image: Consumer Affairs Victoria
Zero-tolerance policies on illicit drugs have little or no basis in medical evidence and often have consequences which increase harm to users, to the point of killing a few.
Consumer Affairs Victoria got on the methamphetamine/ice scare bandwagon and banned ‘ice pipes’ in 2004. Problem is, ‘ice’ users will not stop using the drug just because these glass pipes are banned from sale. Users will simply find an alternate means of smoking the drug.
Before I left the US in 1996, cheap crack cocaine was flooding into the neighbourhoods around my house. One of the people sucked in to using the drug was a very good friend of mine for many years- until his needs for the drug outweighed the value of his friendships. Crack is smoked using the same sort of pipe that Victoria banned. These pipes were also banned in my previous locality in the US as ‘drug paraphernalia.’
My ex-friend’s solution to the unavailability of ‘crack pipes’ was to make his own by breaking off a roughly 4″ piece of glass tubing from a longer section, leaving sharp, jagged ends on the tubing. He stuffed a piece of a copper or stainless steel scouring pad into the tube to trap the crack crystals for vapourising. The sharp ends of the tubing would frequently cut his lips bloody… and he shared his home-made pipe with other crack users, who invariably cut their own lips as well. This would significantly increase the chance of transmission of several blood-borne pathogens like Hep C.
There’s no reason to suggest that the very same thing won’t happen in Victoria. Bravo, another holy victory for the zero-tolerance drug warriors!
But let’s look for a moment at ‘ice’ and how we in Australia got there from here. The HoWARd government has for 11 years resisted the vast majority of, if not all evidence-based drug strategies. In true fridge-magnet style, HoWARd used taxpayer funds to run the infamous ‘body-bag’ and other drugs scare campaign TV ads- which most people, teens included (and perhaps especially), simply ignore. As usual, the HoWARd government is content to spend up big on TV ads, which do a whole lot of nothing- other than to make less money available for real, effective drug treatment and harm reduction. Scary ad campaigns mainly function to give voters the false impression that the Australian government is actually doing something about illicit drugs.
Worse, zero-tolerance ideologues work in their spare time to try to discredit functioning harm-minimisation activities which are known to save lives and put users in contact with drug treatment professionals, like the Kings Cross Medically Supervised Injection Centre. This they do by any means possible, including set-ups and scams in the right-wing media. Talk about dirty needles! Meow!
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services on 3 April 2007 held a hearing on Australian illicit drugs strategies. It’s VERY long, but please take the time to read this astonishing Hansard transcript. Don’t miss ZT advocate Dr Reece’s estimation that ‘cannabis causes osteoporosis.’
Dr. Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and senior staffer at the Drug and Alcohol treatment unit at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, acquitted himself brilliantly, despite sustained personal abuse from zero-tolerance anti-drugs ideologues on the committee, especially from Bronwyn Bishop, the embarrassingly zero-tolerance biased chair. Bishop’s strident, howling harassment and hectoring of Wodak wouldn’t have been out of place amongst a drunken mob in the cheap seats at a sporting match.
Dr Wodak makes the point that the ‘ice epidemic’ has happened on John HoWARd’s watch. In the last 10 years, Australia has gone from having a significant heroin use problem to having a significant methamphetamine use problem. Wodak maintains that if zero-tolerance strategies actually worked, we’d not only have no heroin problem- but no ‘ice’ problem, either. Wodak’s recent ADLRF report estimates that illicit drug use costs $3.3 billion per year, these costs astonishingly being shifted by HoWARd onto his mates in business, who bear the expense of lost productivity. The report indicates that Australian drug laws don’t protect the public, mainly because prohibition doesn’t work.
The Liberals have had eleven years to apply their belief-based ‘Tough On Drugs” strategies, wasting millions of dollars on useless scare campaigns and prohibitionist drug control strategies that simply don’t work. If this isn’t abuse of taxpayer funds to drive a partisan agenda of the present government, I don’t know what is. It certainly isn’t helping.
It’s time to throw the moralists and ‘just say no’ zero-tolerance ideologues out of the control of Australian drug policy. The ZT response to all drug problems is to just throw all the abusers in jail. Jail does not now cure addiction- nor has it ever. Drug abuse is a health problem, not a legal problem. We must change our illicit drugs policies so that abusers are put in front of health professionals instead of legal professionals.
Drug prohibition does not stop anyone from using drugs. It simply forces recreational drug activity underground and creates a profitable, self-perpetuating black market. An uncontrolled black market in drugs can deliver unsafe or impure drugs, usually with impunity. As a direct result of HoWARd’s zero-tolerance, drug users like Anna Wood and Annabel Catt have died.
Howard has recently announced another $150 million in funding for addressing ‘ice’ addiction. However, this still includes support for the ‘Tough On Drugs’ strategy. If John HoWARd and Bronwyn Bishop were your auto mechanics, they’d insist upon changing your spark plugs over and over and telling you to not to drive your car, even though it was your tyres and brakes that were cactus.
What we’re doing now certainly doesn’t work; let’s pull the other one.
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