Saturday, May 23, 2009

Miranda Devine, Drug Prohibition, Abstinence, the war on drugs and the herding of cats


(Above: cat herding in Arizona, a little known industry where cats are herded for their pelts).

Herding the commentariat towards a coherent understanding of the world is a bit like herding academics or cats.

It wasn't so long ago that Michael Duffy, esteemed columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald was on the rampage about the war on drugs. He did it on the radio:

Alvaro Llosa believes that after 30 years and billions of dollars the prospect of winning the war against drugs seems remote. Instead of reducing its influence prohibition has allowed an illegal trade to corrupt governments and undermine society.

He says that the drug debate is no longer a left versus right political issue. Increasingly he observes conservatives are arguing that the prohibition of drugs has become a flawed and failed policy.
(Drugs and the failure of prohibition).

And as well as interviewing Llosa, the Duffster did it himself in his column. Drug laws allow gangs to flourish, he argued on April 4th 09, remembering that when he became a journalist twenty years before, he'd written an article arguing for the end of prohibition of heroin and other illegal drugs, and received a lot of criticism:

If only we put in a bit more money, or gave it a bit more time, this scourge of death and corruption could be beaten. A lot of the people who said these things were wise and experienced, so I backed off, and have written about the subject hardly at all since then.

But 20 years is enough time to test the propositions they were making. Sadly, they have been proved wrong. In that time thousands have died from overdoses, there has been a tidal wave of crime, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on police, courts and prisons as they sought to impose the prohibition. Despite all these efforts by many good and determined people, the problem is as bad as ever.

I speak generally: it's true aspects of the problem have changed, as the popularity and supply of different drugs has varied over time.

New initiatives from police and others have produced relatively minor victories that have been trumpeted by governments. But if you stand back and look at the big picture over 20 years, things are about as bad as ever.

Well tell that to Miranda the Devine, who in Addicts say abstinence sets them free, is banging the drum for prohibition and more of the same,  presumably for the next twenty years or maybe forever. And as usual she manages to conflate an addict's need to stay off the gear to stay clean, like an alcoholic needs to stay off the grog, with the notion that society should be run according to the needs of a minority of addicts. (Which is to say Barney of The Simpsons is no reason to shut down Moe's bar).

Somehow the Devine also manages to conflate the notion of being drug free with the notion of giving up sex until you're at a ripe enough age and in a durable marriage so you don't have to worry it's gone missing.

But like the Duffster, I'm always a bit worried by abstinence when it's flourished as a word. The one thing you can say with some certainty is that humanity rarely abstains. 

When the United States tried the prohibition of alcohol, it  produced a wave of criminality that still ripples through the country like an after-shock. Speakeasies, gangsters, hookers and tommy machine guns and Al Capone got together to feed the citizens hooch, evade their taxes, set up institutional crime gangs, which could be bequeathed and inherited, and could be used to fight endless turf wars in search of easy bucks.

Did prohibition work? Would it work now? Not really, I bet any number of urban folk would be high tailing it to their country folk in seconds, bringing back moonshine and retailing it to those with the desire but less initiative.

For that matter, abstinence as a policy in relation to sex hasn't worked in Texas - with a remarkable rate of teenage pregnancies as visible swelling proof - and I wouldn't expect prohibition to work in relation to gambling.

Sure it's a terrible thing when someone is allowed by management to drop squillions in a casino, but in the old days illegal gambling was rife, whether by notables like Kerry Packer in Kings Cross (where my aged aunt once worked the room) or by country locals (my father supplied the phones to a woman who ran an SP shop next door to us, and occasionally did some pencilling for her. Hey it was a way to make a living).

And did prohibition stop someone dropping squillions? Not likely, but if you didn't repay it you might get kneecapped rather than be able to take a court action against management.

But none of that troubles Miranda the Devine. She turns to the most reliable, rational and effective source of policy making. Junkies and former junkies.

When it comes to drug prohibition, the biggest advocates are former addicts, if you can find any in NSW, where abstinence is a dirty word and the state requires its heroin users to be sedated on methadone for the rest of their lives.

Just ask addicts what they thought of the harm minimisation experiments of the 1990s, when police were instructed to turn a blind eye to drug use in Cabramatta, Australia's heroin capital.

"While it's so easily available its always a problem," says Reuben, 28, a former heroin and methadone addict who has been drug-free for four months. In the mid-1990s, he was smoking marijuana every day, when he and his friends started riding the train to Cabramatta to get heroin.

So on the one hand we have Duffy saying this:

We need to think again about the choice we have made to demonise certain drugs. Obviously decriminalisation is not going to occur any time soon, but one way we may be able to at least start a conversation about this is by expanding the way we think and talk about illegal drugs.

