Thursday, 25 October 2012

One Year On ... Some Things Never Change

My life has changed somewhat since I officially ended The Australian Heroin Diaries over 12 months ago. And by far, the biggest change has been the amount of free time I now have. I never realised how much time actually went into my website. Just having time to surf the web without sniffing out drug related issues is so refreshing. Now I have some resemblance of a normal life with more time for work and other interests. But the itch to restart The Australian Heroin Diaries has at times been overwhelming especially when I keep getting emails from readers and comments are still being posted on my website.

For those who may be interested, I no longer use drugs and I'm living a happy, productive life on the NSW coast. My reliance on SROM has dropped to half the dose I was on just over a year ago. I still pinch myself sometimes to see if it's all not just a dream. I feel the last 16 years have been a blur to the point where it's almost surreal. Did all this really happen to me? A confident professional with fantastic friends, a great family, a new house, a successful business and a plan to marry the love of my life? What possibly could have gone wrong? Anyway, that is in the past now and I have much to look forward to. My depression has almost gone and I have someone special in my life. Work is great and I have got back much of what made me who I am.

Unfortunately, my return for this article is not just a simple update but the scary realisation that we still have a long way to go. On a recent visit to Victoria, I caught a glimpse of the Channel 7 news and up pops that bearded burbler called Hinch. Now I have no real qualms with Hinch but also don't have that much interest either in his self assigned role as our moral saviour. Sure, he has some worthy pet issues (as we all do) but calling himself the human headline probably sums up the style and depth of the journalism he dishes out. But what I heard that night sent shivers down my spine and brought back the bitter distaste I had for drug hysteria, moral crusaders and those who abuse the drug issue for personal gain. I suppose you could drop me into the last category but at least I try to base my ramblings on research and facts. Maybe it's something Hinch might want to try.

The first surprise with the Hinch story was that he had resurfaced that stale myth called the ice epidemic. I thought that went out of flavour years ago. Maybe it's part genius to once again capitalise on scaring the bajesus out of suburban housewives and the largely ignorant public especially since the issue had faded into drug propaganda history years ago. His claim that ice was going to rewrite history as the greatest drug threat society will ever see waddled off into the pond of obscurity a long time ago. Of course, the ice carnage promised by various drug warriors never materialised and they simply moved on to other critical issues like Korean rap singers and Matthew Newton. So why now Mr. Hinch?

What did Hunch say that provoked me to write a whole article after being away for so long? Well, if there was a list of every myth and lie that has been said about the so called ice epidemic then Hinch must have it. Super addictive, epidemic proportions, giving users super human strength, our worst drug problem ever etc. etc. According to Hinch, our worst drug problem ever has Ambulance call outs rising by 107% from 136 to 282. Yup, that's 282 ambulance call outs. Hardly a national crisis. If anything, it shows that the recent policy of not charging drug effected people when calling an ambulance is working.

It makes people psychotic. Puts police, emergency services and members of the public at risk. And can give users almost super human strength.
--Derryn Hinch. Channel 7 News

Like so many anti-drug stories, the lack of research, popular myths and fuzzy facts blur the reality for the sake of ratings. Some bearded buffoon banging on about addicts robbing your house and hulk like, drugged out maniacs attacking members of the public makes for good viewing. I'm sure the fact that most people affected by ice are more likely to cuddle you to death than belting you won't win over any viewers especially when we are constantly bombarded by such ridiculous claims like those by Hinch. The perception that everyone on ice is a raving lunatic wanting to rob or bash you is so far from the truth that it makes me dizzy. Contrary to most media reporting, amphetamines are well known to cause over friendliness, make people talk too much and want to have sex. Sure, there will be some who become violent but not anymore than the national average of drunken youth out on the town. Adding the "psychotic" tag is bound to help garnish up images of frenzied junkies wanting to bash and rob our grandmas. Luckily, it's just junk journalism at it's worst.

