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Drugs or tobacco: Which is worse?

By renegades, Mar 9, 2007 | Updated: Mar 10, 2007 | | |
  1. renegades
    Drugs or tobacco: Which is worse?
    Analysis By Mark Easton Home editor, BBC News
    The politics of drugs is often seen as a battle between the
    prohibitionists and the liberalisers. But after two years study and
    reflection, the RSA Commission on Illegal Drugs calls for a quite
    different approach - a strategy based on reducing harm.
    The report makes the point that, as with alcohol, the majority of
    those who use illegal drugs do so without causing significant harm to
    themselves or others.
    The commission report makes it clear that while there are many
    instances of relatively harmless drug use, there is no such thing as
    risk-free use of either drugs or alcohol - or tobacco come to that."
    Is drug taking a similar habit to smoking?
    Call for drug law overhaul The conclusion is that we need to have the same approach to drugs
    like alcohol and tobacco as we do with those drugs which, often by an accident of history, are illegal. Instead of a classification of drugs which is ;crude, effective, riddled with anomalies and open to political manipulation there should be an index of substance-related harms - physical, social and economic.

    Drugs policy outcomes should be judged in terms of harms reduced rather than drugs seized or offenders prosecuted, the commission says.

    'A more enlightened attitude' So what would such a policy actually look like on the ground? The commission shies away from defining its harm index", but it does spend some time assessing the harms caused by different drugs. Heroin is the most physically dangerous of drugs says the
    commission.

    However, it points out that even heroin use can sometimes be kept within bounds; It quotes a report from a team at Glasgow Caledonian University in 2005 which followed 126 long-term heroin users and revealed that more than half were in a stable relationship, a third had children and most had settled accommodation and were in employment or further education.

    More people are harmed by alcohol and tobacco than by currently illegal drugs RSA Commission on Illegal Drugs

    The report assesses other drugs too.

    It says:Many adult cannabis users work out for themselves precisely
    when, where, how much and how often they use cannabis so that it does
    not dislocate their daily routines.

    Cocaine use too can be controlled within a secure social setting.
    Where the lives of cocaine users begin to come apart, the problem
    may in the end be found to be with their daily lives rather than with
    the cocaine

    A cool response The commission recommends that the use of criminal sanctions should be confined to the punishment of those offences connected with drugs that cause the most harm.

    But the report does not say whether that means the authorities turning a blind eye to heroin or cocaine users whose habit is
    controlled. Like many earnest and well-researched reports before it, the commission report calls for a more enlightened attitude towards drug use. "More people are harmed by alcohol and tobacco than by currently illegal drugs.More people are killed every year by sniffing glue than by snorting cocaine. Very many more people are killed in traffic accidents than by drug overdose, the commission says.

    It is necessary to be aware of the physical and psychological harms that individual drugs can inflict, but also to keep these harms, and our
    reaction to them, in proportionHowever, politicians are giving the report a cool response. All parties know the huge electoral damage that can follow any suggestion that they are going soft on drugs.

    ***-^^^^that is true, we're in this mess because of the politicians over reacted to the news accounts regarding drugs from especially the LA Times and many others in the media in the early 1900s.

Comments

  1. Riconoen {UGC}
    If it weren't for all the """ giberish sprinkled throughout this article I'd say it was a well written article with a good point.
  2. stoneinfocus
    I don´t see, why heroin might be called the most physicaly< dangerous drug, though the onyl danger is in dying of an overdose, which in turn can be easily overcome with clean and properly adjusted dope.

    I disaggree on the non-harm statement of alcohol, but if this is the way to go, to convince the majority, well, then it has to be so.
    If more people were to use other drugs than alcohol, they´d actually be convinced, that most of the now illegal drugs are much less detrimental, than even "social" drinking.
  3. Lunar Loops
    A well thought out and reasoned response to the RSA report from The Transform website which points out the flaws in the report whilst recognising it as a positive step:
    Tuesday, March 13, 2007

    RSA Drugs Report - so near and yet so far



    The RSA published their long awaited drugs report last week to not a little fanfare. The report suggests that the current policy is based on ‘moral panic’, suggests that most drug use is relatively harmless, that tobacco and alcohol should be included in the drug policy making process and that prohibition cannot stop people using drugs – they are here to stay.

    It will be seen as a watershed report in raising the level of debate on drugs and drug policy in the years to come. The Commissioners are to be congratulated for producing a groundbreaking report. You can read the press release , the exec summary, or the full volume and judge for yourself.

    The RSA analysis could easily be the basis for a Phd on the repeal of prohibition and its replacement with a far more effective system of legal regulation and control. But that is not quite where the RSA report takes us. I’ve identified a number of reasons why I think that the report fails make what should have been its natural conclusion.

