Friday, 20 May 2011

Safe Injecting Room Hysteria Hits Victoria

Picture this scenario. A cancer expert proposes a medical clinic that would not only save dozens of lives each year but save $millions in future costs through preventative care. The proposed clinic from the expert is backed up by thousands of highly qualified peers and he even produces evidence from 91 other similar clinics around the world that show how successful they have been. The local council approves the clinic by a massive 6-1 vote while a local radio station quotes dozens of residents supporting the idea.      

What would you think if our state premier, in front of the media, told the cancer expert, his peers, the council leaders and supporters that the government won't be allowing the clinic to proceed and that instead, they will rely on extending current programs. No big deal, we have heard it all before at least a dozen times. 

What if though, the government' s current programs - the ones they want to expand - have never actually worked? And I'm not just talking about not working in some suburb in Melbourne like Richmond but in every region, in every state and territory in Australia. Not even once has the premier's proposed strategies ever resulted in success in Australia But, what if the premier's suggestion has never even succeeded overseas although it has been the default policy for 40 years in thousands of states, counties and provinces in over 200 countries around the world? Now, that's just ridiculous...

OK, so it's not a cancer clinic but the principle is still the same. If it was actually a cancer clinic, the public, the medical profession, the media and the opposition would be demanding the resignation of the premier and his cronies. What leader would ignore thousands of medical experts and hundreds of scientific studies and instead continue on with a policy that has failed for 40 years and annually costs tens of $billions, kills dozens of people, sends thousands of non violent Australians to prison and causes more societal carnage than any other policy in modern history? The answer is simply stunning. No leader would be that irresponsible, reckless and idiotic to ignore the massive amount of scientific and empirical evidence ... unless it has to do with illicit drugs.  

Why do governments ignore the scientific research behind illicit drugs? For example, why would Ted Baillieu oppose a safe injecting clinic in Richmond so vehemently when Sydney's MSIC has proven itself, again and again through independent, scientific research? If there was ample evidence for a cancer clinic, Uncle Ted wouldn't even hesitate but since it's about drugs, all advice from experts and professionals is simply rejected like a Buck's Fizz CD at a Faith No More concert.

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu refuses to approve the state's first heroin injecting centre because he doesn't want to be seen as soft on drugs, a key drugs policy adviser says.

Yarra councillors voted 6-1 on Tuesday night for an injecting room to tackle drug-related problems in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond.

Mr Baillieu insists his government won't sanction the establishment of an injection room along the lines of the Sydney facility that has operated in Kings Cross for 10 years.

"I recognise there's a problem and it's one of the reasons why we want to have more police on the streets," he told Fairfax Radio.

"We haven't supported injecting rooms, we won't support injecting rooms, and I don't support the normalisation of any of this sort of behaviour."

One of Baillieu's answers was to put more police on the streets. This type of response might have been appropriate in the 1970s/1980s but we have had 40 years of successive failures, hundreds of studies slamming the tactic and no proof whatsoever that the suggestion would help the drug problem. In fact, every single scientific study or research project has shown us that an increased police presence simply moves the problem to neighbouring suburbs or a new location. Relying on brute force tactics like law enforcement is not just lazy politics but ineffective at best and dangerous at worst. Is this really the best solution an elected leader can come up with? Decisions like this would not be tolerated in the private sector so why are they allowed when you're the elected premier? This isn't about profit/loss statements or whether company XYZ should increase their marketing budget for SE Asia. The cold, hard reality from decisions about issues like the proposed safe injecting clinic in Richmond can have an enormous impact on families and those who need help the most.

Prof. David Penington said Mr Baillieu's proposal to solve the problem through law enforcement would not work.

"Mr Baillieu is very firmly of the view that everything can be handled by law enforcement," Prof Penington told AAP.

"It's an instinctive reaction.

"It's a problem that is not going to go away with law enforcement. It's something that law enforcement has failed to eliminate over the last 50 years.

"They just fear that anything seen as soft on drugs will increase their use, but in fact, if we look at the evidence from other places and the successful program in Sydney, there isn't any evidence of increased use."

Our antiquated drug laws are devastating the human race, stockpiling addicts in overcrowded prisons and creating havoc for those with mental disorders. The irony is that although only a very small percentage of society end up with major drug problems, the bulk of drug users never have a health problem and only ever run into trouble when they cross paths with law enforcement. The tiny group of troubled drug users are the focus for most of our public policy, the media's attention and the bulk of police resources. Like alcohol abusers, the problematic drug user require most of the available help but after decades of anti-drug propaganda and politicians taking advantage of the publics misguided views usually force politicians into retaining useless and often dangerous drug policies that mostly just appease nervous parents, conservatives and semi-religious community groups.

Those who do end up with an addiction or a drug problem have become fodder for headline writers and self promoting politicians. Gone are the days when addicts were diagnosed with respect by doctors and treated like any other person with a medical issue. Now they are forced into rancid, run down shooting galleries or laneways, away from emergency services. It's bad enough that most users do not know what's in their stash but denying them a safe place to inject it just adds that extra self loathing and self hatred for having to do things to themselves that many of them still can't fully comprehend. 

Being a junkie is as distressful and overwhelming as it gets. And when the despair from your daily ritual to find money also includes being hunted down by military style cops, your dose becomes all that more important. Just try and imagine how knowing there are strangers looking for you, pumped full of hatred because their commander-in-chiefs and our elected leaders publicly insist that you are the scourge of society. Would that affect your state of mind? Why would anyone think that addicts living this life are somehow happy with their situation?

