Drugs. Chemical cocktails for the mind and body. Defined by Google as ‘a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.’
I recently attended Peter Hitchens ‘There is no war on drugs’ debate at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. A campaign Peter appears committed to after experiencing the fall out of cannabis use by a friend’s son. It could be argued, that illicit drugs are taken to temporarily (or permanently in the case of addiction) detach oneself from reality and one’s current state of consciousness.
I think his debate was largely unqualified and walked out when he started questioning the validity of prescription drugs…Thousands of life saving drugs have been developed over the past few centuries to improve the quality of life of those who are ill (mentally or physically). However, no academically awarded medical practitioner has scientifically concluded that the benefits of taking illicit drugs outweigh the costs to either yourself or others.
You can tell the difference when an academic presents compared to a journalist. I’m still unsure if Mr Hitchens has tried illicit drugs? His address still sparked a debate internally about the social fallout of illicit drug consumption, which cannot be denied. Social in the context of ‘partying’ perhaps but not so social in the context of violence, crime, addiction, deteriorating health and poverty.
*Australian Institute of Health & Welfare
- Recent illicit drug use (use in the previous 12 months) rose from 13.4% of the population aged 14 and over in 2007 to 14.7% in 2010. This was still below the 1995 peak of 16.7%.
- The rise was mainly due to an increase in the proportion of people who had used cannabis (from 9.1% to 10.3%), pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes (3.7% to 4.2%), cocaine (1.6% to 2.1%) and hallucinogens (0.6% to 1.4%).
- Recent illicit drug use was highest in the 20–29 year age group for both males and females (30.5% and 24.3%, respectively).
However, recent ecstasy use decreased, and there was no change in the use of meth/amphetamines, heroin, ketamine, GHB, inhalants and injecting drug use.
- Between 2007 and 2010, ecstasy and meth/amphetamines were perceived to be less readily available, with less opportunity to use, but cocaine, hallucinogens, pain-killers/analgesics (both prescription and over-the-counter) and tranquilisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes were perceived to be more readily available.
- Of all illicit drugs, community tolerance has increased for cannabis use, while people in Australia still consider heroin to be the drug most associated with a drug problem.
While I don’t envisage solving the ‘war on drugs’ (illicit) in the next few paragraphs, I will share some brief views:
Justice system – Why is it that many of us turn a blind eye to cocaine abuse by a wealthy office worker and yet we shun those who live in poverty and smoke marijuana? Equal opportunities for incarceration and condemnation for use and possession must be enforced. I struggle to understand how hubs like Kings Cross exist when everyone knows what goes on behind many of the closed doors… A power struggle between the justice system and king pins? Perhaps. Which may reduce through harsher deterrents for criminals but also greater support for law enforcement officers.
Education – many attendees of this address thought earlier education and more of it would reduce illicit drug consumption. However, if my experiences and the experiences of those I have met in my time are anything to go by its not so much a deterrent. As Peter discusses, peer pressure and that desire to play with fire and experience the unknown play a key role. It can’t hurt of course, and certainly the recent ‘Ice Age Campaign‘ has provided some great shock tactics.
I wonder whether a different tack could be for education providers to simply:
- Emphasise how many great things in the world ignite the senses like travel http://www.escapenormal.com/2012/06/23/the-100-most-beautiful-places-in-the-world-in-pictures/
- Remind us all of how ‘free and easy’ we have it these days (as my 94 year old grandfather says) and that we should be thankful for our good health and opportunity. http://www.boredpanda.com/must-see-powerful-photos/
Policy makers – ensure that appropriate consultation occurs with anti social citizens to understand the core drivers for illicit drug consumption so that appropriate systems are in place to combat it. Perhaps:
- More community engagement events and campaigns that foster important values – we all know how much sport unites us as Australians and Australia Day, Christmas etc.
- Online service delivery for anxiety and depression to target those who may be at risk for starting on an illicit drug journey at the expense of seeking professional help – www.mindspot.org.au is a fantastic example.
- And the list goes on…
All of us – focus on constructing a more favoured reality which includes laughter, confidence, creativity and relaxation to fuel a less anti social society.
Notwithstanding there may be a genuine need to escape the current place one finds themselves (e.g. returning from war, divorce, dealing with grief/loss etc). In this instance perhaps we can make mental health services more accessible and less stigmatised so people don’t feel compelled to commence their ‘illicit drug journey’.
One attendee at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas even raised the fact that you are more likely to be hit by a car than negatively impacted by drugs…A reference would have been handy. Assuming he was correct, perhaps the social fallout from illicit drug use is what it is and is another facet of the world around us? Survival of the fittest?