Saturday, 26 February 2011

SA Gov. Hates Pain Sufferers

Image by Gabriel Manga
The organisation, Dignity for Chronic Pain Sufferers needs your help. Please go to their website and sign their partition.


Read on.

Painkiller Regulations Leave Some In Agony
Elisa Black
February 2011

DOCTORS can't tell her what is wrong because there's no name for the disease she has.

For the past 20 years Trish Betros has tried to live while her bones slowly disintegrate.

She has endured more than 60 operations, none of which have offered a cure, but all were done in an attempt to keep her joints mobile, to keep her on her feet.

She has had two knee replacements. And then had to have them replaced when her body turned the tissue behind them to mush.

Bony spurs in her shoulders mean she can't lift her arms high enough to shrug on a jumper or hang out the washing. There has been an amputation. But more than anything, there is the pain. Unrelenting, it moves from a dull ache to a stab, through her body every minute of every day.

It destroyed her career as a doctor, forced her two sons to grow up quickly as they helped to care for her, put untold strain on her marriage.

And Trish says the only thing that helps her pain is about to be taken away. First prescribed strong opioid medication in 2003 by pain specialist Dr Ian Buttfield, Trish was able to regain much of her former life.

She returned to uni, took up sport, lived her life. But in 2007, the regulation of prescriptions for these types of drugs was transferred from the SA Health Commission to the Drugs of Dependence Unit within Drug and Alcohol Services SA.

Dr Buttfield, foundation chairman of the International Association of Pain and Chemical Dependency, said all drug use, whether in pursuit of quality of life through pain relief or for drug abuse, was being treated the same by DASSA.

"When you put the control in the hands of drug and alcohol authorities, they are going to treat everyone like drug and alcohol addicts, none of them know anything about the management of pain," he said.

And a recent review by DASSA means Trish's medication will be cut by about 60 per cent, even though a past decision to reduce her medication had already left her virtually housebound.

DASSA clinical director Dr Robert Ali has defended the current system.

"Around 7500 people in South Australia are prescribed opiates for the treatment of pain in any 12-month period and in most cases no deviation from the schedule requested by the doctor is made," he said.

"As soon as you are receiving opiates on a daily basis for weeks to months there are changes that are occurring in your brain chemistry and physical dependence is a by-product.

"Not everyone goes on to have an addiction but what we have, which is unique in this state is a close association whereby people who develop an addiction are able to be treated."

It is this association that Trish's husband, Greg Betros, is seeking to fight.

The chairman of Dignity for Chronic Pain Sufferers will head to court on February 25 to seek leave for a judicial review into the decision against his wife.

Mr Betros said he hoped a review would pave the way for an overhaul of the system and would benefit the more than 100 members of the group.

"You get to the point where these people say we're going to be better off dead than living with this pain," he said.

"My wife's world is literally her bedroom. We just want these people to live their lives with dignity."

And this from 2009

Agony of The Chronically Ill 'Ignored'
April 2009

SOUTH Australians suffering chronic pain are being forced interstate to obtain adequate doses of narcotics because of changes to government policy.

Some are sourcing drugs such as morphine and pethidine on the streets because authorities will not prescribe enough to relieve their pain.

The drastic scenarios have been revealed as a group of almost 100 people suffering severe pain, known as Dignity For Chronic Pain Sufferers, continues its campaign to have government policy reversed.

The group is lobbying Opposition and independent MPs to hold a parliamentary inquiry into the policy change, which has impacted up to 500 people.

Dignity For Pain Sufferers chairman Greg Betros said the situation had deteriorated considerably over the past few months while calls for help had been ignored.

Mr Betros met Mental Health and Substance Abuse Minister Jane Lomax-Smith in December last year and says he was assured the situation would be addressed.

"Nothing has happened since, despite assurances from bureaucrats that people are receiving their appropriate pain relief doses, but this is simply not the case," he said.

"We are now in the situation whereby people are either obtaining the relief they need interstate or sourcing it on the streets in Adelaide because they have no other option to continue to function."

As it now stands, a person suffering chronic pain can only be prescribed narcotic medication for a period of two months before the prescribing doctor must apply to the Drugs of Dependence Unit within Drug and Alcohol Services SA for a permit to continue prescribing.

Until 18 months ago, the regulating authority was located in the SA Health Commission, under Health Minister John Hill. The system appeared to be working well, balancing the need for pain relief for sufferers against the potential for drug abuse. However, in late 2007 the government decided to transfer the DDU to DASSA, which is under Dr Lomax-Smith's control.

The pain sufferers now argue that regulators with no experience in pain management are running the system in a manner dedicated to curbing drug addiction - to the detriment of patients with unrelated health issues.

"They say pain patients are now being controlled with mechanisms suitable for drug addicts - including sending pain patients to drug addiction centre Waranilla at Norwood - thus denying them their right to seek the doctor of their choice for pain management," Mr Betros said.

"They argue such treatment is in breach of international treaties on human rights. There is no right of appeal against the decisions. As a direct result of the changes, it has become very difficult for those in need of pain medication to obtain adequate relief. At present, the bureaucrats have assigned a notional maximum dose, while current research and clinical evidence demonstrates the dose to be prescribed is the one that relieves the pain.

"The result of the restrictions means there are a number of severely ill patients who are unable to obtain pain relief, even though they are given standard doses."

Dignity For Chronic Pain Sufferers secretary George Seabrook, whose wife Judy is one of those now receiving insufficient pain relief, said dozens of people were suffering.