“Most methamphetamine users do not become psychotic. There are some people who do, a minority who do, and that's usually related to extended periods of binge using, with people not sleeping, not eating - that sort of thing,"
"The vast majority of people use methamphetamine very occasionally recreationally, perhaps on the weekend or something, and they're not going to get to that point."
--Annie Madden. AIVL

If there are so many ice "addicts" and it's such an epidemic then why aren't the night clubs actually fight clubs? Where's the reports of frenzied bloodbaths in a club full of drugged out ice users? The fact is that any amphetamine such as ice usually makes you friendly towards others much like low doses of alcohol does. But like Alcohol, too much can have the opposite affect. We tend to forget that alcohol is the single most violent drug on earth and the violence associated with ice is usually because of the copious amounts of booze they consumed while out on the town. Add to that the ability of ice to keep you up for days and you get the nasty combination of sleep deprivation and several days of drinking condensed into a short period. This is where most of trouble occurs.

Because there has been such extensive media coverage of this purported relationship between violence and ice use, what we get now when we talk to service providers, is a reproduction of the messages that the media are portraying. So, when someone walks into the service and they might be agitated or violent, very quickly the service provider says, !!!OOh, they must be on ice.!!!  And so, you get this reproduction of the message that is actually communicated in the media, rather than one that is based on evidence and based on good clinical practice. We weren’t receiving news amongst the service providers of high levels of violence related to methamphetamine use five years ago, when the peak of methamphetamine use was occurring in Australia. We are seeing that now.
--Associate Professor John Fitzgerald, Principal Research Fellow at the School of Population Health, University of Melbourne

Methamphetamine is a dangerous drug when abused. But so is alcohol. It seems a wee bit hypocritical that someone renown for their boozy lunches and capacity to drink several bottles of wine in a single sitting is taking a swipe at ice users. But hypocrisy and stupidity form the basis for most anti-drug stories. Hinch and the police rattle on about ice being responsible for 80% of crime and how violent these druggies are. They even make it point to tell us that desperation drives them to commit serious crimes. Surprise, surprise ... none of these crimes would happen if we had different laws. Boozers don't commit crimes to buy their drug of choice because it's legal and when they have a problem, we give them medical treatment not jail.

The biggest give away though to expose Hinch's rant as a poorly researched puff piece is that he complains there is no specific treatment for ice abuse and no legal substitute drug like methadone is for heroin addicts. It takes a mere 10 minutes of research to discover that substitution treatment is solely for addictive drugs that cause no physical harm e.g heroin. Amphetamines like alcohol have a devastating effect on you physically and using these drugs daily will not only fry your brain but inflict massive harm to your body. And since amphetamines are not physically addictive but physiologically dependant, substitution treatment would be pointless. It's just sloppy research by Hinch. But who cares? Some media personality with a degree in gravel collecting must know more than the hundreds of experts who spend their lives researching this stuff.

Although this is a serious issue, there is an amusing side to it. Hinch says that ice can give users almost super human strength. Really?! Super human strength … like Captain America? Pffft. For the record, no drug can instantly give you extra strength. Muscles do not magically grow because you smoke ice. It may boost your adrenaline levels but you still have the same strength with or without ice. Ironically, it's the legal drug, alcohol that causes the aggression and wild thrashing that many blame on ice. You know, the drug that Hinch was once infamous for abusing (or as he so delicately puts it, it was ‘all part of life’s rich tapestry’). The silly argument about street drugs giving users super human strength is as bizarre as believing in the science behind the Hulk. It's pure fiction and was debunked decades ago when PCP was making it's rounds in the 1980s. Do you remember decades ago when reports of drugged out super humans lifting up cars and taking on a dozen police officers were part of the war on drugs? Even a few years ago, there were hospitals being coerced into building "safe rooms" and deploying security guards to protect workers from crazy, iced up supermen? Well, this bizarre claim was dismissed as a media beat up by irresponsible, second rate journalists and simply another attempt by anti-drug nutters to bluff the public. It seems like some things will never change.

Related Articles