apply to the courts for seizure of quite a number of assets across the whole state.

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Operation Entity along with some remarkable comments. Being Victoria’s single largest police operation, it was bound to make headlines and it was inevitable that the authorities would trumpet it’s success. But this celebration of successful policing felt empty and forced. There was no moral victory or a clear cut feeling that we had fought and beaten something hideous. The rhetoric was thick with patronising messages that we had to be protected from nasty drug manufacturers and even ourselves. But in the end, we got the best of the police PR department, desperately trying to convince us that we needed Operation Entity as much as they wanted it.

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Sunday, 14 November 2010

Cracker Comments: Oct - Nov 2010

Welcome to the latest instalment of Cracker Comments. Where self appointed experts, finger waggers and anti-science proponents assault us with their own, unique brand of moral imperativeness. 

Every week, we are treated to mind-bending analogies that defy logic and there’s no better topic than illegal drugs for these self proclaimed oracles to apply their craft. 

Brendan O'Connor
Role: : Home Affairs Minister (ALP)
Date: October 2010

With almost half-a-tonne of cocaine worth over $160 million being seized in Brisbane, the authorities are jumping for joy. It’s emotional times like these that provide a perfect environment for over zealous authorities to open their mouth before engaging their brain. 

Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Connor would have been told on dozens of occasions that organised crime dealing in drugs would have their main source of income removed if illicit drugs were regulated by the government. Not only would this strategy be devastating for criminal gangs but it would most likely reduce about 80% of all crime. It would be like stamping out all future cases of theft in our community. Almost too much to comprehend.

It’s really simple - remove the profit incentives and crime stops. The problem is our current approach that tackles the drug trade just isn’t working and the massive profits remain. You see, we only capture about 10-15% of all imported drugs at the moment and that’s according to the authorities. The real figures are unknown and probably much smaller. By having the knowledge that drug regulation would wipe out most criminal organisations in Australia but deciding instead to settle on stopping only 10%, is not a very logical choice. All the rhetoric in the world is not going to change the situation especially when we have heard the same old line for nearly 50 years.

"What we do know is, that if we want to dismantle organised crime we must attack the money flow, we must attack their income source"

The police were very lucky to find the boat with $160 million worth of cocaine. They were tipped off by US authorities. Without this tip, there would be another multi-million dollar load of illicit drugs in Australia. Although $160 million is a lot of money on the streets, the actual value to the crims is minute. Heroin and cocaine is marked up by about 17,000% by the time it is consumed. Add to that the built in loss factor at a ratio of one in ten and the bosses aren’t too worried at all. You have to wonder if claims of upsetting the drug kingpins is really necessary or an attempt to be seen to be doing something.

"This is a great blow landed this week by our law enforcement agencies"

A “great blow” to who? Brendan O'Connor really means, a great PR exercise.

Steve Price
Role: : Shock Jock and Opinion Writer 
Source: HeraldSun
Date: October 2010

Steve’s love affair with booze once again portrays drug use as the villain for crimes that are mostly caused by alcohol.

"Paedophiles roam the streets looking for victims, while bullies and teenagers high on drugs are desperate to rob any defenceless kid of their mobile phone or runners, or both"

How many cases have you read about where “bullies and teenagers high on drugs” have robbed a “defenceless kid of their mobile phone or runners, or both”? Let’s see, mmm, oh yeah … zero. That honour goes to bullies and teenagers pissed out their minds.

News Ltd Reader
Source: PerthNow
Date: October 2010

An article titled, Brazen Street Prostitutes Working Close To Perth Police HQ from Perth’s The Sunday Times attracted some bizarre comments. None so more than this cracker.

"Its a very dodgy area around there. Wouldn't surprise me if most of them were druggies financing their habit. Its when local residents get propositioned that it becomes bad. How about some undercover policewomen around there?? This is what they do in the movies & it seems to work!!!"
--pinkmini of Perth

Yes, it’s real.

Bob Falconer / Russell Armstrong
Role: : Former West Australian Police Commissioner / West Australian Police Union President 
Date: October 2010

As the use of tasers by police becomes more common, it seems the reasons become more fanciful. Bob Falconer rejected the idea that it is because there is no longer minimum height and weight standards for police but had his own explanation.