"Since the policy has changed many sufferers are now unable to work, care for themselves and their families, and are in constant pain," he said. "Things were working perfectly well before the policy change was made for no apparent reason."

DASSA director Dr Robert Ali disputed the claims the shift in policy had resulted in pain patients receiving a lesser level of individual care.

"The realignment of the Drugs of Dependence branch to where it is located has not influenced clinical management," he said.

He said moving the pain patients to DASSA was "not anything other than a review and an attempt to ensure these patients received appropriate treatment in keeping with their interests and based upon best available evidence".

Dr Ali said he was aware there were people who were unhappy at the change to their circumstances and "had found it distressing they were not receiving the same approach they previously received".

"I also understand it is very difficult to have that distance and objectivity about what is in people's best interests when they feel the previous treatment was working," he said.

Dr Ali said he was confident any changes to a patient's medication dose was being made in their best interests.

The SA government is a disgrace. And Ex. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Minister Jane Lomax-Smith should be made to publicly apologise to the people whose lives she has wrecked. Her decision to move chronic pain patients to under the umbrella of the Drug and Alcohol Services was wrong and no amount of spin will change that. Her clumsy attempts to justify her decision has simply tarnished her reputation even more. 

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said chronic pain sufferers’ “issues have been referred to Drug and Alcohol Services SA because experts should decide on medication regimes, not politicians”.
--Former Mental Health and Substance Abuse Minister, Jane Lomax-Smith

Thanks Jane. Who would have ever thought that politicians would override experts and interfere with “medication regimes” or drug related issues? It’s great to see though, that Jane makes it clear where she stands on social justice issues in politics.

Jane has always been a strong advocate for social justice and sustainable development and believes that these policies are important personal principles, not just about politics.

It might surprise you to know that Jane Lomax-Smith was a doctor when she made the decision to breach the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Recognizing that the medical use of narcotic drugs continues to be indispensable for the relief of pain and suffering and that adequate provision must be made to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs for such purposes

Now Jane is the interim Director of the Royal Institution of Australia. And here’s the irony. According to Wikipedia, The Royal Institution of Australia is a not-for-profit government-supported organisation to support public engagement with science.

As for DASSA director Dr Robert Ali, he has no excuse. Dr. Ali has a history of supporting evidence based policies including controversial issues ilke prescription heroin for long term addicts. He also supports the AFL’s drug policy and cautions against naltrexone implants. All good causes involving pragmatic, evidence based outcomes. 

He said moving the pain patients to DASSA was "not anything other than a review and an attempt to ensure these patients received appropriate treatment in keeping with their interests and based upon best available evidence".

Simply shrugging off the real suffering of chronic pain patients because their new treatment is ‘based upon best available evidence’ is unbecoming of Dr. Ali. He knows that every person has unique needs and suggesting that the risk of opioid dependance is more important than quelling unbearable pain, is wrong on so many levels. Maybe he is just trying to defend his position as DASSA director or the reputation of Drug and Alcohol Services SA? Either way Dr. Ali’s reasoning overlooks one vital point. The previous treatment was working and now’s it’s not. Saying that the new procedures are ‘in their best interests’ is just condescending and ignorant to their suffering. 

I also understand it is very difficult to have that distance and objectivity about what is in people's best interests when they feel the previous treatment was working
--DASSA director Dr Robert Ali

At the core of the issue is that DASSA’s doctors specialise in addiction and have different guidelines that focus on drug abuse. Technically, once a pain patient admits they suffer withdrawals when their medication is reduced, they are classified as addicts aka junkies. This means that the only opiates allowed to be prescribed under DASSA guidelines are methadone and buprenorphine. Both drugs are for treating heroin addiction and not particularly good for pain relief.

As soon as you are receiving opiates on a daily basis for weeks to months there are changes that are occurring in your brain chemistry and physical dependence is a by-product. Not everyone goes on to have an addiction but what we have, which is unique in this state is a close association whereby people who develop an addiction are able to be treated
--DASSA director Dr Robert Ali

Considering that chronic pain can be so deliberating and life changing, the risk of becoming drug dependant is a small price to pay. Also, the physical condition of those who need powerful opioid analgesics, is often deteriorating or even terminal. Being addicted to the drugs that allow them some quality of life is not going to greatly affect their future. Where’s the justification for a decision that confines people to bed when previously, with adequate medication, they were mobile, productive and able to participate in normal family events. Drug dependancy might be serious but tens of millions of people live with it everyday. The difference is that they don’t usually suffer agonising pain.

The real complaint here is that limits have been placed on dosage levels. What dose can be prescribed for opioid based pain medication is now restricted to some arbitrary figure, regardless of the patients pain levels. Interesting, there is no such limit on methadone to treat addiction. I have experienced this first hand - my doctor once told me that I could not increase my morphine dose but if I was on methadone, he could prescribe whatever I wanted.

Regardless of the arguments, morphine and other opioids have been cited by The World Health Organisation as essential in the treatment of severe pain. What dose is prescribed is irrelevant except that it treats that pain. In most situations, dosage is carefully monitored and controlled but to think that someone determines an upper limit for all situations, including those extreme but isolated cases, is just ridiculous. 