And we have the Devine sending her prohibition message through a former heroin addict:

Sam, a 30-year-old former heroin addict, is still angry when he talks about Cabramatta. "You couldn't ride on the train without people asking you 50 times [if you wanted to buy heroin]. Why did the government stop police from arresting [dealers]? There were no police whatsoever. It was a safe haven for heroin dealers. It isn't good for us … We need prohibition."

It turns out that any sensible discussion of drugs in NSW is collateral damage in the path of the Devine's determination to slag the NSW government, its harm minimisation "industry", and to praise as an alternative a rapid detoxification clinic run by psychologist Ross Colquhoun.

But abstinence has no place in the curiously monocultural drug and alcohol world of NSW. And so Colquhoun's naltrexone clinic has been under heavy fire for 10 years, with 10 complaints to the Health Care Complaints Commission - all cleared - withdrawal of a federal grant, and general bad-mouthing, to the point where one staffer says: "We are being treated like a backyard abortion clinic in the 1950s."

Which is a funny metaphor when you think about it, given the Devine's usual attitude to abortion. Here she is back in the days of Sarah Palin on the subject of abortion:

Abortion is the emotional peg on which Palin-haters hang their hatreds and justify their intemperance. The touchstone issue which makes both sides hyperventilate has become such a bedrock article of faith for establishment feminists that they question it as little as their born-again Christian nemeses question the existence of God.

Even in light of medical advances in foetal surgery, premature baby medical care and prenatal imaging, it is unthinkable that progressive women would rethink abortion, even late-term abortion.

For them "choice" is not about choice at all ...


But back on topic, anything to stop Devine getting on her abortion hobby horse, the Devine's argument gets even more detailed over a debate as to whether Colquhoun's clinic can use a drug naltrexone as part of their detoxing methodology:

Critics regard naltrexone as a tool of "coercive abstinence". They say it causes deaths because, when the implant effect wears off, an addict's previous resistance to heroin is gone and they can overdose.

But what is the alternative?

Well yes, a few junkies die and a few get off the gear. Where's the harm? Feeling lucky today punk?

And finally the argument devolves to the question of methodone:

Colquhoun regards methadone as an instrument of "social control".

"They want to keep you nice and happy and sedated and drugged," says Jodde, who managed to wean herself off a massive 120-milligram daily dose of methadone three years ago.

"I was like a vegetable … The doctors, the police, they're all working to keep you in a shithole.

"Once you're a methadone addict, you're public property. You're a piece of crap; you have no rights. It's degrading. You go to seek help and that's what happens."


Well who'd want to be stuck on methadone, and if there's a way to get off it, and off heroin so much the better. But it's Duffy that sounds sensible, and the Devine irrational:

The other main thing that strikes you about this market is the vast number of consumers. This is a surprise because normally we hear about this market only when it fails, when dealers are caught or addicts commit crimes or die. We almost never hear about the fact that the vast majority of the drug transactions that occur in Sydney every day involve many thousands of ordinary and otherwise law-abiding citizens.

These people regularly buy and consume illegal drugs, and in most cases this provides them with a great deal of pleasure and leads to no adverse effects on their lives.

Some argue that it is irresponsible to point out such things, and that we should never speak publicly about drugs except in relation to the harm they can cause. But to do this gives us a totally unrealistic impression of what's going on. It's as though the only time we heard about cars in the media was when we saw pictures of dodgy motor dealers or fatal road accidents.

The fact is that the prohibition has created an enormous, persistent and vibrant market, with customers coming from most social groups and classes. Many of those reading this column have bought illegal drugs, or have children who have done so, and are thereby linked to the gangs now killing each other in disputes over market share out in the badlands.

If we don't stop, they won't.


Should we work our system around the needs of addicts, or around the needs of society at large? At least once a week we have junkies come over the back fence (wheelie bin or parked car, on to brick work and then to leave their mark in the soft plastic roofing) looking for a quick burglary to keep up their fix. We don't take it personally, it's what you do when you're an addict required to spend a lot of money to stay wired.

But as a result, it makes you pay attention when you read Elizabeth Farrelly's story Locked into a losing war, we're as safe as houses, which details how her family got done over in a big way, which in turn made her ask a bigger question:

Eighty per cent of Americans believe the war on drugs is failing. That my back-lane poppy-sellers still flourish, after two decades of police familiarity, suggests they're right. So the question becomes: how many freedoms will we sacrifice? First the right to free assembly, then the right to bathe without razor wire. Eventually, our choice is stark: we go police state, or we legalise heroin.

