Tuesday, December 21, 2010

David Michod's 'Animal Kingdom'

I'm sorry David Michod. I know you've been swatting away journalists and negotiating contracts in overseas markets, but I just can't bring myself to join the throng of admirers with regards to your debut feature film, Animal Kingdom. I know, I know, this will do nothing to endear me to complete strangers at subsequent summer BBQs and the astonished looks across tabletops will become onerous at some point; but I've decided that we all just need to accept that unlike one of the film's stars, Luke Ford, you, David, just haven't, to paraphrase your words, 'seen enough' to pull off a text like this. And, sadly, you may well do more harm than good in the current climate.

When it all boils down, the essence of Animal Kingdom is melodrama that harks back to an earlier, more ignorant era. Because, when the dust settles, the junkie criminal is the epitome of evil, whilst the 'family man' police officer saves the day, with a bit of help from the 'quiet little brother'. Sure, the film has been sold as 'A Crime Story', but I think it's important to be cognizant of the ripple effect here; especially upon middle-class Melbourne. You see, because every time a heavily-stoned person turns up on a train begging for money, or every time a known-criminal is incarcerated without proper medical attention due to his/her benzodiazepine dependence, the empathy dial will be even further to the left than it is otherwise; it may not even be touched at all. "But it's only a movie!", I hear you exclaim. Yeah, and the Herald Sun is only a newspaper. In fact, one could argue that the former actually holds more weight in the 21st century.

Who is the injecting drug user in Animal Kingdom? He is a psychopathic, violent murderer who even considers rape every once in a while if the target is young enough. He doesn't think twice about injecting drug-naive teenagers in distress, and may even be a closet homosexual. Disgusting, I know.

Michod establishes a perspective early on, with the opening scene of J's mother overdosed on the couch whilst he sits next to her in front of a 'game show'-blaring television. The trite portrayal of 'heroin as killer' sets the scene for the rest of the film. We later learn that J's mother became estranged from her mother, Jackie Weaver's 'Smurf', because of a card game disagreement. Michod embarrassingly reveals his feeble take on 'low-life, scumbag Australia' - petty, evil and addicted. And whilst such characters do exist in the world, Michod's text not only lacks gravity, but I also just wasn't convinced by the portrayal emanating from the screen. Unlike Ray Winstone in 44-inch Chest, or Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, two films that didn't receive the attention they deserved; two films that didn't rehash hackneyed material from the mind of a writer whose understanding of the 'underworld' seems to be derived from tabloid headlines and bain marie banter. How could anyone be convinced when Joel Edgerton's Barry passes a wad of cash to Ben Mendelsohn's Pope at the front of a store in clear view of the shop window? These are two crims who are under constant surveillance by detectives, thinking nothing of such a silly mistake. Add 'stupid' to the aforementioned list and unveil yet another cliche. It's no wonder Barry is shot soon after!

Then, in possibly the film's standout scene, Mendelsohn draws on an old skeleton companion when he fairly accurately portrays heroin use with the subtle cues of a slight rub to the nose, glassy eyes and a blissful naivety. But Mendolsohn well and truly tears such an achievement down when he colludes with Michod in a scene where J's girlfriend, Nicky, succumbs, without so much as a whimper, to Pope's offer of a heroin injection. This is yet another example of Michod portraying a world he knows nothing about. He seems to have created a bunch of scenarios that hit the 'FULL-ON' register, pieced them all together, labeled it a film, and then waited for equally unaware audience members to look at each other and gasp, "FULL-ON!!!". Well, folks, it doesn't run that smoothly, because young women often have difficulty finding their veins because they are often thinner and deeper under the surface of the skin, and an opiate-naive teenager would have most likely vomited soon after receiving the injection. Pope doesn't come off as a new initiate, so the contents of the syringe would have been potent (or potent enough). Following the injection, Nicky seems to just stare blankly at Pope, as if nothing of significance had just taken place.

It doesn't seem to matter to Michod that a group of police detectives murdered Barry in broad daylight, with the corrupt drug squad officer portrayed lightly as a bumbling dork who, deep down, really does want to 'do the right thing'. In the world of Animal Kingdom, 'good' simply wears a uniform, whilst 'evil' may not wear a tracksuit but is drug-fucked and might be found lurking at the local. Okay, so let's do a random search of today's news headlines and see just what the face of 'evil' might look like in reality. The first two that appear on my computer are: 1. "A Victorian policeman has been charged with various offences including having sex with an underage girl." - theage.com.au (21.12.2010) 2. "The owner of a Sydney childcare centre charged with indecently assaulting a pre-school girl in his care is facing a fresh charge of assaulting a second girl." - theage.com.au (21.12.2010). Hmm, an officer of the law and a businessman. Whilst only charges have been laid at this stage, it should still make us think...

By the time Pope is chasing J, in what could be described as the film's climax, I have to say that I felt no more afraid of Pope than I did of Nicky's clueless dad who seems to do whatever anyone tells him, regardless of how well he knows them. Mendelsohn is far more menacing in Beautiful Kate, due primarily to that film's authenticity; because at the end of the day, Michod's film just isn't authentic and, failing that, isn't even daring as it merely reverts back to familiar ground well-worthy of contempt.

David Michod, I am going to set you some homework to complete before your next 'masterpiece'. Please seek out the meaning of the following words: ambiguous, banal, caricature, lame. Due date is anytime before the next Sundance film festival.

More info. on Animal Kingdom can be found here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Kingdom_%28film%29

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Drugs, a victimless crime? Hardly: Miranda Devine

Miranda Devine joins the exalted ranks of 'people who have employed dodgy analogies to justify ill-informed positions in the public sphere' in her latest piece of paid writing for Sydney's Daily Telegraph. And whilst one could tackle Devine's perceived wisdom piece-by-piece, I think the dodgy analogy is all that needs covering really.

So, Devine states: "The analogy is a gardener who regularly weeds his garden, keeping the problem at bay. But one day he decides: "It's no use. The weeds keep growing no matter what I do, so I'll just give up weeding."

Hmm, I can't help but wonder how long this pearl of wisdom has been floating around for and would pay decent money for a snapshot of the expression on Devine's face when it came forth. Yeah, yeah, lowest form of wit, I know. But sometimes one needs to do what feels right, and after years and years of exasperating ignorance, sarcasm feels right.

I am going to offer up an alternative, albeit slightly longer, analogy:

Drug law reform is like having a garden like no other that has ever been in existence. As the owner of the garden, one feels a deep sense of anxiety because one is unaware of why this garden exists and exactly how it came into being. Thus, there is no-one else who can help and say, "Oh yeah, there's another garden like this in another part of the universe that is much older and this is how its owners learnt to manage it best. So one carries on in the best way one knows how to and uses what resources are available. And it is really tough. Because the garden is filled with many different things and it is difficult to understand and sustain all of them. Something that becomes evident, though, is that all the different things benefit from each other's existence and when nurtured appropriately, thrive to create an amazingly beautiful diversity of life forms. The weeds are persistent and need to be removed, but, in the end, even those are the same as the others essentially, and depending on how the gardener manages the garden, the weeds are more or less of a problem.

Then one day, a neighbour comes along and starts to draw one's attention to several particular plants in the garden. To you, they have required regular maintenance to ensure the harmony of the entire garden but they have been no more trouble than any other plant. Oh actually, there has been one particular plant that has been especially troublesome, but it seems helpful to the other plants, so it seems worth it to manage it. But this neighbour is adamant that these several plants are incredibly dangerous and they are even called 'evil'. Over time, one starts to agree with the neighbour because the neighbour has been so relentless and has a garden that is much larger and owns a lot of resources that can be of assistance.

Eventually, after much persuasion, and even a little intimidation, one decides to remove the 'evil plants' and keep watch over the garden to make sure that they never return. However, the neighbour takes cuttings of the evil plants and explains that they will be kept for 'special reasons'. Over time, however, the garden starts to change and a small number of new plants begin to appear. But there is something funny about the new plants because they appear similar to the 'evil plants' but they are attached to the weeds and they are incredibly difficult to manage. They still look okay and they get on okay with the other plants, but there is something that is just not right.