Once again, drug hysteria has reared it’s ugly head and the fallout this time are those who suffer chronic pain. With the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) currently under attack for recklessly restricting pain medication to hundreds of millions of people worldwide and their attempts to stop high doses of opiates for pain relief, it seems ironic that South Australia is so closely following suit. The argument from DASSA director, Dr. Robert Ali - reducing the risk of addiction is more important than providing relief for the chronic suffering of pain patients - is typical of the blanket approach that SA has implemented under the hysterical Rann government. And the excuse that moving pain management to under the control of DASSA is important in case a chronic pain sufferer becomes drug dependant, is ludicrous. I’m sure drug dependancy is the last thing on someone’s mind when suicide becomes a daily consideration for those in agonising pain. Then again, for bureaucrats, politicians and government appointed researchers, chronic pain is just a series of words on a page but being labelled “Soft on Drugs" is a potential loss of employment or worse, voters. Now we know which is more important!

Related Links

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Diary: Injustice, Hillary Clinton and Getting Ripped Off!

Trust Me!!!
Ripped Off!
Although I might vigorously fight against the junkie image portrayed by the media and an ignorant public, I am realistic enough to accept that many druggies are still dirtbags. Many addicts are desperate and will take advantage of a situation that most people would not. But I need to emphasise that without their addiction, they may well act like any other person off the street. The fact is that there’s no hell on earth that offers as much excruciating pain and sheer terror as heroin or opiate withdrawals. Trying to avoid this agony will drive most junkies to do something they don’t want to.

So, why did I trust some unknown druggy with $150 to score for me? Knowing how desperate some druggies are should have kept me from putting too much trust into someone I didn’t know, especially when it comes to money. So, of course I got ripped off and now have nothing to show for it. Yes, I’m an idiot and yes, I should have gone with him and yes, I should have checked his mobile phone number wasn’t disconnected and yes, I should have written down his car rego and yes, I should have held something of value until he returned and yes… blah blah blah.

I’m writing this because I’m so pissed off for not taking the time to careful. I can live with the loss of $150 but it’s embarrassing that I acted so desperately when I saw a chance to finally score some speed. He has obviously done this before and must have thought he was dreaming when some stranger asked him if he could score. Just imagine what he thought when I offered him $50 just to do it! 

But the most annoying aspect of all this is hindsight. Like those inconsistencies that become apparent after the fact. For example, he said it was $350 for 3 grams but when I asked if there was a smaller quantity available, he told me it was $100 per gram. The maths should have set off alarm bells. And when I offered him $50 for his trouble, he turned it down. Why would he go to all that effort to score for a stranger … for free? I should have noticed the urgency as well.

Once again, I have learnt a valuable life lesson but will my resolve to be less trusting of druggies fade over time? It’s true that addicts are hard done by when it comes to the stereotyped image that society has given them but the anger and embarrassment from being ripped off by one of them nearly stops me even caring … until I realise I’m one of them!

Yes, I am a druggy as well. I was the one who was looking to score and I initiated the first contact. The difference though, is that I wasn’t looking to cheat someone through deceit. I was merely wanting to purchase something that made me happy. I was willing to pay for it with money I earned and even offered $50 to the shyster for 20 minutes work. But like every group of people, there are always some who are trash. Some who will rob you blind and have no respect for anyone except themselves. Addiction is a curse that will drive some desperate people to desperate measures but this guy is simply one of those lowlifes that infest every collection of people we put a tag on.

Hillary Clinton and THAT Comment
On a lighter note, Hillary Clinton has been nominated for the Silliest Comment of the Year award. 

BE WARNED: You might need to sit down for this one. 

Whilst in Mexico, Hillary was being interviewed for a local TV news show. The reporter asked for her opinion about the latest suggestion from some politicians that legalising drugs might turn around the drug war in Mexico. Hillary responded:

I don't think that will work. I mean, I hear the same debate. I hear it in my country. It is not likely to work … There is just too much money in it.

Well, that’s a new angle.

Hillary continued:

and I don't think that – you can legalise small amounts for possession, but those who are making so much money selling, they have to be stopped. They can’t be given an even easier road to take, because they will then find it in their interest to addict even more young people. Mexico didn’t have much of a drug problem before the last 10 years, and you want to keep it that way. So you don’t want to give any excuse to the drug traffickers to be able legally to addict young people.

There you go. Words of wisdom from one of the most powerful people on the planet. 

Is anyone worried that this person is one of the key decision makers for a country that enforces their local drug policy on the entire world? How the US manage their drug policy affects hundreds of millions of people from every country but one of it’s most powerful leaders can’t comprehend a simple yet fundamental economic principle. The premise of any prohibition driving up prices is universally understood so why would the US Secretary of State be so clueless? Whether Hillary is genuinely a bit thick on real world situations or was trying to spin her way out of a tricky question, it seems that as usual and regardless of context, any mention of drugs and all common sense, logic and reason fly out the window.

Harm Minimisation Coming to New Jersey - Only 20 years Too Late
Sometimes it's hard to believe it's 2011.

From the New Jersey News:

Bill To Permit The Sale Of Syringes Without A Prescription Advances

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by state Sen. Joseph F. Vitale to allow pharmacies in New Jersey to sell hypodermic syringes and needles without a prescription was approved by the Senate Thursday by a vote of 28-12.

Yep, after decades of lobbying by numerous health organisations and with rates of HIV/AIDS amongst intravenous drug users topping out over 1000% higher than Australia, New Jersey is attempting to legalise syringes. Not marijuana or ecstasy or even heroin but syringes.

It’s definitely goods news and long overdue but how could New Jersey be so out of touch with reality? It’s a real brain bender that this law existed for so long while mountains of research and evidence - clearly showing that access to clean injecting equipment saved lives and money - kept landing on the desks of law makers. What about the thousands of deaths that were racked up from blood borne diseases while complacent politicians and holier-than-thou anti-drug nutters congratulated themselves for “not sending the wrong message”. Being charged for possession of a syringe without a prescription is just absurd but then I’m used to Australia’s pragmatic approach and successful harm minimisation programs. I can’t help but wonder though - if they were so freaked out over syringes, imagine what they thought when someone suggested a needle exchange program?!