Miranda Devine might think it's good enough to justify law and order talk by telling a few stories about junkies who make good, and by recounting junkie horror at prohibition being a dirty word. But without getting into the turf war between the clinic and the NSW government (as it's hard not to have a bad opinion of the state government just on principal), there surely must come a day when this pious blather about maintaining the war on drugs goes the same way as the war on terror.

And if I want an expert opinion on how we should devise and maintain policies in relation to drugs, sorry, but the last people I'd turn to for expert advice or rational decision making are junkies, whether former or current. Abstinence might set them free, but prohibition hasn't set the world at large free ...

4 comments:

DJS said...

Miranda Devine simply doesn't get it. The ex-junkie bought heroin whilst it was illegal so how can she claim that the "war on drugs" was working ? She's so busy being an ideologue (all those pot smoking Lefties)that she ignores the fact that billions of dollars have been spent without a lot of success. What prohibition has created is a two-tier drug market. One can still buy pot, acid , speed, smack, etc in Sydney without any problem if you're careful . The chemically-based ones are the most unreliable. Who knows what the composition is.We now have a major problem with alcohol . It's all-pervasive. Kids growing up get confused . They want to experiment but are confused about the mixed messages they receive from the authorities.Coincidentally there is a Methadone clinic at the end of our street. We also have a plethora of watering holes . It's the drunkd which cause ALL of the problems. Do we ban alcohol again ? Too much revenue got Govts. We need decriminalisation of ALL drugs right now. We need Govt supervision of the sale ,distribution so that there is consistency in the dosage. Would Miranda D buy a pharmaceuical from her chemist if the origin and dosage were vague ? By criminalising drugs we do this. We also force people to do illegal things when all they want to do is get high. I saw first hand the destruction of many contemporaries' lives as a result of heroin addiction so I have fair idea . It's time we acknowledged the mess we've created . People who take drugs aren't criminals . however the current makes them so.

editor said...

hullo hullo you roo bangers, from canada check this out ''ADDICTION AND ROCKET SCIENCE'' The cows have come home academics can look at lab rats chimps porch monkeys what ever. To really understand a disease you can never beat 25 years of practical experience. ''HANDS ON I SAY'' In all my years of addiction i often pondered my reasons weaknesses etc. and why or how it all happened. In the end the most important thing that helped me stop was part education the understanding of why i am powerless the hope that my life could change and acceptance of who i was and what i had done to my life. Once i was at that point with these few simple jewels my willpower was slowly able to come back along with self esteem and all the other normal life skills i had been lacking and slowly had degenerated from my life.Clinical rhetoric can be very offensive to most because it dosen't have a heart until we look at addiction as a human affliction we might as well be labrats ''clean and sober seven years'' On another note when can a person who has been addicted have enough common sense to choose it seems to most only a dream most hardcore addicts feel that there addiction is terminal who new that even i could stop put that in your pipe and smoke it harvard ok ok olympic city will not charge you for possesion of narcotics
The Vancouver Police Department’s new strategy for the Downtown Eastside
The Vancouver Police Department outlined a new change to the way it polices the Downtown Eastside in its board meeting on Wednesday. Under the changed strategy, the VPD will not arrest and charge drug users and expend resources on prosecuting. Rather, they will shift their focus to street disorder. However, the implication of this shift is that it increases the presence of the VPD in the neighbourhood. The business plan identifies a number of behaviours to be targeted by the VPD. These include aggressive panhandling, squeegeeing, open-air drug markets, unlicensed street vending and sleeping in city parks. The 20% increase in the number of public nuisance tickets the police have been handing out to the homeless and other residents in the neighbourhood was not a part of the new plan. However, it is troubling that considerable discretion remains for the police to hand out public nuisance tickets to individuals who have neither a roof over their head or money to pay the fines.

editor said...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009WHO'S IN CONTROL ?

Today in the downtown eastside of Vancouver it is welfare day. The streets are buzzing with addicts on every corner, and in every alley there are smiles everywhere as people line up to cash their welfare checks at the many different financial institutions.

Money is being spent on many different things, but the main expenditure on this the most joyful day of the month is drugs; heroin, crack or cocaine, alcohol etc. Although this has been going on for years and is accepted by not only the city, the police, the taxpayers, and the government .