Years pass by and one starts to notice that a fair number of the plants who come into contact with the new plants experience problems and the entire garden becomes even more difficult to manage. The neighbour just tells you to weed harder, and to keep persisting. So you follow the advice of your neighbour who comes by every now and then with chemicals to help kill the new plants. However, more time passes and the situation doesn't seem to be improving and some of the most beautiful and valuable plants in the garden are looking terrible from disease, with some species dying off altogether. The frequency at which the weeds appear has also increased and they have become increasingly voracious, severely impeding the development of other plants. You feel incredibly saddened by the losses and the course that the garden has taken since you removed the 'evil plants' and your neighbour just keeps telling you to continue weeding.

Then one day, a gardener from a far-off town comes to visit and you explain the situation to him. He just throws back his head and laughs, explaining that "We had that problem a few years back and then my neighbour told me to just return to the old way of doing things. To prioritise the beauty and harmony of the garden and not worry about what other gardeners are telling you." The visiting gardener explains that the original weeds are the real problem and that, whilst the 'evil plants' might be a bit trickier to manage, they belong in the garden and provide benefits; "they just require a little more work", the visiting gardener explains. At that moment, one realises that the visiting gardener might be onto something and that with diligence and the abundant resources at hand, a better way of managing the garden is possible. The visiting gardener then continues on home and one is left wondering which is the best course of action to take in the future.

Ethan Nadelmann is the 'visiting gardener' and Australia needs to work out how to best proceed. That, girls and boys, is the end of storytime and it's now time for your midday nap. Nigh' night.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sunday Mail: Mother's cry for her little girl lost

This opinion piece appeared over the weekend in reference to a Sunday Mail feature that is unfortunately unavailable online.

In South Australia's Sunday Mail from the weekend just gone, even the most hardened reader will find the story of Emma Pawelski heartbreaking and incredibly tragic. We find ourselves in the unenviable position of a mother paralysed with the question of what could have been, that horrific state of limbo where no course of action can make any difference whatsoever to that which has already taken place. Emma's story is deeply upsetting and leaves this insignificant blog writer with the most bitter of tastes.
The kind of bitter that causes one to hunch over with sickness.

It is understandable that Sharon McKell, Emma's mother, has written a book on the subject, with an accompanying mission to educate the next generation about the dangerous "allure of drugs". We saw the same response following the loss of Sydney teenager Anna Wood to an 'Ecstasy'-related death, when her surviving parents reached out to the public. Of course it is understandable, but it certainly is not the only response available to loved ones, nor is it one based upon reflection and consideration. At the risk of seeming insensitive and callous, I think, as difficult as it may seem, it is vital for those who have lost people dear to them in such circumstances to take the time to really consider what has occurred before running with knee-jerk, emotional reactions; and I think it is important that the more experienced and wise amongst us reach out, where possible, to assist with the difficult process of learning.

In the Sunday Mail article, Emma's mother speaks of feeling "betrayed and disappointed" in her daughter, eventually "badgering" her to just stop. I can't help but think of two young people I know of. One is a young female who has just turned twenty-one, currently working daily on the streets of St Kilda to support an intensive heroin habit. Where does she live? At home with her mother. What are her mother's primary concerns? That her beautiful daughter is safe, uses sterile injecting equipment, eats decent food regularly and has a roof above her head; and above all else, is in close, daily contact. The second person is a young male who is just past twenty-five years of age, has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, has previously attempted suicide and currently injects amphetamines and steroids. He has smoked cannabis in the past on a daily basis. Where does he reside? At home with his mother. What is her primary concern? That he is alive, safe and in close contact with her. Both of these young people are alive today and are reasonably healthy.

I am not blaming Sharon for her daughter's death, but I do find it frustrating that she seems to have chosen to completely externalise everything to do with her deceased daughter. She wants to know "exactly what happened" and wants young people who read the book to "think seriously about the choices they make, the company they keep and the consequences of their actions..." And in the article's brief moment of inward contemplation, Sharon explains that "I could have pushed Emma a lot harder but there were reasons that didn't happen." The reader subsequently discovers that one of those reasons is that Emma "hid a lot of things" from her mother.  Shouldn't we be having the kind of relationship with our children that fosters openness, where young people can reach out to their parents for support no matter what the issue is?

And what kind of system allows young women to undertake sex work simply to maintain a drug dependence? What kind of judge sentences drug users by day and then hires the sexual services of drug users by night, as occurred with Emma? For people like this, is Prohibition a convenient way to channel pretty young women into the sex industry for their consumption? ("Gee, if it wasn't for illegal drugs, I'd never be able to buy sex from someone as young and delectable as you!") Like I said earlier, the kind of bitterness that sickens you to the core.

With all due respect to Sharon McKell, families of all walks of life may be better off spending more time considering the following:

a) why humans use drugs
b) the role of drugs in the evolution of humankind
c) the most suitable response regarding the affected family member/s that is based upon the individual involved rather than what is socially acceptable
d) why the family member uses drugs and what drugs mean to the person
e) reducing the most amount of harm to the person/s from their drug use
f) helping the person/s to stay alive
g) employing the appropriate expertise to support the person/s if and when they make a decision to move on from drugs 
h) understanding the meaning of 'unconditional love'

I dare say that it was the hardness of Sharon's pushing that further entrenched Emma's isolation, alienation and increased risk. Think of the word 'push' - it means to increase the distance between yourself and someone else. Since when do we increase the distance for people we supposedly love? Shouldn't we be pulling such people towards us? Tragically, it must be easier at this point in time for Sharon to embrace the words of those who have themselves been misguided, for fear of the immense pain that would come from looking inward and genuine reflection.

Finally, I feel it is important to mention Tony Trimingham, the founder of Family Drug Support, who lost his son Damien to a heroin-related overdose. Trimingham has delved deeply into both his heart and mind to come to terms with the life that his son led. Since his son's passing, Trimingham has gone on to champion harm reduction (needle exchanges, supervised injecting facilities etc.), comprehend the complexity of drug use and support other families in need.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mike Judge's 'Extract' (2009)

Since his appearance in the wonderfully homoerotic Jackass 2, Mike Judge has further intrigued me, having enjoyed numerous moments over the years with the animated sit-com, King of the Hill. Intrigue has now transformed into respect, as Judge’s fourth feature film has been released on DVD with a ‘MA 15+’ rating accompanied by a “Strong drug use” warning. Like I said, intrigue and then respect.

Never mind the upfront statements that Judge makes with regards to the overly-litigious nature of America today, the plight of cottage industries in the ever-growing shadow of corporate monoliths, the validity of polygamy and the frustrating, persistent ignorance of suburban/ small town working folk (reminiscent of comedian Bill Hicks, whose love for his home in the Deep South also meant that its faults became easier to see). What matters most in this film, as alluded to in the preceding paragraph, is the manner in which Judge handles the issue of illicit drug use. It seems as if the Beavis and Butthead creator has exalted himself from the ranks of the dorm-room stoner to the wider world of ordinary citizens attempting to conceive what this whole ‘drug thing’ is really about.

As one would expect, Extract never takes itself too seriously, but in a similar vein to John Hughes’ Breakfast Club, Judge manages to deftly interweave a consistent poignancy throughout the film. And the drug-using characters are not exempt from such treatment. Drugs first appear in the movie when the viewer is introduced to ‘Dean’, the protagonist’s sole male confidant who works behind the bar at his regular liquor haunt. Dean’s introduction is not intended to cement credibility as he presents Aprazolam to Joel as a cure-all for any of life’s difficulties. However, Dean’s ‘far out’ mindset is depicted in line with the humour of the movie and the character (with due credit also deserved by a pleasantly surprising Ben Affleck) becomes less caricature and more affable and realistic, especially when compared to other cinematic peers.

Dean then accidentally hands Joel, who eventually acquiesces to his friend’s insistent suggestions, a hit of Ketamine instead of Alprazolam. But instead of the usual blurred camera effects and the hackneyed ‘drug-fuelled chaos’ scenario, Judge opts for a startlingly low-key experience whereby the previously uninitiated Joel maintains the ability to speak, does not vomit and avoids confrontation with the law. Of most interest to me was the depiction of a character experiencing drugs but still continuing to primarily be the same person in possession of the same traits, such as sense of humour, that were present prior to the consumption of the drug. The notion that people always transform into something entirely different following the use of drugs has been overstated in two-dimensional Hollywood and Judge’s departure is refreshing.