Dropping this law is a no-brainer and I’m sure most people agree. But look again at the votes. Did you notice that 12 senators want to retain the current law? WTF is that about? How much evidence do they need? How many drug users have to contract HIV/AIDS or Hep C before they change their mind? Don’t they feel foolish being a minority when the issue being voted on involves saving lives? In 2011, there is no excuse for voting against this bill. Those that did, should be made to explain their reasoning and if they roll out the usual "War on Drugs" rhetoric, then they should be put in a time machine and sent back to the 1980s.

Bernie Finn Feedback
Talking about out-of-date politicians, I have received quite a bit of feedback about the Bernie Finn article. If you remember, I questioned Finn’s support of the death penalty especially for drug dealing. After I posted the article, I sent off several email to politicians in the western suburbs of Melbourne. I noticed from my web logs that nearly every email recipient then went on to read my article with several emailing me back. Surprisingly, every email I received supported my views with some politicians even making a point to tell me that they completely opposed Finn’s warped ideology.  I just wish they would be more vocal in public while they have the power to make a difference.

And on a final note, I received an email from Gary Toca, the young man at the centre of the Justice is a Joke article. Gary was cruelly sentenced to 10 years jail for supplying the heroin that killed his friend, Pierce Sharai. He wasn’t a drug dealer but was simply the one chosen out of a group of friends to make the purchase. As I said in the original article, Gary’s sentence is cruel and unjust yet typical of how desperate some opportunists have become to jail drug offenders. They weren’t dealing with some violent punk with a long rap sheet but an honours student with no criminal background. Although Gary was helping police, it seems that when they couldn’t find the drug dealer, they turned their attention to an easier target … Gary himself. Is this one of the worst cases of injustice you have ever read about?

Here’s Gary’s first email (with his permission):

Hey Terry, 
This is Gary Toca, the person who was sentenced to 10 year's for his friend's overdose.  I am currently on bond and have to report to Beaumont, Texas on February 17 to begin my jail term.    

I really appreciate the article you wrote.  

This has been a very difficult time for me, but I am thankful for anyone who expresses concern for my case or for harsh drug laws in general. Your article speaks truth on many levels.  

People like you are needed in the US and abroad, in order to raise awareness about the draconian sentencing that is rendered upon those involved with drugs; as well as, the over sentencing that occurs due to politicians primarily being concerned with the advancement of their careers. Another serious problem with the justice system in the US is the FBI, DEA, and other agencies. They can be vindictive and tyrannical; a far cry from the way the public perceives them to be.  

If you have any questions about me or my case, I will be glad to answer them. It's good to know that you believe that drug users should be treated as people with medical problems, and not criminals. 

Thanks, Gary Toca

Gary’s second email

Hello again,

Yes, this incident has been devastating for me. When I first was informed that I would probably receive around a 10 year sentence, I was completely despondent and felt suicidal most days.  I can't really describe how depressed I was. Knowing that I would be much older when I got out was what really had me down.

They do have good time in the Federal system (you have to serve 85% of your sentence), along with a drug program which takes a year off of your sentence and guarantees you 6 months in a halfway house if you qualify for it. Assuming that I earn all of my good time credit and get into the drug program, I should spend about 7 years in there and get out when I am 30.  

Someone who has changed my outlook on this though, is my mentor, Hakim Kashif. He spent around 16 1/2 years in federal prison for distributing cocaine.  He changed the way I think about being in prison by getting me to think positively and to focus on the things I can do to better myself while I am there. He has helped me to have hope again. While it can still be very difficult for me at times, I try to keep in mind that I can still have a good life when I get out and can be in better shape physically and mentally than I ever would have been had this not happened to me.  

As far as my case is concerned, I will not be able to appeal, since I plead guilty and there were no breaches of my plea agreement. The only thing that could reduce my sentence is a change in the legislature.  Such a thing seems unlikely at this point, so I don't plan on holding my breath.  

I could go on for days about the problems with US Federal justice system in how they handled my case, along with thousands of other drug offenders, but I will have to save that for another e-mail.


PS - I would not mind you posting any of my e-mails on your site.  

I can’t help but feel devastated about this story. Gary Toca seems to be a decent, intelligent human being who has had his life shattered by some shit stain wanting to further their career. I hope that person is happy with their handy work. I also hope that person is run over by a truck.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Study Proves Ecstasy is Safe … ish

Finally! After years of dodgy reporting and hysterical reactions, ecstasy(MDMA) has been given the green light. Well, maybe not green but at least amber.

Residual Neurocognitive Features Of Long-Term Ecstasy Users With Minimal Exposure To Other Drugs
John H. Halpern1, Andrea R. Sherwood4, James I. Hudson2, Staci Gruber3, David Kozin1, Harrison G. Pope Jr2,*
Article first published online: 15 FEB 2011
© 2010 The Authors, Addiction © 2010 Society for the Study of Addiction

Aims:  In field studies assessing cognitive function in illicit ecstasy users, there are several frequent confounding factors that might plausibly bias the findings toward an overestimate of ecstasy-induced neurocognitive toxicity. We designed an investigation seeking to minimize these possible sources of bias.