    A fundamental mistake: not nailing the problem

    My experience of commenting on drug policy issues is that to the failure to identify prohibition as the overriding problem leads to convoluted and internally inconsistent solutions. Hence the failure to recognise that it is prohibition that is the radical and anomalous response to drugs and that regulation is the policy response that conforms far more closely to social and legislative norms.

    Oddly, prohibition seems to be identified as not being ‘viable’ very early on in the report but the analysis is not developed. This is a quote from the report (p 29) that would lead us to believe that there is only place that the analysis could go:


    “As readers of our report will quickly discover, all of our recommendations and suggestions are founded on two core beliefs. One is that drugs and other psychoactive substances are simply not going to go away. People have used them for thousands of years, widespread demand exists, supply is plentiful, and the illegal-drugs industry, not to mention the alcohol, tobacco and legal drugs industries, are among the best organized and most market-oriented in the world. Prohibition is no more a viable policy in Britain today than it proved to be in America during the 1920s and 1930s.With regard to illegal drugs, young people, in particular, are often told ‘Just say no’. That may sometimes be good advice. The only trouble is that there are, and always will be, large numbers of people who, for whatever reason, ignore that advice and choose to say yes. Drugs are a fact and, in our view, need to be accepted as a fact. We believe, as our choice of title suggests, that policy and the administration of policy should be based on a cool appraisal of the facts, not on fantasy and wishful thinking. In the words of Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous prayer:

    God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed;

    Give us the courage to change what should be changed; and

    Give us the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.”​
    But whilst no one claims it will be easy or happen overnight, history clearly shows that prohibitions can be changed. If drug prohibition is ‘no more a viable policy in Britain today than it proved to be in America during the 1920s and 1930s’ then the logical conclusion is surely that it should be repealed and replaced with something more viable. What it might be replaced with takes us to the next point.

    Not dealing with supply side

    In one of the their discussion documents (produced in the run up to the final report) titled 'The supply of illegal drugs in the UK' , under the 'points to consider' section, the Commission notes:


    "1. HM Revenue and Customs estimate that we spend 1 billion + per year trying to control the supply of drugs. Given the difficulties in the path of these efforts, can we really say that our enforcement policies are motivated by practical considerations, or are they moral ones? Are we pursuing a policy of supply reduction because we think it will work, or because we think drug dealing is wrong and should be punished?"​
    they then ask:


    "Is legalisation of the drugs trade the only real way of controlling the supply of drugs? – (e.g. by creating a trade which could be regulated and taxed and could guarantee stable prices and safer drugs, which would not require a smuggling network that can be used for other illicit trades, which would not be surrounded by a gun culture, etc.)"
    This question of supply seems to have been lost when it came to writing the final report. What is called for seems deliberately ambiguous, hinting at the obvious but terribly wary of being explicit about it:

    "Drugs policy should, like our policy on alcohol and tobacco, seek to regulate use and prevent harm rather than to prohibit use altogether. Illegal drugs should be regulated alongside alcohol, tobacco, prescribed medicines and other legal drugs in a single regulatory framework."​
    Strangely the Commission opted for regulating use rather than supply. Perhaps it was a case of committee syndrome, where dissent forced a somewhat unsatisfactory and woolly compromise around the prohibition / regulation question? When asked at the launch event last week, Anthony King said the committee felt that it was for ministers and civil servants should be sorting out the specifics for each drug. Perhaps this is fair enough, yet it is at odds with the very specific recommendations in much of the rest of the report.

    The committee received various reports from Transform, including our own (referenced by the RSA) aswell as reports from the Health Officers of British Colombia and the King County Bar Association - which provide very clear and detailed analysis of how legal regulation of different drugs would work - from a public health and legal standpoint respectively. This was a missed opportunity to introduce some clarity, nuance and sophistication into the debate about regulatory alternatives to prohibition - and the flirting around the issue without nailing it makes for frustrating reading when the much of the other analysis is so spot on.

    Why no recommendation of cost-benefit analysis?

    From the report (p 113):


    "The most recent version of the strategy is the Updated Drug Strategy 2002. Its overall objective is ‘reducing the harm that drugs cause to society – communities, individuals and their families’. This objective is anchored in a philosophy of prohibition. The opening paragraph of the summary of the strategy states: ‘We have no intention of legalising any illicit drug. All controlled drugs are dangerous and nobody should take them.’ What is missing from all these accounts is a detailed analysis of the cost-effectiveness of the drug strategy itself. Basic calculations have been published of the ratios between the costs of drug interventions and their savings in terms of health and social costs. But Christine Godfrey, co-author of the key study of the economic and social costs of drug use mentioned above, has argued that a really robust and thorough-going cost-benefit analysis should be a priority for government.