The low-key tone, representative of the entire film, then continues and the arrival of the second ‘feature’ drug scene is equally hilarious and realistic. Dean is again the facilitator and on this occasion he convinces Joel to smoke pot as a means to relaxation. Joel explains to his friend that his past experience of smoking is the quick onset of paranoia, a realistic scenario, but ends up smoking the five-foot long bong anyway. What the viewer soon discovers is that Joel’s ‘diagnosis’ is in fact inaccurate, and what he actually experiences is a disconcerting uncertainty borne of consuming an illicit, psychoactive substance that is exacerbated by unfamiliar surroundings. What Joel experiences, effectively depicted by Judge with the employment of first-person camera viewpoints, seems quite natural for a character with his disposition and social standing, but would also be fitting for anyone who is inexperienced and uneducated about drugs.

What we don’t see in the pot-smoking scene is:

a)      Joel attempting to jump out any windows from drug-induced psychosis or the sudden onset of a belief in the ability to fly
b)      Joel running out of the room screaming in terror
c)      Joel accusing his smoking buddies of lacing the pot or any other conspiracy
d)      Joel making animal noises

Subsequent to the two primary drug-taking scenes in Extract, the film’s protagonist not only returns to his regular life, but actually makes decisions that lead to a significant improvement in his situation. Joel does not become addicted to crack-cocaine, does not lose everything and does not end up in front of a magistrate. In effect, the preceding story becomes a life lesson for Joel and he draws upon it to strengthen his marriage, develop his sense of compassion and improve the relationship with his employees. He even maintains his friendship with Dean, who remains the same and continues to work behind the bar. The zenith of the film’s treatment of illicit drugs, also presented in a matter-of-fact manner, arrives in the penultimate scene when a passing Dean pats Joel on the back and explains that “Some people are just not meant to take drugs. And you’re one of those people Joel.” No big deal. No proselytising; no redemption; no romanticising; no glorification; just a simple statement of fact that does nothing to detract from Joel’s credibility. Easily done.

No wonder this film never received a theatrical release. Click here for more information.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How the 10-plant rule sent much of a city to pot: David Penberthy

This article appeared in The Punch last week.

Now I wonder if any of David Penberthy's old school buddies who used to sink bucket bongs with him at recess have read this? And if so, I wonder how they managed to find enough tissues to mop up the tears of laughter that erupted before a single word was read. "But why?", I hear you ask meekly. The website looks okay and his mugshot is fairly ordinary (although you might need to tussle the hair and shake loose the tie to properly reminisce); what could it possibly be? Aww shucks, it's no big deal really, but THE PHOTO CAPTIONED "MONSTER HEADS" DISPLAYS YOUNG, LEAFY PLANTS THAT COULD GET A PERSON SHOT IN TOWNS WHERE SUCH LAMENESS IS LEGISLATED AGAINST! THERE IS NOT A 'HEAD' IN SIGHT, LET ALONE THOSE OF THE 'MONSTER' VARIETY! No biggie; just sayin'...

My current favourite TV show recently explained that the reason we can be so mean to others is because we are deeply insecure ourselves and it makes us feel better about ourselves when we dish out onto those around us. With all due respect Dan Harmon, sometimes it's just about returning power-wielding morons back to their seat where they will hopefully draw penis sketches whilst convincing their friends that they are hilarious and not in fact bi-curious or repressed.

Enough said really. Anyone with any clue about cannabis should stop at that photo caption and walk away into the night without further ado. The problem is, however, that many readers will raise up their Ray Bans or put down their 'Crownie' and marvel at 'Basketcase Adelaide' ("Look everyone. Those stupid crow-eaters thought they could make that shithole of a state seem interesting by legalising weed and now they're all stuck at home wiping the drool from their kids' mouths! LMAO!")

I could tackle Penberthy point-for-point, but instead I just want to raise a few matters of concern:

a) Can we all just ignore that idiot who has mistaken pot smoking for an Olympic event and too often uses the phrases "let's REALLY get stoned" or "you call that a joint?!"? Just like Bill Hicks' gripe about the guy who always wants to 'enhance' the trip, this joker (you all know her/him) just can't seem to GET that drug-taking is a completely individualised pursuit and you can bet your shitty, over-committed mortgage that he/she will be the first one to transform into 'anti-drug crusader', maybe even becoming the exaggerated example that parents everywhere refer to when justifying their ignorance. Dude, you completely overdid it with a product that is not even regulated and whilst it's understandable as a teenager to wake up immersed in the bucket next to your bed, there's a time limit on that. If you just checked your Id at the door every once in a while and realised your own insignificance, then some of us might be able to smoke in peace, instead of having to bear witness to your EXTREME drug taking. Go ahead, smoke everyone under the table, AND DON'T EVER BOTHER US AGAIN!

b) Can we all just ignore that idiot who insists that one needs to hold in the smoke for as long as possible to 'get high'? Not only is this not true, but smoking should be a pleasant, easy-going experience - IT'S NOT A SPORT! With the amount of tobacco being mixed with pot these days, I wouldn't be surpised if users are exacerbating their anxiety, or at the very least boosting their heart rates, by sucking way too hard.

c) Speaking of tobacco, can we not forget that 9 out of 10 smokers mix their pot and it may not be just tolerance that is leading to the endless cones on the daily? You may just be craving the nicotine hit and, again, way overdoing it. Totes.

d) "Do nothing culture"? What are you talking about David? For many smokers, there is nothing worse than being bored when stoned. What about all those users who can't stop doing stuff after they smoke. Here are some examples of smokers who do amazing things:

Band of Horses

Kenny Hoyle

e) "...the explosion in the size and reach of bikie gangs in the City of Churches was fuelled by those laws" - huh? So how come in Victoria and New Zealand, for example, bikie gangs have become super-powerful from Prohibitionist laws? You might want to check your facts David, because you might find that during that era Adelaide weed was renowned for being cheaper and of much better quality. Certainly anecdotal reports from Melbourne buyers indicated as much. Also, I wonder how powerful the gangs would have gotten if there was a legitimate retailer in the mix - remember David, decriminalisation is not the same as regulation.

I hear you say, well how do people receive accurate information or how do we avoid the misinformation spreading? Well, if I can make a suggestion, if drugs weren't solely in the hands of 'black marketeers' and drug education stopped being a work of extraordinary fantasy-fiction, then we might stand a chance. Because really, I don't care about your new Bob Marley flag, your big dog, your oversized car or that new video game console you recently scored by trading a quarter-ounce - people would much rather buy their drugs cheaply, with guaranteed quality and accurate information, from a person who's not just interested in tax-free dollars.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Misleading claims in the mental health reform debate

The following article appeared in the Australian on August 07, 2010 and has been kindly provided by Melissa Raven. Below this article is a link to a more recent, in-depth opinion piece that has been co-authored by Melissa:


Dodgy facts no path to mental health reform

MENTAL health has a prominent profile in Australia. 

It's become a key election issue, creating opportunities to advocate for constructive reform of the mental health system. But some inaccurate claims are being made.

According to John Mendoza, former chairman of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health, more than one-third of Australians who take their own lives have been discharged inappropriately from hospitals. In fact, data suggests that less than one-third of those who commit suicide have had any recent contact with the specialist mental health system.

Inappropriate discharge is an important factor in only about 1 per cent of all suicides, so Mendoza's claim inflates the true figure by a factor of 30. Improvements in discharge planning and follow-up are needed, but would be irrelevant to most who take their own lives.
Mendoza's misrepresentation of the significance of hospital discharge misleads the Australian public and politicians, and has the potential to misdirect suicide prevention strategies and resources.

Australian of the Year, psychiatrist Patrick McGorry, claims there's a "waiting list of 750,000 young Australians currently locked out of the mental health care they and their families desperately need". Surveys do suggest that this many young people have untreated mental disorders at some point in a year. But diagnosis, particularly when made in surveys rather than clinically, isn't the same as treatment needs. Many disorders are mild and transient. Only 17 per cent of young people with disorders have severe impairment, and 51 per cent of them go in for treatment.

Undoubtedly, some untreated young people would benefit from treatment, but most are not "locked out" of treatment, and most don't "desperately" need it.

Not seeking treatment in the health system is an appropriate choice for many troubled young people. Many use appropriate self-management strategies, including exercise and seeking support from family members. Many at risk of mental disorders would benefit more from social and educational reform than from mental health reform.