Design:  We compared illicit ecstasy users and non-users while (1) excluding individuals with significant life-time exposure to other illicit drugs or alcohol; (2) requiring that all participants be members of the ‘rave’ subculture; and (3) testing all participants with breath, urine and hair samples at the time of evaluation to exclude possible surreptitious substance use. We compared groups with adjustment for age, gender, race/ethnicity, family-of-origin variables and childhood history of conduct disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We provide significance levels without correction for multiple comparisons.

Setting:  Field study.

Participants:  Fifty-two illicit ecstasy users and 59 non-users, aged 18–45 years.

Measurements:   Battery of 15 neuropsychological tests tapping a range of cognitive functions.

Findings:  We found little evidence of decreased cognitive performance in ecstasy users, save for poorer strategic self-regulation, possibly reflecting increased impulsivity. However, this finding might have reflected a pre-morbid attribute of ecstasy users, rather than a residual neurotoxic effect of the drug.

Conclusions:  In a study designed to minimize limitations found in many prior investigations, we failed to demonstrate marked residual cognitive effects in ecstasy users. This finding contrasts with many previous findings—including our own—and emphasizes the need for continued caution in interpreting field studies of cognitive function in illicit ecstasy users.

The myths about ecstasy have plagued us for decades and continue today. Although MDMA is probably the safest recreational drug we know of, it is still classified by all countries as a schedule I drug along side heroin and LSD. It is even listed as more dangerous than cocaine and amphetamines. Even though several US health industry groups went to court in 1985 and the judge ruled that MDMA should be available for research, the DEA ignored the ruling and used their own special emergency powers to ban it immediately. Since then, it has remained as a schedule I drug. This was the start of a campaign against MDMA where the truth comes second to scary myths, ranting nutters and dubious research. Although it still rages on today, this latest research might finally shed some myths that are all too often, quoted as facts.

With Ecstasy out of control in the states, the government attempted to take action – with propaganda. In 1998 the DEA decided to sponsor Dr. George Ricardi of John Hopkins University to do a study pertaining to the effects that Ecstasy had on the brain. With Ricardi’s research complete he published his final results. His research showed that when a person takes one single recreational dose of Ecstasy it reduced the brain’s serotonin (chemical in the brain that regulates mood, appetite, sleep, and emotion) by 50-85% which was then irreversible. With this information out, NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) produced a pamphlet labeled, “Your Brain on Ecstasy,” the image shown was that of a brain with a line cutting down the middle of it. On the left side was the label, “Your Brain Before Ecstasy” with a full, healthy looking brain. On the right side were the words, “Your Brain After Ecstasy,” which was visually portrayed as a shriveled, hole infested lump. The image was supposed to show the serotonin depletion after a dose of MDMA but as Dr. Stephen Kish (who is the world’s leading researcher studying the brain) said, “The problem with these index cards given to young people by NIDA is that the brain scan pictures of the Ecstasy users looks like there are large holes in the brain, and that’s just not true. But for me the main problem with the index cards was that it was based on faulty data (Jennings, 2004).” That is where the myth was born that Ecstasy causes holes in the brain. In 2002, Ricardi performed another government funded study on the effects MDMA had on the brain. This test was to prove that one tablet of Ecstasy could cause Parkinson’s disease in the individual. His test was performed on monkeys, by injecting them with what was allegedly a single dose of “Ecstasy.” His verdict: Ecstasy can lead to Parkinsonism. 

Dr. Kish was right; there was faulty data in the 1998 Ricardi study. The first obvious fault in his study was the fact that from the subjects he used to test, it could not have been certain whether or not they had ever even used MDMA in their lives because there was no hair sample (hair samples are used to test for drug use over a long period of time). The second major issue that’s prevalent is that during his testing, Ricardi noted that some brains had almost 40x more serotonin than others, “scientists say such a variation is simply impossible (Jennings, 2004).” After being disproved by Kish he retracted his 2002 statement that said that Ecstasy can lead to Parkinson’s disease by saying “[he] mistakenly gave methamphetamines, a far more toxic substance than Ecstasy, to the monkeys he used in the study (Jennings, 2003)." 

The “Hole in the brain” myth was popularised by Oprah and an MTV special on Ecstasy in 2000. This type of publicity still drives the hysteria surrounding ecstasy along with the usual suspect from the anti-drug brigade.

The problem to date is that the research into MDMA has been dubious at best. Although not as bad as the “Hole in the brain” scam or the claims that it causes Parkinson’s Disease after one use, most research has been rejected by experts as biased or flawed. Ironically, this latest robust research is by NIDA, the very group who blindly supported the flawed studies by Dr. George Ricardi and spent millions promoting his findings. Even after Dr. Ricardi’s research was exposed as flawed, NIDA refused to remove his findings from their website. You have to wonder if they commissioned this latest research in the hope that negative results would back their decade’s old campaign against MDMA. Whatever their motives, this latest study must be burning a hole in the brain of the officials who have tried so hard, for so long to demonise ecstasy.

Related articles

Monday, 14 February 2011

Bernie Finn - The Most Dangerous Politician in Australia?

Is this the sort of guy you really want
to be making decisions for us?
After listening to Liberal Party MP, Bernie Finn, you may be forgiven if you hear banjo music playing around in your head. If ever there was a reminder about the Movie, Deliverance, Bernie Finn is it.

Last week in the Victorian parliament, Finn said he believed there should be capital punishment for major drug dealers and drug lords. He was backing a call from fellow party member, Andrew Elsbury who - during his maiden parliamentary speech - said the death penalty was warranted in some circumstances including drug trafficking.

I believe there are some crimes so abhorrent that the death penalty is justified. These include acts of murder, drug trafficking or production in commercial quantities, and terrorism.

