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The underestimated dangers of the drugs alcohol and tobacco

 
 
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2007 12:59 am
The Guardian: Government drugs policy does not work, says report

Quote:
Government drug policy is failing and drinking and smoking should be considered as dangerous as many illegal substances, according to a report published yesterday.
The two-year study headed by academics, drugs workers, journalists and a senior police officer called for a radical rethink of government drugs policy. It said addiction should be treated as a health and social problem, not as a crime issue.
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Walter Hinteler
 
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Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2007 12:59 am
Although this is about the UK (mainly England and Wales) only, the situation elsewhere might be quite similar.


http://i19.tinypic.com/47tfxpd.jpg
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2007 01:00 am
Quote:
Comment
A question of damage

I have known too many friends die class A deaths to be convinced by a new call for drug tolerance

Mark Lawson
Friday March 9, 2007
The Guardian

Most public reports and tribunals suggest a gentle correction to the tiller, but yesterday's Royal Society of Arts report on Britain's drug laws overturns the whole boat. A panel including profs, cops, hacks and do-gooders has concluded that narcotics legislation is "not fit for purpose", revealing an addiction to the current Class-A cliche of official language.
In many areas of British life, the report concludes, "the harmless use of drugs is possible, indeed common". Police efforts should be diverted elsewhere and the sale and use of most heighteners by most people tolerated.

The traditionalist response will be that this can have come only from a smoke-filled room where the haze was suspiciously sweet. But the RSA's thinkers include John Yates, the Met's deputy assistant commissioner, and so cannot easily be dismissed as hippy dippiness.
Essentially, the report calls for a moral, medical and legal equivalence between illegal drugs and alcohol and nicotine. This is not as soft a policy as it can be made to sound. The government's war against nicotine prohibits ingestion in public and warns that private use may lead to the withholding of medical treatment. As for drink, it can clearly be argued that it's illogical - at a time when policy is focusing so strongly on smoking - to differentiate between recreational releases. Public policy, though, is often illogical. A Briton is far more likely to be killed in a car crash than a terrorist attack, yet neither legislation nor reporting reflect this fact.

And all cultures have their historical weak spots. America's prohibition laws in the 1920s have left a national legacy of hysteria about alcohol, exemplified by the spread of rehab clinics. Our moral faultline is drugs, perhaps because Victorian and Edwardian London was rife with high-society drug addicts, up to and including famous fictional detectives; or possibly because politicians have traditionally drunk and smoked. As a result, booze and fags are seen as an individual issue, while spliffs, tabs and wraps are societal scandals.

This is partly because those addicted to legal substances tend to make it to middle age before the damage shows, while prohibited stuff leaves tragic young faces for campaign posters - such as Olivia Channon or Leah Betts. It's also extremely rare for someone to resort to burglary or murder to get a packet of Marlboro or a bottle of Absolut.

These distinctions, though, are not absolute. Many young people die each year in falls, car crashes or fights caused by alcohol. And, as the RSA points out, the very illegality of some substances makes them more likely to involve criminality. One of the report's suggestions - making prescription heroin available - should make the chain less dangerous. Imposing criminal records for small-scale possession or experimentation is also an imperfect use of police time.

Even so, this provocative call does not quite convince me. We are influenced by our own appetites and anecdotal evidence, so let me admit mine. Wine has always been my addiction; I have lost friends and colleagues to class-A drugs, and my prejudice, having hung around showbusiness a little as a reporter or performer, is that junkies destroy themselves rather quicker than puffers and drunks, and that their work descends into gibberish more rapidly.

The question is this: imagine citizens A, B, C, D and E who regularly comfort themselves with, respectively, alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, cocaine and heroin. Whatever the RSA argues about equivalence, I would still rather work with or live with the earlier end of the alphabet and suspect most GPs would take the same view. D and E are at more immediate risk of health problems than A and B.

A weakness of the report is that it seems to operate on the assumption that people are careful about narcotic options, browsing in a notional super-tobacconist that has ciggies at one end of the counter and coke at the other. Yet it's rare to meet a non-smoking teetotaller who snorts a few lines; addictions tend to be multiple, and making strong drugs more available will result in people putting increasing demands on their systems and, ultimately, the NHS.

But, even here, the RSA has a point: that the government's anti-drugs policy is clearly not based on health concerns (as its attitude to nicotine is) but on a "moral panic". Yet in saying this the report is effectively admitting to impotence in a political culture where even student drug use can threaten a politician's future. It's a pity because - especially on the issue of the waste of police time - the RSA is on to something.
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Mar, 2007 01:00 am
Quote:
Stop the war

Leader
Friday March 9, 2007
The Guardian

Defeat is always hard to face, especially for belligerent leaders. But there comes a point where logic forces the hand. In the second world war, after two Japanese cities had been destroyed, Emperor Hirohito surrendered with understatement. "The war situation," he told his countrymen, "has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage." In the case of the war on drugs, yesterday's report from a Royal Society of Arts commission makes it plain that, by any rational appraisal, a similar point has been reached. Will ministers face this reality, ditch Britain's failed policies and adopt in their place ones that might reduce the harm that drugs do?

Even before yesterday's report, events this week have revealed the perversities that flow from criminalisation. The squandering of court and police resources - resources which are intended to protect the public - was seen on Wednesday when a 68-year-old grandmother was convicted for growing cannabis that she uses to treat pain. On the same day No 10 let it be known that one of Tony Blair's aims at this week's EU summit would be to persuade his counterparts to volunteer forces to destroy the Afghan poppies used to produce drugs. That appeal is being made both because intermittent western attempts to destroy the crop so far have met the opposite of success - the harvest is now 30 times what it was 2001 - and because the British army is concerned that the already considerable risks it faces in Helmand province would be greatly magnified if it fell to it to destroy the $3.1bn industry on which much of the population there depends.

The costs, in terms of criminal justice and diplomacy, might be worthwhile if the consequence was a reduction of drug addiction on the streets of Britain. But that has not happened. When the existing framework for criminalisation was established in 1971, insofar as there was a drugs problem at all, it was concentrated among 2,000 registered addicts and perhaps a few thousand more who were hidden. Academic analysis, highlighted by yesterday's report, suggests that three decades later the UK had 360,000 problem users.

International comparisons only confirm the picture of failure. Britain has a higher recorded rate of opiate use than anywhere else in the world. Consumption of cocaine and amphetamines is arguably the highest in Europe. The RSA commission, which included no lesser policeman than the Metropolitan Police's assistant commissioner John Yates, suggest that drug use bears no simple relation to the stringency of drug laws. It points out that relatively liberal policies in Holland and Portugal go hand in hand with lower rates of consumption than are found in Britain.

This bleak picture of failure is familiar from other reports which have come before. But policy, bar a shift in the approach to cannabis which itself has been controversial, has not changed much. RSA polling evidence shows that the public is now readier to countenance pragmatic reform than nervous politicians think. By two to one, people believe that those whose only crime is to use drugs should not be brought before the courts but instead offered help and support. That should create the political space needed to shift the focus away from punishment and towards harm reduction.

One priority is scrapping the residual requirement on the police to waste time on cannabis, a drug that is far from healthy but whose dangers cannot justify making criminals of those who smoke it. It is more important, however, that heroin addiction should be medicalised through rapid expansion of schemes to allow GPs to prescribe it. Not only would addicts then be saved from poisoning by impurities, but they would be spared the daily scramble to fund the next illegal fix. That could cut acquisitive crime at a stroke. A healthy peace dividend could flow to the whole community if an end was called to this most unwinnable of wars.

Source
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