It might seem churlish for a psychiatrist to draw attention to such inaccuracies. Does it really matter if some claims are exaggerated? The system is in crisis and radical change is needed. McGorry and Mendoza's proposals have the support of mental health community groups, the public and politicians, so shouldn't we make the most of the momentum, especially during the election campaign?

But it matters that we're being misled by authoritative-sounding claims without anyone bothering to check them.

Furthermore, as the debate is now framed, several crucial issues are being sidelined, including the role of social disadvantage in suicide, the need for early intervention with children and families, the rights of chronically mentally ill people to live with more dignity, and the need to respect and enhance the valuable contribution of GPs to mental health care. The mental health system badly needs reform, but too much is at stake to make rushed decisions based on inaccurate claims and populist sentiment.

Jon Jureidini is a child psychiatrist and associate professor at the University of Adelaide.

Click here for the opinion piece: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=10793

Friday, October 29, 2010

Obama Administration opposes legalising Marijuana

The following has been kindly provided by Paul Dessauer in response to the opening link:


Go here to see that the NYC "Aggressive Arrest Policy" Sabet lauds actually focused overwhelmingly on the misdemeanor "smoking marijuana in public view", (MPV): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2561263/figure/F1/

Observe that while the number of people busted for smoking on the street skyrocketed, arrests for other cannabis-related offences remained relatively stable. Arrests for non-drug misdemeanors also increased.

However arrests for other drug offences ("controlled substances") and for non-drug felony offences (both of which should be of greater concern to the community than smoking cannabis or non-drug misdemeanors) fell dramatically.

Go here to see that all these extra MPV charges overwhelmingly targeted Hispanic and Afro-American people;

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18841246?ordinalpos=1&itool=PPMCLayou t.PPMCAppController.PPMCArticlePage.PPMCPubmedRA&linkpos=1

<<< Since 1980, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) expanded its use of arrest and detention for minor offenses under its quality-of-life (QOL) policing initiative. Arrest data indicate that during the 1990s the primary focus of QOL policing became smoking marijuana in public view (MPV). By 2000, MPV had become the most common misdemeanor arrest, accounting for 15% of all NYC adult arrests and rivaling controlled substance arrests as the primary focus of drug abuse control. Of note, most MPV arrestees have been black or Hispanic. Furthermore, black and Hispanic MPV arrestees have been more likely to be detained prior to arraignment, convicted, and sentenced to jail than their white counterparts. >>>

This policy appears to prioritise forcing people who don't need or request it into drug treatment, (along the way disproportionately incarcerating or criminalizing Black and Hispanic New Yorkers), and simultaneously policing more serious and antisocial crime in a significantly less effective fashion.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Booze the greater of two evils: Nick Crofts

With the consistent and regular opinion pieces on the folly of Prohibition emerging out of the UK as of late, it is timely and inspiring to read Professor Nick Crofts' take on matters in the Age from yesterday. The articles from our northern 'neighbours' have been penned by highly qualified and experienced professionals, and such a description applies to Crofts, currently with the Nossal Institute for Global Health.

I don't need to spell out the merits, as you can see by clicking above that not only does Professor Crofts have a rational and reasonable grasp on the issues, but uses words like 'defenestrated' with aplomb. Typically, though, I just wanted to enact the slightest of nit-picks, as I can't help but keep the tragically unaware public in mind.

The first point I want to raise is the need to exercise caution with regards to contributing to the demonisation of any one substance. Of course it appears understandable when a drug like GHB for example is causing havoc because dose accuracy is difficult, or when many of a person's loved ones have lost their lives to heroin-related overdose, but what emerges is a further distortion of the drugs issue as:

a) people are further inculcated into embracing inaccurate and stigmatising sterotypes in general, as well as those attached to specific drugs
b) a misleading hierarchy is set up whereby certain drugs are okay but only 'scum' use those other drugs - this way of thinking has also gone hand-in-hand with the 'War on Drugs'
c) a well-rounded understanding of the drugs in question is lost as information is blurred and often, emotions ramped up

I am confident that Professor Crofts intends to venture nowhere near the aforementioned points, but I can't help but feel concerned when amphetamines, yet again, and in tandem with the Hall/ Weatherburn article in the Sydney Morning Herald a little while back, is described as "nasty" or something similar (plus, as one reader points out in the comments section, MDMA is in the amphetamine family - methylenedioxymethamphetamine). Refreshingly, Crofts places alcohol under this banner too, but again, the unaware public, who are most in need of an article like this, may be inclined to think, like a fair few people do, that particular drugs are more destructive or even 'evil' and therefore more deserving of prohibition.

This is not to say that amphetamines haven't led to nasty consequences, but MDMA, placed here in contrast to the former, has also been 'nasty' (teenage death, psychosis etc.). Ironically, most of the people that I have spoken to see amphetamines as okay and heroin as the evil, so Crofts' piece may cause a rethink in this regard, but I firmly believe that, in line with the article's recognition of the issue's complexity and the need for sensible, evidence-based humanism, we need to move away from inaccurate hierarchising. Apart from anything else, there is a significant number of regular amphetamine users who do not fit the 'nasty, psychotic, violent' stereotype and are, in fact, too busy having fun when they are on the drug to be damaging to others. And of course, there are those who medically require such drugs.

And whilst most readers in the comments section haven't gone in such a direction, we did have this from 'Scratcher' in Sydney:

"That being said, Cocaine and ICE are incredibly dangerous due to the paranoia,violence and heart damage caused in the long term. Now the South American Cartels are targeting Australia, we will start seeing a lot more street violence. My Answer, mandatory Cocaine and Amphetamine tests at the doors of clubs, more drug sniffing dogs located in clubs, patrons found to carry to be ejected."

Sounds like GHB, where, in some instances, people were merely being ejected from clubs when ambulances should have been called.

And then there are just those readers who... well, don't seem to be able to read:

"Let's cut the bull - pot is addictive, it does stuff up lives, and it does cause psychosis in many who are vulnerable. Don't paint it as the harmless drug because that is just an absolute load of rubbish"

That's right, 'Mother' from Sydney, Professor Crofts clearly stated that cannabis is "harmless" (NOT!).

The other point that will need to be made for the largely unaware public, is why drug taking occurs and what role it has played in the entire history of humanity. Professor Crofts most likely had limited space and it would probably be best in another article, but I can hear the remarks now from those who couldn't or wouldn't add a comment: "Well, it's their bloody fault! No-one forced them to take ecstasy because alcohol prices went up! It shouldn't be "If you drink and drive you're a bloody idiot!" - it should be "if you take an illegal pill just because you couldn't afford alcohol you're an absolute dickhead!". In fact, I'm sure you can probably hear it too: "And you know what? They're even more stupid because they don't even know what's in the pill. Yeah, just like this Crofts bloke is saying - they are made by criminals who don't really know what they are doing and they're still bloody taking them! Waste of space I say. Either send 'em to the army, lock 'em up or let them rot. Actually, let them rot, because I don't want my taxes supporting them."

Like I was saying to a friend last night, our bodies actually have the pre-existing 'hard wiring' to be able to experience the effects of these substances (e.g. cannabinoid receptors etc.) and we also produce endogenous forms of these substances - so, there is something more to it that someone like Professor Crofts is far better placed to explain further.

And thirdly, whilst a previous blog posting here called alcohol a "crappy" drug, it is probably important not to demonise alcohol as there are a hell of a lot of people who have been enjoying the drug for many, many years and who are doing pretty good, and who have never been violent on it. So yeah, *note to self*, alienating these people is probably not a good idea.

To end, I kinda like 'abalone diver' from Sao Paulo:

"If society refuses to treat people like adults, then they will either act like children, or ignore it's rules, both of which continue to happen now."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Herald Sun: Deputy Commissioner Sir Ken Jones urges Victoria to debate illicit drug legalisation

Well, it seemed like a wasted effort to respond to this article from yesterday's Herald Sun, but it came amidst a big-wig law enforcement meeting held in M-Town this week and not since the recent canonisation of long-decayed remains has there been such an outpouring of fallacy. In Monday's Age, Australia's 'finest' take credit (again!) for the decrease in the amount and purity of heroin since the 'glut' died down at the turn of the century. I, and no-one I know, has yet seen evidence to show that this is the case and, in the spirit of Saint Mary MacKillop, this week's conference didn't even see the need for evidence at all.