The premier, Ted Baillieu rejected the call from Finn and stood firm on his opposition to the death penalty. As expected, readers of the Murdoch press was full of adulation for Finn’s request to snuff out the evil druggies but others in the community were not as convinced. Law Institute of Victoria president Caroline Counsel, Greens MP Colleen Hartland, Family Drug Society chief executive Tony Trimingham and Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre director Prof. Dan Lubman all dismissed the idea. Even People Against Lenient Sentencing president Steve Medcraft said he didn’t think the death penalty for drug traffickers was a good idea.

I’m in favour of the death penalty but only for people like convicted murders or child killers. I don’t know if you could apply it to drug dealers

But Steve Medcraft’s fellow crusader for silly causes, Noel McNamara (president of Crime Victims Support Association) was much more supportive.

I think the death penalty should be brought back for anyone who takes a life or causes a (loss of) life like happens with drug traffickers
Of course there’s nothing like permanent rehabilitation on the end of a rope

Whether we have a right to sanction the death of a criminal is a contentious issue. Personally, I have struggled with this subject and often change my mind for reasons which seem logical at the time. But hey, who knows how a recently single junkie with clinical depression, diabetics and pain issues conducts logical conclusions in a sometimes, drug fucked mind? I certainly don’t. My current stance is that certain crimes do indeed deserve the ultimate punishment but drug dealing is not one of them. If drug dealers and traffickers deserve to die then so do the CEO’s of The Fosters Group, Purdue Pharma and Philip Morris. Supplying goods that can be dangerous or misused is not a reason to have your life terminated, no matter how opposed you are to the product. Should arms dealers, motorcycle salespeople and knife manufacturers also be executed?

One group of people that should be totally opposed to capital punishment are Christians. As far as I know, most mainstream religions argue that life is sacred and only God himself can make the ultimate decision. Unless of course, you’re a fundamentalist or a right-wing crackpot operating under the cover of religious fervour. 

It seems that out spoken Evangelist, “Wobbly” Bill Muehlenberg, not only thinks the death penalty is a good idea but he is more upset with the Greens for calling it a “form of state-sanctioned murder” than Finn’s suggestion crossing any religious boundaries. I’m quite sure that Moses and his list of mortal sins insist that “Thou Shall Not Kill”. And I hear that even Jesus himself was pretty vocal on the subject of retribution and killing your fellow man.

Predictably the Greens went apoplectic about such a suggestion – one that sounds quite sensible to me.

But since when has the teachings of Jesus stopped hypocrites like Muehlenberg from pushing their own, self righteous agenda? In his attack on the Greens, Wobbly Bill bends the truth just enough to make his right wing claptrap sound plausible to his gullible audience. 

Murder, as any law court knows, or any dictionary can inform us, has to do with the intentional killing of any innocent person. That is why murder is illegal, because it is always wrong to deliberately snuff out the life of an innocent person. But of course there are plenty of cases of killing which are not murder.

There is justified killing in other words. Such killing is neither immoral, nor – normally – illegal. The obvious candidates are self-defence, just war, and the death penalty. In all three cases the taking of a life is not murder and is not morally unjustifiable. In all three cases the person being killed is not innocent, and has warranted the forfeiture of his life.

Er, sorry Wobbly Bill but you’re definition of murder is your own interpretation. No dictionary I checked referred to an innocent victim.

murder [noun]
the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another
--Various Dictionary Definitions

Wobbly Bill’s attempt to discredit the Greens is plainly deceitful. Emphasising that the victim has be innocent for it to classified as murder is the basis for his whole argument and really just a poor excuse to attack the Greens.

The real focus of this article though is not some self appointed moral watchdog or who agrees or disagrees with capital punishment but Liberal MP, Bernie Finn. I mean, who the hell is he anyway and why does his opinion matter so much? Let’s have a closer look.

This website is about drugs, drug policy and those who influence the law. Elected officials and politicians are given the task to decide how we, as a society deal with issues like drugs. These elected leaders have a responsibility to seek out the facts and evidence about issues like drugs and implement appropriate policies. Since the laws greatly affect our lives, elected officials have an obligation to take on expert advice and scientific data to determine what’s in our best interests. But what happens when some politicians ignore the best available data and instead, decide to base decisions on their own ignorant views or even their ideology? 

You would hope that by producing enough conclusive research and carefully studying the history of drug prohibition, our leaders would be rational enough to take the evidence on board … even if it clashes with their own personal views. Any other complex issue would focus on the facts and only a few, rare politicians would reject the findings of quantified research. Even many climate change denialists had to eventually change their minds as the research came pouring in. So why does the issue of drugs produce so many unsubstantiated opinions? Why do so many of our elected leaders choose to reject the scientific evidence and advice from experts? Why do they persist so adamantly that their own views are superior to that of scientists and health professionals who spend their whole lives studying the issue? Sometimes, you only have to listen to their own unique brand of logic to realise how far they have strayed from the facts.

One of the great mysteries of our time concerns those who advocate the legalisation of such drugs as an answer. To give these drugs the parliamentary seal of approval would be in itself a crime. A greater mystery is the proposition that legal heroin injecting rooms with taxpayer-funded heroin would somehow stem the tide of this virulent disease in our society. Perhaps next we can expect to cure alcoholism by distributing cans of Victoria Bitter or bottles of Johnnie Walker courtesy of the taxpayer. It is a ludicrous proposition and one deserving of total contempt by this Parliament.