I'm certainly no fan of MTR's Steve Price but what do you say when he writes an article for the Herald-Sun supporting a Safe Injecting Clinic in Richmond? Maybe this is what happens when an intelligent man starts to read between the lines of the usual anti-drug rubbish put out in the trash media? Maybe this is what happens when you are confronted more often with articles based on evidence and facts? Who knows? Whatever the reason, I have to say to Steve Price, well done for an excellent article.

I am really getting fed up with trash media like the Murdoch sewerage pit that spends hundreds of hours looking for new ways to degrade drug users, especially those who are addicts or have HIV/AIDS.  It's always the same; some nasty, cutting headline based on the warped opinion of some religious nutter, bigoted politician, hate group etc. Or it's meant to shock us about how much some program costs. 

Family groups yesterday said they objected to the program.

"We are against both the needle exchange and the condom programs," said Terri Kelleher of the Australian Family Association.

"People aren't making the best decision when they are on drugs, and therefore shouldn't be supplied with condoms. There's no guarantee they are going to use them anyway."

Everyday, there's some derogative article that describes drug users/addict-dealers/addicts etc. as a major threat to society. Especially to our precious children. How many times have you read about an innocent 1-2 year old being in the same room as their scum-of-the-earth parents are taking their deadly methadone or even worse, selling drugs? Does a 2 year old really notice these events while they desperately try to turn Ken or Barbie into contortionists? Do kids this age really stop midway through the TellyTubbies to enquire if the drugs for sale are as good as the previous batch from last week?

Will someone please think about the children!
-Helen Lovejoy (Wife of The Reverend Timothy Lovejoy) 

One of the main targets for criticism are Needle Exchange Programs (NEPs). Never mind the fact that they pay for themselves many times over, some people just cannot cope with the idea of providing clean injecting equipment for drug users. Some groups even object to providing condoms, so there's doom and gloom everywhere.   

Crime Victims Support Association's Noel McNamara said it was "disgusting" taxpayers were funding drug use.

"We're making it easier for people to go on drugs," he said.

"It's appalling that this money is being spent on drug users rather than on people fighting cancer or diabetes."

The US under G.W. Bush banned federal funding to any group that provided syringes or condoms (including HIV/AIDS support groups). Healthcare groups had to spend their funding on abstinence only programs following the "Just Say No" style or groups that promoted no sex before marriage. By the end of his term as president, the US had 1000% more people with HIV/AIDS and blood borne diseases than Australia. Obama changed all that and luckily the rate of drug users and sex workers with blood borne diseases is dropping rapidly. Although the federal laws have changed, it is still illegal in some US states to buy syringes without a prescription. Interestingly, John Howard was a big supporter of US style drug policy.

During the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in 2009, Lawyer, Greg Barns blamed the media for much of the drug hysteria in Australia. And he is dead right. The muck raking might help them sell newspapers and keep silly opinion writers in a job but the end results are deadly. As Barns pointed out, many people get all their information from these media groups and after years of telling the same lies, most people start to believe them as facts. Where's the social responsibility?

Melbourne's 9000 overdoses a year

How are our elected politicians supposed to introduce sensible, evidence based policies with the media stirring up so much controversy about an issue that has been twisted for at least 40 years? Even before the term "War on Drugs" was coined by US President, Richard Nixon, we had "Reefer Madness" and other silly fairy tales circulating like they were facts. 

Shame of our Needle Town

But times have changed. Most drug experts now agree that we cannot continue with a "War on Drugs" mentality but it has to start with some brave politicians to risk putting science before popularity. Luckily, tt has actually started albeit slowly. I just hope Ted Baillieu can be mature enough to support evidence based policy and stand his ground against the biggest fear of all ... being called "Soft on Drugs" by opposing politicians. 

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Gledwood said...

Re injecting rooms:

There was one in Holland where you could score off a dealer actually in there.

In Switzerland it's even better. You get free government heroin atually in the injecting room. But you're only allowed to use your script in this crappy room. Here when they do give out prescription heroin, which is to hardly anyone, they at least let you take it home. They can confirm that people haven't sold it on (and why on earth would you want to sell a heroin script??) by taking back the used amps.

Firesnake said...

Good coverage.

All the loopy numpty's in one article. Including our appalling victim making vigilante, Noel McNamara. His qualifications are...?

However, I did laugh at AFA. "People aren't making the best decision when they are on drugs, and therefore shouldn't be supplied with condoms. There's no guarantee they are going to use them anyway." Of course! Let 'em decide badly without condoms.

Murdoch's Pulp and Print Court papers are a sad trashy reflection of meaningless lives. Deadly methadone in homes? Really? Utter piffle.

The MSIC patronage averages 45 y.o. males, so there's hardly a honey pot Wrong Message Of Destruction there.

Opinionated moral panic vs evidence seems so entrenched it's a struggle to start and maintain sound community debate much less decide on legislative change.

One interesting fact this time around is local dissenting residents argue that heroin on prescription would be a better option. Quoting a few facts about relapse and adulterated street gear (& of course crushed tablets) they've already made the leap intellectually. I imagine this is more widespread than just City of Yarra.

As one chap put it on talk back, we have safe injecting centres everywhere for non addicts. GPs and hospitals inject all manner of medications and vaccines.

Surely we can move on from the ideological archaism that retards sound health policy.

Gledwood said...

Yeah I loved the bit about free condoms "there's no guarantee that people would actually use them".... UUUURHH???!!!!!

Having said that I have to admit I've been known to pick up a whole load of free condoms only to sell them to the local whorehouse later in the day! My ex told her drugs worker about me doing that and her worker was apparently really disgusted ha ha ha!