Our esteemed 'representatives' then weighed in when a Sir Ken Jones called for a public debate on the issue, but made it very clear that he is not in favour of a softer approach. Now I have to say that Sir Jones' idea is a great one and Paul Dillon's supporting comments are the highlight of this article. Issues of importance are not opened up to public debate nearly enough and this is one that, if executed fairly, would be an incredibly valuable opportunity. And yes Paul, thinking outside the square will be important. However, next time you mention the situation with pot in the Netherlands it would be highly appropriate to also explain the current political context. I'd hate for the unaware public to think "Gee, those Dutch wastoids ended up with overflowing looney bins and shooting in the streets, so now they're cracking down." It's also interesting that California, located in the heart of the drug war, is currently considering a proposition that would allow personal possession and cultivation of weed under a prescribed amount.

Unfortunately, Sir Ken goes wayward later in the piece with this lovely piece of saint-inspired work:

"He said the public should be educated about the flow-on costs, from higher insurance premiums to delays in elective surgery as hospitals treated the fallout from drugs and crime."

Kenny, Kenny, Kenny; a primary aim of "legalisation", as you call it, is to REDUCE the levels of fallout and crime from drugs. I am astounded that you didn't pick this up from the law enforcement folk you chatted to at the conference, given that this very point is the foundation upon which they build their argument as 'crime fighters'. A friend in an inner-western suburb recently had his house run through and most tragically, lost two laptops that had years and years of photos, documents etc., and he informed me that the entire suburb has suffered from break-and-enters that he thinks are most likely drug-related. I tend to agree.

So I'm bewildered Sir Jones, why a REGULATED market/ treatment program (I like to use the word regulate rather than legalise, because the latter has become tainted and consequently gravely misunderstood) where price and availability would be affordable, or maybe even subsidised, would increase levels of crime and raise insurance premiums. Golly gee, I think that insurance companies are probably part of the armada that supports the drug war - they are likely to be raking it in based on the millions of people who wish to protect their home and contents from the world's 'insane junkies'!

Dear Ken, if you actually took the time to speak with people who use illicit drugs or who are dependent upon them, access to their drug of choice, a decent feed, somewhere reasonable to stay, a meaningful job (if they can manage), a solid group of friends, family connection, travel, great tunes and an otherwise regular life are all that is wanted. Crime is most often the last resort for the most desperate. And then if people want to move on from their drug use, all they want is timely access to non-judgmental, effective services. We've been using drugs for thousands of years Ken, don't you think it's a fair way to go?

And then your daughter comes up and you even go so far as to touch on alcohol and tobacco. Oh Ken, what did they teach you when you were knighted? Are you sure they got the right Ken Jones? What does this mean?:

"If we had our time again, we wouldn't have allowed tobacco ... or alcohol. Are we going to add another 20 to the list? I don't think so."

Cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, psilocybin and cannabis were all prolific prior to the implementation of Prohibition but this didn't stop anyone. Because the implication from your statement is that now that alcohol and tobacco have been around for so long we can't do anything about those drugs because, hey, it's too late. Well actually Kenny, according to the 'War on Drugs', it isn't too late and you might want to get started on it. Oh but wait, you won't do that because it wouldn't work and would actually do more harm then good. Ahhh, I gotcha Kenny *wink wink*; up there for thinking mate *smile*

Golly, did I forget Teddy Baillieu? He presented the following:

“For example, the Mental Health Council of Australia has found that cannabis users are three times more likely to develop psychosis and that Victorian secondary school students who use cannabis weekly are five times more likely to harm themselves."

With regards to the first half, is this the statement you have distorted?:

"There is a 2-3 times greater incidence of psychotic symptoms among those who used cannabis, however, the epidemiological data shows that cannabis cannot be considered a major causal factor."

And whilst, at this stage, I do not dispute the second half of your statement, you might want to know that regulation aims to reduce young people's access to certain drugs by placing responsibility in the hands of legitimate retailers instead of the black market, where such controls could be put in place. Of course, young people will always find a way, a fact that I am reminded of every morning when I pass the same group of school kids puffing away. I mean it's not all bad - my pot-smoking mate from high school is now a high flyer in the video games industry. If drugs were actually regulated, people would receive comprehensive education regarding the drug they are interested in prior to purchase, rather than people just interested in making money - or that's how I see it anyway. It's important to remember that people are not going to start flocking to use drugs just because they are no longer criminalised.

In the end, though, I agree Sir Ken Jones - we need to have a debate that is fair and open.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Australian - Casual coke use on the rise

This story appeared in today's Australian.

For those accustomed to drawn-out and detailed diatribes on this blog, you will be relieved to know that this will be a quick one.

You will note that Dr Lucy Burns from the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) is quoted in the aforementioned article:

Dr Burns said that although cocaine use did appear to be on the rise, the link between this and the decline in ecstasy use had to be made with caution.

"Cocaine is substantially more expensive than ecstasy -- it's unlikely that people using ecstasy would be able to substitute with cocaine, and it's more likely they would switch to something like mephedrone," Dr Burns said. "This is a new drug that we are seeing emerging in this market."

Well Dr Burns, with all due respect, and I hope that you haven't been misquoted, it would have been worthwhile if you could have provided a little bit more evidence for why substitution is "unlikely". Is there not something in the data that can back up your statement?

The reason I ask, is that it is probably important for the readers to know that MDMA ('Ecstasy') is not merely purchased simply because it is relatively cheap. People who use the drug are seeking a specific effect, and it just so happens that the price has decreased to a mildly-healthy 30 or so dollars (a smarter person out there will be able to tell me why). The people who use this drug are not necessarily unable to afford more expensive drugs; it is just that real MDMA has a very specific effect - and by all accounts, a very kick-arse one!

Anyhoo, I digress. I need to ask Dr Burns, why is substitution unlikely due to affordability? I know of a significant number of people who can not only afford MDMA as well as cocaine, but could probably afford to help me a little too. Of course, there is probably data in your files that documents the demographics of your participants, and income is probably included as part of that, so I'm going to end up looking like more of a right twat than I already am.

If not, though, I am going to offer the following possibilities:

a) substitution is actually occurring and people bought cocaine because their usual MDMA dealer said to them on a few Saturday mornings (probably at around the 3am mark), "Sorry mate, but there aint no more to speak of. Charlie's just hit town though? You up for it?" To which the reply came, "Hell yes! I aint leaving the house with nothing. How much?... Oh yeah, no worries; I'll have two and my friends will probably take another five" Because the price of pills, whilst attractive, was not the primary reason such people bought them and the near-six figure salary they earn or that their friend/ partner/ family member earns can move amongst a range of substances.

b) people, as you say, decided to try a new emerging drug on the market and enjoyed it so much that they left MDMA alone.

c) people couldn't get 'E' so decided to not worry altogether, because drug users don't always need a substitute if they can't get their preferred substance.

And you state, Dr Burns, that people are more likely to switch to mephedrone when they can't get 'E', and your figures show that its use has shown up in "significant numbers". But there is nothing to show in this article what that mephedrone use was really about. You see, I would hate for the unaware public to think, "Gee, these pill-popping rave junkies will try anything, even if it's cat fertiliser, when they can't get their fix." It's just that the people I have spoken to who have experimented with mephedrone did so purely because they were very curious - not because they were switching or because they were desperate for SOMETHING. Also, there are many people who aren't mindless drug 'Hoovers' and won't just use a drug because it is new, cheap and has a funny name. Many people who use drugs are actually discerning with their choices.

So yeah, I guess we can include:

d) people switched to mephedrone when they couldn't get 'E'.

Anyway, Dr Burns, we are probably on the same side, I just needed to put my two cents into the overflowing fountain. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

7:30 Report: Paul Kelly

Great excerpt from Paul Kelly's (the muso) interview on the ABC's 7:30 Report (broadcast: 21/09/2010) regarding his experience with heroin, as documented in his recently-released book. Now this is truly refreshing:

KERRY O'BRIEN: You're very candid in the book about your period with heroin. You say, "Heroin was the one for me." You single out all the other drugs that were available, but you say, "Heroin was the one for me." It sounds like for a long time you told yourself you could use it, enjoy it, without succumbing to it. Is that right?