Although he will tell us otherwise, Bernie Finn is completely ignorant about the issue of drugs. Yes, he may see the damaging effects of drug abuse in Melbourne’s western suburbs but his reasoning is stooped in myths, a century of propaganda and masses of misinformation. Since 1997, Finn has regularly made false and misinformed comments in Victoria’s parliament about drug issues. Nearly every remark or speech concerning drugs has been totally void of facts and based on popular misconceptions which have been dismissed by health professionals and experts alike. 

I could talk about the alcohol problem, which I think actually has more to do with the drug problem on our streets and in our nightclubs and so forth.

When I was a lad -- and I can still remember it -- a few of us had a sip from time to time, but we did not go on the rampage. We did not try to go and rip off somebody's head. We did not try to kick them to death. There was none of that sort of thing, but then again we did not take some of the drugs that are prevalent in our nightclubs now. Until such time as we embark on a campaign of deliberately cracking down -- of zero tolerance -- on the people who manufacture and sell these drugs to our young people the problem we have is not going to be solved and it will only get worse. I say to the government that as a society we need to get fair dinkum about this, to crack down on these drug dealers and to show them that we will not tolerate their behaviour here in Melbourne or in Victoria. It is just not on.
--Bernie Finn. Response to Government Enquiry on Street Violence

Finn is an alcohol apologist and will never concede that booze causes more health issues and violence than illicit drugs. It doesn’t matter how many studies prove this, Finn is unrelenting in his crusade.

As for Ms Hartland, I am perhaps not quite as enthusiastic about her contribution, given that she was very antagonistic towards those who enjoy a sip from time to time. She was almost getting to the prohibitionist stage, which is quite extraordinary for a member of a party which has from time to time supported -- and perhaps still does support -- the legalisation of marijuana, heroin and every other drug you can get your hands on. I just cannot work out the logic of that one, but perhaps it will come to me during a dream or something like that.


When I get into town and see some of the goings-on on the streets of Melbourne after dark on a Friday or Saturday night, it absolutely horrifies me. I cannot believe we have this mass of drunks just wandering around. I have to say that despite what Ms Hartland and some of the other speakers have said, it is not just alcohol that is the problem. In fact it is far from just alcohol that is the problem. It is drugs that are causing many of these young people to be completely out of their minds.


Basically this bill does not address the problem we have. The only way we can address the problem we have is to give the police in this state the authority and the resources to do their job. That is the only way we are going to attack -- and successfully attack -- this problem. But of course the government once again shows that it does not like police. That has been shown yet again by the fact that it has come up with something called 'compliance officers' to terrorise licensees.

--Handard(2009) - Liquor Control Reform Amendment (Enforcement) Bill

Like all good anti-drug zealots, Finn thinks that zero tolerance is the only solution. The problem is that it has never worked … ever. People like Finn hate harm minimisation and fail to grasp what’s it really about. If Bernie Finn had actually researched harm minimisation instead of just publicly slamming it, he would have realised that the programs he hates (safe injecting rooms etc.) are just a part of a bigger strategy including demand reduction and supply reduction. Research would have also taught him that the policies he is so adamant about has not deterred or reduced drug use. Instead, Finn appears to just make it up as he speaks. For example, Finn claims that illegal drug use has been the cause of “mental health problems reaching epidemic proportions”. The problem with this is that mental health disorders have not increased in line with growing drug use over the last three decades. There is no “mental health epidemic” especially related to drug use. Most of the drug related problems we are experiencing are largely caused by prohibition and the drug laws championed by Finn.

The politically correct brigade are probably at their most dangerous when they advocate harm-minimisation policies on illicit drugs. No tolerance is clearly the only effective policy to accept in combating illegal drugs. The enormous damage done to generations of our young people by supposedly harmless, recreational drugs is now becoming apparent. Too many have died from the scourge of drugs, and now we are seeing the long-term effects of illegal drug use with mental health problems reaching epidemic proportions. Too large a percentage of two generations have literally fried their brains.

Finn’s anti-drug rhetoric is often typical of the usual tactics employed by anti-drug groups. Exaggeration, myths, urban legends, junk science and personal views are common place. But sometimes, his arguments are so silly that any rational person must shake their head in disbelief.

These rave parties that we hear about are nothing but an excuse to take drugs. The police know that, the hospitals know that and even the promoters know that. I will give you an example. My wife, who is a nurse, worked for many years at St Vincent's Hospital in the emergency department, and she will testify quite happily that the promoters of these rave parties would ring the hospitals in the days leading up to a rave party and say, 'We've got a rave party on Saturday night. You'd better get ready'. These people would ring the emergency wards and say, 'We've got a party on Saturday night. You'd better get ready!'.

Remember the 1970s and 1980s when some ultra conservative religious groups tried to tell us that heavy metal music contained messages from Satan? Some of them said that Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, The Beatles and even Dolly Parton had such a detrimental affect on our youth that pop music should be banned. According to Finn, rap music is now threatening society and causing our kids to use illegal drugs, abuse women and join in on gang violence.

My understanding is that there are various forms of rap music and some are quite innocent and indeed respectable. But there is also a violent form of rap music that is a major threat, I believe, to the safety of women in particular and other law-abiding citizens within society. It encourages violence against women and law enforcement officers.

It encourages illicit, illegal drug use and gang violence. Music, as I am sure the President would be aware, has influenced many in society over many, many years for good and perhaps not so good reasons at times, but this form of music has had a profound deleterious effect on many especially young people.