    Failure to complete this analysis makes it impossible for policy makers to consider alternatives to existing policy by comparing the costs of the current strategy with the estimated future costs of other options, whether these be decriminalization, legalization or zero-tolerance. We agree with Professor Godfrey. ​
    It is dissapointing and inconsistent then that the report did not call for such a cost-benefit analysis (of current policy and alternatives) in its recommendations.

    The decision to keep the remit domestic rather than international

    There is a significant problem in attempting to review and recommend change from a narrow domestic viewpoint. The UK is committed to international prohibition in the form of the three UN drug conventions to which we are signitories, and it is these that creates the vast globa lillegal drug markets and associated problems. The RSA report shows that the significant price hike in heroin and cocaine occurs between production and domestic wholesale. But calls only for enforcement to be focused on Mr Bigs. (p 13):


    The fight against the supply of illegal drugs should not stop, but it should be refocused so that it concentrates on organized criminal networks rather than on largely futile efforts to interdict supply. ​
    Whilst no one is suggesting enforcement should ignore violent gangsters, unfortunately all the evidence shows that this is futile at interrupting drug supply too, on the basis that the trade is so lucrative that there is always a queue of gangsters waiting to make a killing by moving into the vacuum successful busts will occassionally create. Furthermore it is prohibition that creates the opportunity for gangsters in the first instance - just as it did with non-viable alcohol prohibition. Transform believes that it is impossible to truly understand domestic drug policy unless it is placed in its global context.

    Weak analysis of drugs and crime link

    The failure to ‘nail’ prohibition as the specific first cause of the link between drugs and crime appears to be a major fator in the Commission's avoidance of calling for its repeal. Although it cites the £16 billion annual crime costs committed by a few hundred thousand heroin and crack users fundraising to support a habit, it fails to identify prohibition as the culprit. The report does call for heroin prescribing (what is that if not legal regulation of a currently illegal drug?) for the usual familiar reasons including reduction in offending - but still fails to make the link explicit. Prohibition directly causes almost all 'drug-related crime' - they really needed to make the point much more clearly.

    We are left with what is undoubtedly a thoughtful and throrough report, but also one that walks you to the door but isn't quite willing to suggest you walk through, that does all the hard work and then fails to quite see it through. It doesn't dare go the one step further than the similar reports from the Police Foundation (2000) or the Home Affairs Select Committee (2003), that would have marked it out as historic.

    In doing so the RSA may have actually entrenched the idea that there are certain policy areas that simply may not be countenanced, and potentially made life more difficult for those willing to do more than merely wink and point across the line in the sand.
  4. stoneinfocus
    I they were to see, that all problems with drug-use were not the arsenal of save and well-researched drugs, but the cause of prohibtiotn, the next step would be tio ask, why it´s so bad about drug-use? -that´s not possible in this climate, in the current reigning class of politicians and biased scientists.

    So, ok, prescribing heroin, how would this look like in reality? -considering I went to a pain specialist, that was advertising the use of opiates, and didn´t get anything, but the exact opposite of the advertised treatment?

    Swim thinks, it´s too fucked-up and a change could only be achieved by a revolutin which is not going to happen, because no one really sees how far fetched this whole conspiracy is, who´s directly invovled, and the consequences are too hard to see and too "barable" for the average Joe to start thinking it over.

    It might look liberal on the paper, i.e. Hitlers program sounds very liberal and close to the point in the beginnings, too, but if drugs were controlled in a so-so manner, still ignoring the subject in all the aspects, the black market would still exist, because swim wants X, meth, heroin, mescaline, MJ, LSD, shrooms to have in his life, although he is not addicted to them, and not subject for a "Legal" prescription, just for fun or other reason.

    this would then lead to the conclusion that legaliziation didn´t work, denying the half-assing and taking into account the avoidable deaths and crime-scene, to melk the known institutional funds, which wouldn´t exist anymore.

    The police officer, swim arrested for coke-posession said, that they were letting things go for some time and this didn´t work out, so I was thinking, when the fuck did they let anythign go, and what´s supposed to work out, without regulating anything legally, despite of gang-crime and violence explosion? Public convinced - job granted ;-)
  5. xctico
    "However, politicians are giving the report a cool response. All parties know the huge electoral damage that can follow any suggestion that they are going soft on drugs. "


    I wonder what kind of support would a politician get if he's campaing motto was the decriminalization and regulation of all substances... ???
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