PAUL KELLY: Yeah. Well, it was - I had a relationship on and off with heroin for 20 years. Again, as I was saying before, when you - I didn't realise for a while that I was writing a memoir and once I realised I was, I realised certain things had to be spoken about.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Because it was so much a part of your life for that long.

PAUL KELLY: Well a part of my life.

KERRY O'BRIEN: A part of my life.

PAUL KELLY: But my sort of other rough rule of thumb for what stayed in the book and what wasn't was whether it was interesting, whether this particular chapter is an interesting piece of writing. And I thought I had something to say about heroin that was different to the usual narrative. I mean, you hear people - the usual sort of story of heroin is either a tragedy or redemption, you know. You go down with it, you don't get up; or you go down and you come up and you got the redemption story. And I thought there was - I just thought there was another story there.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And what is it?

PAUL KELLY: That, you know, people do use hard drugs recreationally and not all the time, that people can use drugs like heroin without having a habit. I never did. And that, at some point, you weigh up the costs against the benefits and at some point you think, "The costs are getting too much; I'll stop."

KERRY O'BRIEN: And what were the costs in the end for you?

PAUL KELLY: Um ... oh, there's a lot of costs. There's ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: You talk about the fact that towards the end, the coming down, that the coming down was taking much longer, that it was harder to come off it each time. That's the way I read it.

PAUL KELLY: I think it's like most drugs, including alcohol. You know, when you're young you can drink 20 beers in a night and get up the next day and play football. But, you know, I can't drink that much anymore without feeling the effects of it. So it's the same with any kind of drug. I think as you get older, you get - the toll gets - you can't go at it so hard.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But you - whether it was just that heroin was illicit or whether you felt something else about it, felt uncomfortable about it anyway I'm not sure, but for a long time there you were hiding it from others. You hid it from friends and family and colleagues, but you say that after a certain time you knew that they knew, that the - it was becoming obvious to people when you were using heroin.

PAUL KELLY: Yeah, I think - I mean, it's - I don't know whether it's a particular trait of heroin or just other drugs, but I think it is a kind of brainwasher so you sort of think you're getting away with it. And if you have any sorta clarity about it, you start to realise, well, you're not.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I've talked with James Taylor about his experience with heroin. He said that for him it was self-medication for depression, but that in the end it was too narrow, too stultifying. "I felt as though I lived on a postage stamp," he said. Does that ring any bells for you?

PAUL KELLY: Like I said, I think I had a different experience. I didn't ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: So you didn't come to it as a prop, you didn't come to it as an escape. For you it was - you were introduced to it as a recreational drug and that's how you saw yourself using it.

PAUL KELLY: Yeah. For a long time it worked like that.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So have you ever talked to your own kids about that experience? What would you - have you ever said to them, "I'd be relaxed if you tried it," or, "My advice to you is stay away?"

PAUL KELLY: Ohh, yeah, well, my conversations with my children is probably not something I wanna talk about. I'm sorry, Kerry.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Well then let me put to it you this way: what would you now say to others who might consider using heroin?

PAUL KELLY: Ah, I wouldn't say anything at all. I think the last thing the world needs is pop sinners giving advice.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You're more than a pop singer.

PAUL KELLY: Well I'm certainly not someone who wants to give advice to people I don't know.

KERRY O'BRIEN: How hard was it to walk away from when you did?

PAUL KELLY: Not that hard.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You don't occasionally still miss it?

PAUL KELLY: Not anymore.

For the transcript of the full interview, click here: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2010/s3018174.htm

Today Tonight: 'Suburban Warzone'

Well in true post-news, commercial network style, Channel 7 ramped up Australia's blood pressure last night with tales of a shopping centre security guard. Today Tonight's security guard action hero, 'Kevin', was a resplendent gentleman with an ASIO-like earpiece, hours of video footage and a sleek crew cut - who just so happens to think it's okay to talk to television cameras like he's a pro-wrestler raring up for a fight. Kevin means business.

Interestingly, TT's host used the term 'drug users' in the introduction for the piece and the journalist describes a person in the segment who is obviously substance-affected as being in an "altered state of mind". The language selection caught me by surprise and it seems as if someone has gotten into the ears of the show's producers. In the end, though, it appeared to be a contrived effort.

In his WWF style, Kevin opens by asserting that he is "protecting you (us) from the scum!" Arrrggghh!!!; the only thing left to do now Kev is tear off your shirt and snarl into the camera lens. Of course, drug users are not the only people occupying Kevin's time, as he goes about the unenviable task of monitoring and securing a suburban shopping centre. However, 'Desert Storm' it is not, and the ear-pieced Kevin appears to be taking himself a tad too seriously.

The viewer is first introduced to a verbal dispute between people known to each other that is derived from a misunderstanding. Of course the camera is dragged around the place, cinema verite style, establishing Kevin's workplace as a verifiable Hollywood action film. Australians sitting meekly in their lounge rooms should be freaking out at this point as the local shopping trip might require semi-automatic artillery the next time around. If this isn't enough, we are then introduced to our very first 'abandoned child' - dum dum (said in a descending tone like a piano soundtrack for impending doom). I couldn't help but laugh when the very Australian guardian returns, who looks like the children's grandfather, simply stating that "they didn't want to get out!" Fair enough, I say. I can recall many a time when I opted to stay in the car at the shopping centre to listen to more Sam Cooke on the cassette player.

It is at this point that we are shown the antics of the most dangerous of criminals; the kind that puts the 'under' in underworld; the 'scum' that Kev is protecting you from. That's right - 'THE SHOPLIFTER'. Ever since these devil children were shipped over to the prison colony that once defined this island-continent we call home, Australians have continued to deal with dastardly thieves. Only now, they are apparently stealing food to sell rather than eat. That is, every shoplifter is attempting to cart away thousands of dollars in meat goods. No, no, there are no longer people trying to cope with the FACT that they live below the poverty line. Anyway, one gentleman is caught and the camera footage shows that he is immediately grabbed around the throat with big Kev using his forearm to drag him across the floor when his actions cause the 'perpetrator' to fall to the ground. There appears to be no attempt at verbal engagement as Kevin immediately and literally, goes for the throat in a case of vitamin and seafood theft. No joke. It's difficult not to think that Kev is getting something more out of his job than just the hourly rate. Unwarranted violence then turns to pathos as a young lady removes a line of unpackaged sausages from beneath her tank top. TT asks us to shake our heads in disgust, but I can only think about how sad this person's life is. 

And finally, the "junkies", as Kev calls them, enter the 'Thunderdome'. A couple are spotted using syringes (maybe? Not easy to tell with the blurring) in their vehicle in the parking lot whilst a man of Eastern Asian appearance is apprehended doing the same in a toilet cubicle.  It is explained that drug users think the shopping centre is "a good spot for anything" and that they don't want "drug users in a shopping centre because there are so many children". Well apart from the drinking and smoking that has always taken place in shopping centre parking lots, the car and the public toilet can be a necessary setting for desperate people in acute withdrawal aiming to relieve incredibly painful symptoms. Of course, not always the case, but it does take place on countless occasions because people become desperate or simply have nowhere else to go. What the public needs to understand is that most people who inject drugs would prefer to use their drug away from places such as the local shopping centre. Public toilets are often disgusting and it is easy for mishaps to occur in the tight 'space' provided by cars. The preferred option is always a trusted home or secluded spot that can provide privacy, amenities like running water, shelter from unwanted 'guests' and a place to relax afterwards. People don't want to have to constantly look over their shoulder, accidentally spilling their drugs in the process, and intensely dislike immersing themselves in someone else's post-excrement odour. And yes, there are those who are just thoughtless, inconsiderate or impatient. As for drug users and children, TT may have been wise to seek out Bernie Geary's quote from several years ago as the Victorian Child Safety Commissioner: "...but I’ve seen people using in that pretty rapid way and then go into a period of contemplation and then become absolutely more than adequate parents and in some cases whilst using being very adequate parents. In fact I think some users that I’ve seen are certainly better parents than non users..." ('Four Corners': ABC: 2007)

Then, in a very concerning turn, there is a sudden move back into 'abandoned children' territory. There is no prefacing whatsoever, as the journalist immediately returns to the issue without any explanation at all. I may have missed something but the effect, and clear intent, of this sudden shift is the close association that the viewer is almost forced to make with the "junkies" of the preceding scenes. No tangible connection is made as no children are identified as having been abandoned in the parking lot because their folks were banging up in the centre's toilets. Instead, the segment's 'running sheet' condemns by way of implication. What is frightening is that the only explanation for the subsequent section is that the producers could not adequately demonise drug users with the footage they had logged and thus needed to haphazardly create a tenuous connection between abandoned parking lot children and drug using parents. This is a slightly strange move, as they couldn't even find legitimacy in the first example, which clearly involved a guardian who had given up on trying to convince his little ones to leave the car, and then, in the second example, there is nothing to show that the children in question had even been abandoned at all (sure, one of the children is sweating, but what does this actually mean? And what is the connection to drug use?). Of course, if you mention kids and irresponsible parents in the same sentence then it doesn't matter how much evidence you have - people will always be aghast ("Nooo! They did what to their children?!")