I as a citizen of this city have had enough! Do I care? You bet I do! I myself have recovered from 25 years of addiction and today have been clean for some seven years. What I saw today was to me the last straw, not more than 300 hundred yards from the Vancouver Police Station on Main Street is a check cashing store, out front there's a line up since it opened its doors this morning; I walked by and could not believe my eyes. There were 5 two hundred pound Spanish drug dealers standing in front of the door escorting people in and out of the store as if it was theirs, controlling who went in, and even more importantly who came out, only too happy to direct them to one of their associates standing nearby. I was so disgusted by this flagrant arrogance that I took five minutes to walk over to the police station and tell them their business and to complain about what I see as nothing short of telling the people of Vancouver who's really in control! I don't believe there's anywhere else in North America that you would ever witness this kind of lawlessness as seen here in the 2010 olympic city. I’m appealing to every editor of every newspaper in North America other than here in Vancouver to help me stop this out of control situation. Please for the sake of these humans, help me to put pressure on our police, city, and government to enforce the laws of this land and save all or any of these poor lost souls from a life of terminal addiction. editor@2010homelesschampions.ca

editor said...

Subject: METHADONE MADNESS http://www.video.ca/video.php?id=443690545

DEAR SIR I'M WRITING THIS LETTER OUT OF CONCERN FOR THE MADNESS THAT EXISTS REGARDING THE METHADONE PROGRAM TODAY NOT ONLY HERE IN VANCOUVER BUT ESPECIALLY IN SURREY AND SURROUNDING AREAS. I MYSELF HAVE A MEN'S RECOVERY HOUSE HERE IN EAST VANCOUVER NONE OF THE MEN THAT STAY HERE ARE ON METHADONE. I HAVE FIVE VERY CLOSE FRIENDS WHO HAVE RECOVERY HOUSES IN SURREY, ONE FRIEND IN PARTICULAR SHARED A FEW RECENT STORIES THAT I THINK WOULD BE OF INTEREST TO THE PRESS. THE SO CALLED KICKBACKS THAT EXIST THE MAINTENANCE OR TAPER PROGRAM THAT WAS THE ORIGINAL REASON FOR THE INTRODUCTION OF THIS PROGRAM HAS GONE OUT THE WINDOW ALONG WITH THE MANY VICTIMS WHO ARE CURSED WITH THIS DRUG.

HE TOLD ME AND IS WILLING TO TELL ANY REPORTER WHO IS INTERESTED FIRST HAND STORIES ABOUT THE ABUSE THAT'S TAKING PLACE, NOT ONLY IN THE CLINICS BUT THE PHARMACIES AND EVEN IN THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE AS WELL. HE HAS A MEN'S HOUSE AND HAS STARTED A TAPER PROGRAM FOR ANY NEW CLIENT'S THE RESPONSE HE HAS BEEN GETTING FROM DOCTOR'S PHARMACY'S ETC. IN UNBELIEVABLE ONE OF HIS CLIENT'S WAS APPROACHED WHO LIVES IN HIS HOUSE AND WAS ASKED IF HE WOULD BE WILLING TO OPEN A HOUSE OF HIS OWN THE PHARMACY WOULD SUPPLY THE CLIENT'S THE HOUSE' PAY HIM TO LIVE THERE AND ANYTHING ELSE HE WOULD NEED .MY FRIEND WHO HAS THE TAPER PROGRAM WAS GIVEN A CHECK FROM A PHARMACY FOR 2700 DOLLARS FOR FOUR PEOPLE IN HIS HOUSE FOR ONE MONTH .

THIS IS THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG WE SAT AND TALKED FOR OVER AN HOUR AND HE SHARED ONE STORY AFTER ANOTHER WITH ME HE SAID HE WOULD LOVE TO SHARE THESE STORY WITH THE PRESS. WHY? , BECAUSE HE IS THE ONLY RECOVERY HOUSE AS FAR AS HE KNOWS IN SURREY THAT HAS A MANDATORY METHADONE TAPER PROGRAM AND HE'S SEEN FIRST HAND THE RESISTANCE FROM THE SO CALLED MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS. IF YOU WOULD BE INTERESTED YOU CAN CONTACT ME AND I WOULD BE HAPPY TO SET IT UP. ON ANOTHER NOTE IF YOU HAVE THE TIME TAKE A LOOK AT MY WEBSITE IF YOU WOULD LIKE A LITTLE BACKGROUND ON ME. THE NAME OF THE WEBSITE IS WWW.2010homelesschampions.ca YOU WILL FIND THIS SITE HAS WHAT I BELIEVE TO BE THE MOST ACCURATE PORTRAYAL OF THE CURRENT CONDITIONS AS THEY EXISTS IN THE DTES OF OUR CITY THERE ARE OVER 30 VIDEOS THAT I HAVE PERSONALLY TAKEN WE ALSO HAVE A SECTION ON METHADONE AND ANYTHING ELSE THAT IS CURRENT TODAY