"Years ago, heroin was an analgesic -- they got sleepy, they got dopey. Now they're using drugs that give them the strength of five human beings and make them extremely unpredictable and violent"

Incredible … some drugs give you the strength of five human beings! Not to be left out, West Australian Police Union president Russell Armstrong added this:

“People fuelled by alcohol and drugs can't control themselves and start punching police”

Well done Bob and Russell.

Remember PCP? It too had the magically ability to give people super-human strength. Incredibly it was completely debunked by science. Who would have thought that some people would exaggerate the effects of drugs?

Sophie Mirabella
Role: Federal MP (Lib)
Date: November 2010

We all know that Sophie Mirabella can be a goose but blatantly misleading the public, time and time again is just going too far. Sophie’s anti-drug sentiments might be well known but they are not based it on anything factual. Repeating the same old line which is devoid of the truth isn’t winning Sophie any credibility.

“The Greens like to hide what they are really about. They have a motherhood statement about not legalising illegal drugs but they contradict themselves on their own website, in their own policy by saying they support prescribed heroin trials, cannabis use”

Like so many other anti-drug zealots, Sophie misses the point of the Greens’ drug policy. Medical marijuana and prescription heroin are medical programs and have nothing to do with legalisation. The Greens make it quite clear that they don’t support the legalisation of any illicit drugs but they do support Harm Minimisation and evidence based policies. A far cry from making all drugs legal.

Michael Mischin
Role: : Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney General; Minister for Corrective Services (Lib) 
Source: Mischin.Blog
Date: October 2010

As we all know, WA are changing the state’s cannabis laws. Many people including experts, argue that they are not making these changes based on any evidence but purely for political and ideological reasons. The fact is, the previous policies were working while all others states with harsher laws, similar to the proposed changes, were continuing with increased drug related problems. But don’t let science, history and evidence get in the way of a good political spiel.

“Cannabis is not a ‘soft’ drug.

It is not a ‘recreational’ drug.

It is not a harmless drug.

It is a gateway drug.

Use of cannabis also increases the risk of mental illness such as schizophrenia.

It is a drug that ruins lives and I am proud that we have reversed the failed policy of the previous government.


Yes, these are tough moves but we need strong laws like this that send the right message about cannabis – that it is dangerous.”

You have to laugh. Sanctimonious boneheads frothing at the mouth because of a relatively harmless drug (for most adults) but saying very little about the carnage caused by their favourite drug … booze. Selective facts mixed in with exaggerations and lies. Claims that tough, failed and outdated law are necessary to 'send the right message'. Yes, it would be funny except these self-important, agenda driven politicians cause more pain, more carnage, more misery and more problems than cannabis ever will. 

Barry O'Farrell
Role: : NSW Opposition Leader (Lib)
Source: ABC News / Hansard
Date: October 2010

One of the true joys in life is watching politicians make an ass of themselves. It’s especially sweet when they make some grandiose proclamation to make an important point but it completely contradicts the facts. When this happens, I immediately have visions of 17th century religious leaders proclaiming the earth is flat and we should be thankful they are protecting us from falling off the edge of the world.

We got to see this during the MSIC debate in the NSW parliament last month where we heard from some politicians who opposed the safe injection centre. Although most of those present in parliament during the debate were wise enough to accept the overwhelming evidence and advice from experts. some were working on their own “flat earth” theories.  But regardless of their impassioned views that MSIC was “encouraging drug use” or ‘sending the wrong message”, none of them focussed on the extensive evidence that proved the effectiveness of the clinic. One of those politicians though - Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell - did seem to grasp the importance of evidence based policy. 

“It’s not the way to run drug policy, where policy and programs should be evidence-based, not based on the views of 12 people sitting in a marginal seat”.

The problem was that Barry had just finished denouncing the MSIC program and all the evidence that formed the government’s drug policy concerning the centre. Maybe, the evidence was not the evidence he wanted? Who cares, he had his own theory.

“I oppose this legislation because it fails to meet both the goals set down by the government when it started it

I oppose it because of my concerns the state's harm minimisation policy pays too little attention to advocating no drug use, to rescuing people from their terrible addiction, and pays too much attention to trying to manage those addictions.

Thirdly, I oppose it because I don't believe there is any safe level of drug abuse and I think it does send the wrong message.

Ahead of next year's election campaign I would encourage the premier to put funding into services that will enable those who use this centre, who want to beat this addiction, who want to get access and are prepared to pursue access and treatment through drug rehabilitation services, to get the help they deserve to rid them of their addiction.”

Ironically, Barry O'Farrell accused the Premier of playing politics over the issue.

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