And then the segment finishes with a sequence of violent episodes, presumably from Kevin's footage reel, that were more likely to have been caused by alcohol, if anything. The 'story' section of the segment, however, ends abruptly and unclear. I remember one of my old teachers telling us during singing rehearsals that an audience only remembers two things in a show - the beginning and the end. According to him, the middle is meaningless. In this instance, we started with big Kevin telling Australia "Make no mistake; I will catch you!"; and the two things that ended the story were 'drug users' and 'abandoned children'. So if my teacher is right, Today Tonight viewers will take away the following message from last night's episode:

'Drug users are abandoning children in cars at a Queensland shopping centre and the security guard Kevin will stop this "scum" from getting away with it.'

Thanks Kevin.

To view last night's program, click on this link and go to the 'Suburban Warzone' segment: http://au.video.yahoo.com/watch/8334260/22261003

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Four Corners - Oxy: The Hidden Epidemic

Here is a spiel on last night's Four Corners episode. Please correct me if I have made any stupid errors:

So Four Corners aired its expose of the hidden epidemic last night and as much as it pained me to miss out on the X Factor elimination decision, I dragged myself over to channel 2. For what it is worth, my opinion is that it ended up doing a number of things:

a) reinforcing existing perceptions of illicit opiate users as less-than-human
b) portraying opiate use as a surefire path to death
c) presented a misleading depiction of illicit drug use and illicit use of licit drugs
d) evoked compassion for 'innocent' chronic pain 'victims' and 'unsupported' GPs
e) shed light on irresponsible prescribing practices by GPs
f) highlighted the inadequacies of the pain management sector in this country
g) gave no coverage to the role of pharmaceutical corporations

The episode opened with the case of 'party boy' Neumann, a now-deceased "heavy recreational drug user". Such a description is then confirmed with vague details of a 5-day binge which ended with a fatal overdose caused by a combination of alcohol, diazepam and oxycodone. The diazepam was prescribed by a GP, who then prescribed the oxycodone a couple of days later.

From what I can gather from the show's content in relation to Neumann, here was an opiate-naive individual who was looking for a way to come down from a serious party session, presumably involving stimulants (that would explain the 5-day duration and fit the mold of what the mainstream media considers 'recreational'). The interview with his girlfriend did not reveal any drug awareness regarding the very serious risk that was being taken and the mother firmly believes Neumann would still be alive today if the doctor had refused to prescribe oxycodone, with his family believing that he didn't know the potency of oxycodone.

With all due respect to the people involved, I am more concerned about a situation where a supposedly experienced illicit drug-taker makes a concerted effort to use a serious drug which holds significant potential for overdose, especially in an opiate-naive person, and especially when other depressants are on board. Neumann didn't take an opiate that just happened to fall in his lap whilst stumbling around a hotel room in a complete daze surrounded by a raucous party of people. He turned up at a doctors surgery twice in several days for two different depressant drugs and then presumably had the scripts filled at a pharmacy. He must have been reasonably alert to achieve this.

Yes, the death is tragic, but Neumann made incredibly risky decisions - firstly, he partied for 5 days straight and secondly, sought out a full opiate agonist without a tolerance for such drugs. I have been around countless people who take stimulants who would never go for 5 days straight and would not, in their wildest dreams, think about opiate use to come down with, especially if they are opiate-naive. These are the decisions that people who have been exposed to drug awareness within a harm reduction framework are able to make. Or who simply take an informed approach to their drug use. There is nothing in the segment to indicate that Neumann and his friends were provided with or sought out such education (his family believe he didn't know the potency of oxycodone. Really? Then why did he consider it such a "jackpot" to find a GP who would prescribe it?). I also question Neumann's mother's belief because with such an unaware and risk-inclined mindset, he may well have done something equally risky if he was unable to obtain oxycodone. Four Corners mentions nothing about the extreme nature of this behaviour and the viewer is provided with yet another tragic story that has become representative of drug use in the mainstream media, a notion that is reinforced throughout the remainder of the show.

The episode then moves to King's Cross and it is here that viewers are provided with their first description of what prescription opioids actually are: "heroin in a tablet". That's right, a very scientific and in-depth description. Why educate viewers about drugs? The less they know, the better, right? It is also explained that these opioids provide "addicts a cheap and long-lasting high". Not 'people', but 'addicts'. Apart from the fact that non-dependent people also use these drugs, as shown in the introductory example of Neumann, the term 'addict' removes any notion of human involvement. We are dealing with an unfairly stigmatised section of the community and the media needs to be aware of this. Is it unreasonable or onerous to instead state "these drugs provide people with a cheap and long-lasting high"? What is also interesting, especially within the context of King's Cross is that no explanation is given for why these 'addicts' use such strong painkillers. I'm sure the staff at the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) could shine a lot of light on this matter. So instead, the viewer is left merely with a depiction of addicts hunting the streets for their next cheap hit, a depiction that is reinforced later, contrasted against the 'innocent victims' interviewed.

Next up is an interview with Bruce. Bruce, like Neumann

Anyway, back to Bruce. It is revealed that "large parts of his vascular system have been damaged", but what this actually means is unclear. He pulls down his pants when explaining that he used to inject in his legs, but there was still no adequate explanation of the "damage". Bruce makes no mention of pill filters or any other harm reduction measures and instead seems intent only on purging himself in front of the cameras, taking us to scoring locations and showing the manner in which he forged scripts. There is no mention of the many users who don't end up injecting in their legs - instead, another extreme case is shown. The 'piece de resistance' is then delivered when Bruce takes reporters to a hospital ward where he explains that 'addicts' manipulate cancer patients and pensioners out of their medication, "doing them a favour" with "cash for treatment". Wham bam! If you didn't hate 'addicts' before tonight, you sure as hell do now. Of course, the show delves no further and certainly doesn't explain that this is not representative of all people who use opiates.

The Australian statistics, which are alarming, reveal that 80 percent of all overdoses or poisonings are now due to prescription opioids. And a death toll is given, with 61 fatal overdoses in Tasmania in 2007/08. This is indeed alarming and incredibly sad, but is Four Corners sure about this? I ask this question because the harm reduction sector continues to inform people that the vast majority of overdoses are caused by combining depressants, with overdoses rarely occurring due to opiates alone. Now I could be wrong, but admitting such a fact would detract from the demonisation of opiates that the show is indulging in, no? What also comes to my mind is the isolation, ostracisation and clandestine lives that people are forced to adopt when opiates are used, and the lack of adequate overdose education people receive. Further information may be required here.

The next section with Dr Currie is alarming. With seemingly good intention, Dr Currie is actually having to articulate to colleagues that, with regards to 'doctor shoppers', "One of the most important of all, that is that they don’t want you to look at them or do an exam for backs. ‘No, no. I just need the Oxycontin, It’ll be fine I’ve been examined. Had that a hundred times before. No I don’t need that. Just want the Oxycontin. I do not give you permission to communicate with the other six GPs that I have seen or the people interstate. And I do not give you ongoing permission.'" No wonder we are in the situation we are in! GPs who are paid quite well, hold considerable status in the community and who have studied for many, many years need to be reminded of such simple guidelines? Who in their right mind would prescribe a schedule 8 drug like Oxycontin without clear supporting documentation, direct communication with other involved GPs and a physical examination? The only explanation I can come up with is fear of violence. But really, these are rudimentary skills that a low level drug and alcohol worker would be aware of. Something just doesn't add up here.