Poking fun at rednecks like Finn might be entertaining but there is a serious side to all this. Bernie Finn is an elected official and has enormous powers at his discretion. He has the potential to create even more draconian laws and policies whilst never even having to produce a shred of evidence to support his agenda. This is a major concern for any community that wants government decisions based on something tangible like scientific data or extensive research. Unfortunately, Finn considers drug use a moral issue and something that can be prevented by tough law enforcement. This comes at a time when many nations are repealing their harsh drug laws because they have completely failed to curtail crime and drug use. 

It is extremely important that we have a moral education program in this area. We must reinforce the fact that taking drugs, whether heroin or anything else, is wrong because they harm you and in many instances can kill. We must not allow education programs to be hijacked by special interest groups, as has occurred with education programs on other issues.

Changes are necessary for the treatment of offenders, and penalties for offenders and drug traffickers should also be changed. First offenders should receive a mandatory referral to a drug support agency for education and rehabilitation. If that does not work, on the second offence the offender should be fined. If there is a further offence, a heavy gaol sentence should be imposed. People should be made aware of what they are up against.

Drug dealers and pushers are the scum of the earth and they deserve to be treated with the contempt with which they treat our society.

Maximum sentences should be doubled from 25 to 50 years. Those who handle large quantities of drugs should receive a mandatory life sentence. People should be aware that if they deal in drugs they will have to pay the price.

Since the 1980s, harsh legal penalties for drug related offences like mandatory sentencing, longer prison terms and increased police powers have created massive problems for society whilst never achieving their goals. Our jails are over flowing, organised crime is rampant and drug use has grown exponentially. Why then, would people like Bernie Finn want these strategies extended? The evidence is freely available to anyone who wants it but it seems, Bernie Finn isn’t interested. He has his own strong views and while they are popular with his constituents, he has no reason to change his agenda.

Liberal Mp Bernie Finn Wants Death Penalty For Drug Lords But Victims Say Don't Execute
By Stephen McMahon and Amelia Harris
February 2011

Western suburbs MP Bernie Finn wants the death penalty brought back for drug lords. Source: Herald Sun

FAMILIES who lost loved ones to drug overdoses have slammed a Victorian MP's call for dealers to face the death penalty.

Brian Butcher, whose daughter Kobie, 34, died in 2008, said he didn’t think the death penalty would work, but welcomed the debate.

It comes after Liberal MP Bernie Finn called for capital punishment to be brought back as the ultimate punishment for drug lords.

"I would definitely consider it because they are causing a lot misery to a lot of people," Mr Butcher said.

"Would the death penalty work? Probably not. Someone else would pop up. They’re all willing to take their chance for the big dollars.

"I would like one of them to come and sit down and watch my wife at night or watch my 10-year-old granddaughter crying because she just misses mummy."

Mr Butcher, 56, said he thought there would be always be someone willing to deal and traffic drugs.

"It doesn’t seem to be very much of a deterrent for the ones trafficking overseas," he said.

Should drug dealers get the death penalty? Have your say below

Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre director Prof Dan Lubman said he didn’t think the death penalty alone would solve the drug problem.

He said a wide ranging informed debate was needed.

Premier Ted Baillieu said he stood by his long term position of opposing the death penalty.

"It would be a conscience vote and the chances of that happening are next to none," Mr Baillieu said on radio station 3AW today.

In arguing for capital punishment, Mr Finn said drug runner and gangster Carl Williams was a merchant of death who should have been executed rather than left to die in prison.

Opponents of the death penalty said the reintroduction of capital punishment would make Australia a pariah in the eyes of the world.

But the outspoken western suburbs MP said the only way to keep children safe from the scourge of drugs was to bring back capital punishment.

Crime Victims Support Association president Noel McNamara this morning backed Mr Finn's calls.

"I think the death penalty should be brought back for anyone who takes a life or causes a (loss of) life like happens with drug traffickers," Mr McNamara said.

"Of course there’s nothing like permanent rehabilitation on the end of a rope."

People Against Lenient Sentencing president Steve Medcraft said he didn’t think the death penalty for drug traffickers would solve the problem because it was so widespread.

"I’m in favour of the death penalty but only for people like convicted murders or child killers. I don’t know if you could apply it to drug dealers," Mr Medcraft said.

"How do you draw the line? What do you call a drug dealer? You can’t get hung for growing a dozen marijuana plants."

Mr Finn wants Premier Ted Baillieu to make the reintroduction of the death penalty a government policy.

The death penalty was outlawed in Australia in 1967 after the execution of Ronald Ryan at Pentridge Prison.

"These drug lords don't deserve to breathe the same air as us," Mr Finn told Parliament.

"I believe if we were to adopt it we would send a very clear message to these people who deal in death and misery."

Mr Medcraft said he thought drug traffikers should be "locked up forever".

Mr Finn was backing up the maiden speech by fellow Liberal MP Andrew Elsbury in support of capital punishment.

"I believe there are some crimes so abhorrent that the death penalty is justified. These include acts of murder, drug trafficking or production in commercial quantities, and terrorism," Mr Elsbury told the Parliament.

Law Institute of Victoria president Caroline Counsel said there was no going back to the dark days of capital punishment.

"We value all human life, born or unborn, and are fundamentally opposed to the death penalty in any circumstances," Ms Counsel said.

She warned these sorts of debates could inflame an irrational response from some in the community.

Shadow Attorney-General Martin Pakula called on the Premier to clarify if Mr Finn's remarks reflected official government policy or whether he had slipped the leash again.

Greens MP Colleen Hartland was also appalled by her fellow parliamentarians' call.

"I don't support any form of state-sanctioned murder, no matter what the crime," Ms Hartland said.

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