AN opinion column from the Times.

By Trebor · Mar 11, 2007 · ·
  1. Trebor

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  1. enquirewithin
    She certainly does! When will the fools that 'govern' the UK listen?

    Taking the harm out of drugs

    India Knight

    At long last some sense about drugs. The independent Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, or RSA, published a report last week in the hope of influencing a government drugs strategy review due next year. The report states that (surprise!) drugs policy has failed — and that it was driven by “moral panic” in the first place — and should be replaced with a system that recognises, among other things, that alcohol and tobacco can cause more harm than some illegal drugs.
    “Whether we like it or not, drugs are and will remain a fact of life,” the report says. “On that basis, the aim of the law should be to reduce the amounts of harm caused to individuals, their friends and families, their children and their communities.”
    The report, compiled by a panel composed of academics, politicians, drug workers and a senior police officer, also asked for jail sentences to be given for only the most serious drug-related crimes and for addicts to be given jobs and housing as part of treatment. Crucially, to my mind, the report calls for an end to “the criminal justice bias” of drugs policy, whereby addicts are treated as criminals and as causes of crime, rather than as ill people who need help.
    Instead the report suggests treating addiction as a health and social problem. It also proposes educating children about drugs at primary school instead of, as now, in secondary school; and — you can see this one might be a bit contentious — establishing “shooting galleries”, as in eight other European countries, as a way of avoiding overdoses and offering treatment and help to severe addicts.
    Iain Duncan Smith predictably called the report “worryingly complacent”, but I think it’s nothing less than inspired and driven by a desire to help those who need help, instead of sticking them in the corner and pointing at their failures. The government’s approach to the question of drugs is due a radical overhaul: its attitude is questionable at best and occasionally unintentionally hilarious. What, for example, is a “drugs czar”? Does it ride a big horse and wear jackets with scarlet braiding? Or what about the babyish idea of a “war on drugs”? Drugs aren’t beings — they are plant or chemical extracts. You can’t smite them down with your mighty sword. The “war on drugs” is a tabloid fantasy that successive governments have taken up with zero success: what it means in effect is that you criminalise users and toss them into an environment where drugs are super-desirable, like prison.
    It’s absurd and really hard to see how this approach helps anyone at all. You can — and should — have a “war” on the social factors that make people susceptible to drug taking — and by “social factors” I mean poverty and boredom, rather than membership of swanky London clubs — and a war on the criminal networks that flood Britain’s streets with cheap drugs and bring havoc (and gun crime) in their wake, but you can’t have a war on drugs themselves.
    You would have thought this would be blindingly obvious; but this government, like the one before it, seems intent on viewing each pill, each leaf, each bit of resin as possessed of its own forked tail and cloven hooves.
    And you know, it ain’t necessarily so. Professor Anthony King of Essex University, the RSA panel’s chairman, said last week: “The evidence suggests that a majority of people who use drugs are able to use them without harming themselves or others”, which is absolutely true, but which one is never allowed to say without being accused of being dementedly irresponsible, or some kind of junkie in denial, or at least an obsessive recreational drug user.
    The truth of the matter is that hundreds of thousands of people like a spliff with their glass of wine after a hard day’s work, and those people don’t have a problem. They’re not in the pub necking down triples and getting into fights, they’re not sicking up in the street, they don’t suddenly decide to stab the person who accidentally bumped into them. Plus, they’re unlikely to die prematurely of liver failure.
    And while you would obviously prefer your teenager to be doing a bit of extra maths instead of a little extra ecstasy, there are worse things than feeling all cheery and affectionate for a few hours and then sleeping it off — like taking up smoking and dying of lung cancer. As for the cocaine epidemic that we’re constantly reading about: being addicted to cocaine isn’t nice — neither is being an alcoholic, except that’s legal — but the truth is that the vast majority of recreational users don’t have an addiction problem.
    I’m not saying taking drugs is a marvellous idea, obviously it isn’t, but the point is that people do take them, in vast numbers, and it’s about time our reactions stopped being so hysterical and ignorant.
    The RSA report also recommends that the drug classification system should be replaced by an “index of harms”, based on the damage that a drug causes the user and society, and that said index should, for the first time, include prescription drugs as well as alcohol and tobacco. It recommends, for instance, that alcohol and tobacco should be rated as more dangerous than ecstasy or cannabis. Heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and street methadone would top the list, followed by alcohol — ahead of ketamine and amphetamines. Tobacco would be ninth, ahead of cannabis (11th), solvents, LSD and ecstasy.
    Responding to the report, the Home Office said John Reid, the home secretary, had no interest in scrapping the current system, whereby you can drink yourself to death freely. He has done no better than his predecessors when it comes to imposing a degree of intelligent adult thinking on this subject. Our ignorance about the reality of drug taking — fed by a media intent on publishing horror stories of the kind that could just as easily be written about people dying from allergic reactions to penicillin — may actually have contributed over the past 20 years to the worsening of life for those people inclined by misfortune to abuse drugs.
    We think, like toddlers, in exclusively black and white terms: all drugs are evil, all drug takers are evil, ban all drugs, lock up all drug takers. That approach demonstrably doesn’t work — aside from anything else, it makes drugs seem glamorous, when frankly a lot of them are less dangerous than a night out in the pub. And that is where all this infantile thinking becomes fatal.
  2. stoneinfocus
    Could anyone elaborate, what´s so bad with cocaine (or H, or LSD)? I didn´t get the point.
    boy wouldnt´ it be great if anyone had success by not citing the opinion of the majority of an interest-group,
    but with true arguments and hard work, only.
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