Suburbia is then brought into focus and "everyday Australians" are juxtaposed against "street addicts". These are "not your typical addicts", Dr Nick Lintzeris explains, with stigma receiving a mention. We are introduced to Ruth who was started on 40mg/day and then found herself on 300mg/day after "she strained her lower back" (are you kidding me! Surely something more serious occurred for such prescribing to be warranted). Ruth explains how she deliberately overdosed to end her life due to the situation she found herself in (her husband found her "off her face" and "dozing off"). Now I'm no psychiatrist, but I am guessing there is more to the picture here. Regardless, the story is indeed a saddening one. However, Ruth then ends her interview with a horror story of wanting to jump off a balcony when withdrawing from opiates and denying herself the remaining opioids in her handbag. Who the hell allowed her to go 'cold turkey' from 300 mg/ day! There is no mention of the need to titrate dose etc., and instead the viewer is left with the 'opiates = death' equation. I can just see the uninformed producers salivating over the balcony story ("Put that in! That's a pearler!"). The poor woman underwent a misguided, torturous and traumatic process that should never have taken place. Who cares, though, right?

Fortunately, Ruth received assistance from Dr Melissa Sui at St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne who explains that her opioid patients report that the medication has "little to no effect" on pain. Extraordinary stuff, but as a former pain clinic attendee I can tell you that the opioids certainly did have an effect. I still felt pain, but I managed so much better. I know others who would agree. What I found most infuriating were the attitudes of the medical professionals I would encounter (except for one - hello Dr Gisbus!). Of course, there are people who will continue to feel pain but the different stories don't emerge. Now I'm not advocating for opiate-drenched living, I just think the picture is more colourful than what was presented. Ruth's section ends positively as she provides much-needed hope for others who want to get off opioids. I am also glad to report that the inadequacy of the pain management system is then highlighted and Professor Currie makes a good point when he says, "The answer is to talk to the person, see what the person would do best with and often it's not a tablet and particularly it's not Oxycontin."

We are then introduced to Mark who was turned "into a raging addict". Mark politely informs us of how he felt: "I'd rather be dead than live like this, yeah. That, and that sums it all up. That was no, no way to live. No one should live like that. And, and if you if you choose to take the path to take those drugs, um, or ,or if you're in the position where, where you take those drugs, it's where you will end up. It's, it's, it's as plain as that, you know." Gee Mark, I work with a tonne of people who would be dead if they didn't have opiates. So yeah, it's not as "plain as that". It is then revealed that Mark was not properly monitored and his addiction wasn't picked up. Great. It would have probably been worthwhile for the show's producers to discuss daily pick-up options at this stage and the fact that opiates do not agree with everyone. But no, they then go on to describe Suboxone as "an opiate blocker" that Mark explains has "no adverse effects". Well, to be exact, Suboxone is the brand name for buprenorphine that is half antagonist and half agonist. People do experience 'positive' opiate effects and there are adverse effects (it is dependence-forming, causes constipation and dryness of the mouth etc.). Details, details...

The episode then ends with Kos Sclavos from the Pharmacy Guild who suggests that 'Real Time Monitoring', as occurs with pseudoephedrine, could be of benefit with prescription opioids. At least he uses "misuse" instead of "abuse".

And to end this overly-long rant, I can't help but think that we need more advanced types of medication for pain issues and I hope that this show doesn't make things more difficult for people in genuine need. These drugs aren't ideal, but for many people it is ideal for whatever time of their life they are in or for the entirety of their life. Cannabis preparations have also shown to be effective and ketamine infusions are starting to be used as well. At the end of the day, there is a section of the community who will always engage in such drug use and if opioids go away, what will take their place? We have already seen what heroin shortages can create and also the accessing of ingredients/ drugs via other means (the Internet, other countries etc.). The black market has been endowed with so much power by Prohibition that most of us are at its mercy in one way or another.

Here is a link to the episode.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Media Release: News media turns young people off illicit drugs

This was released today:


Now I wonder what effect these oh so wonderful media reports have on the way young people perceive people who use or who have problems with drug use? And I wonder what level of drug awareness these young people have, based on such media reports? AND, I wonder how these young people will manage situations where they or their friend has taken a drug and something goes wrong? Or, how will these young people manage extended periods of drug use?

I also wonder what results like this mean when no young person in their right mind would openly respond to a researcher with "Nah. After I watched *insert media report* I thought, fuck yeah, let's go out and try that!", or "They make it look shit, but my mate who lives around the corner smokes joints every weekend and I love hanging with him". Plus, the media that is being discussed here never explores the positive effects that people attain from drugs or convey harm reduction messages - it is a no-brainer that participants are going to respond in this way.

Just some thoughts...

Launch of blog today

Thank you to anyone who has popped in after the launch today.

What can I say? Some people have punching bags; I have this blog :-)

Montana Meth Project ineffective - Journal of Health Economics

The following contribution has been kindly provided by Paul Dessauer:

The Montana Meth Project claims to have had a significant effect on methamphetamine use since it's inception in 2005;


Now the project is expanding to other states and seeking increased Federal funding;

<<<>>> (both quotes from www.montanameth.org/ ).

Recently the University of Washington's D M Anderson has reviewed the Montana Meth Project.

He claims there is no evidence it had any influence on rates of methamphetamine use in Montana at all.

His review was published in the Journal of Health Economics last week;

<<< The strides in prevention touted by the Meth Project's supporters, he said, do not stand up from a statistical standpoint. "If I had found the meth project had an effect, that's what would have been reported," he said. "I just wanted to know if this anti-drug campaign worked and I found that it didn't." Similar concerns have been raised about a drug prevention program that began in the 1980s, Drug Abuse Resistance and Education. Also known as DARE, it is now employed by schools across the country despite multiple studies over the past two decades that said it yielded little or no benefit. The findings on the Montana Meth Project also are in line with work done by an Australian researcher. David Erceg-Hurn, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Western Australia, said in 2008 that the Meth Project had distorted its successes by emphasizing positive numbers. Erceg-Hurn found that after six months of exposure to the ads, there was an increase in the percentage of teens who said using methamphetamine was not a risky behavior or who strongly approved of regular meth use. >>>

Full article;


Bill Slaughter, (director of Montana Meth Project) responds to the University of Washington review;


However the key plank to his argument is addressed by Anderson in the Chicago Tribune article I linked to (above);

<<< Supporters also argued that the decline in meth abuse has accelerated since the campaign was launched. Between 1999 and 2005, the number of youths reporting they had used meth fell 39 percent. Between 2005 and 2009, the drop was 63 percent. However, a closer examination reveals that the change in percentages was in part a function of the number of youths taking meth: As that number got lower, the same pace of decline yielded a more dramatic percentage drop. But the actual change was identical in both time periods. >From 1999 to 2005, the percentage of Montana youths reporting meth use
fell from 13.5 percent to 8.3 percent -- a 5.2 percent change. From 2005 to 2009, it fell to 3.1 percent -- another 5.2 percent change. >>>

Review of fellow West Aussie Erceg-Hurn's research from back in 2006;


<<< Erceg-Hurn wrote that teens exposed to six months of MMP advertisements showed a threefold increase in self-reporting the opinion that meth use is not a risky behavior, and teens also were more likely to report that using heroin or cocaine is not risky, either. Erceg-Hurn also found that teenagers who saw the ads were four times more likely to strongly approve of regular meth use. The study also found that 50 percent of teenagers said they felt that the MMP advertisements exaggerated the risks associated with meth use. "The idea behind the ad campaign is that teenagers take meth because they believe it is socially acceptable, and not risky -- and the ads are meant to alter these perceptions," said Erceg-Hurn. "However, this theory is flawed because the MMP's own data shows that 98 percent of teenagers strongly disapproved of meth use and 97 percent thought using meth was risky before the campaign started." >>>

More commentary here;


<<< But a new study from the University of Washington published in this month's issue of the Journal of Health Economics casts doubt on the project's claim to have influenced meth use rates. The rate of meth use in Montana was already declining by the time the Montana Meth Project got underway, the study found. "Methamphetamine use was trending downward already, and the research shows that the project has had no discernable impact on meth use," said study author D. Mark Anderson, a UW doctoral student in economics. Anderson said the project had not been empirically and rigorously scrutinized until his study. Using data from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Anderson compared meth use rates to rates nationwide and in nearby states. Using demographically similar Wyoming and North Dakota, which undertook no anti-meth project programs, as control cases, Anderson showed that in all three states, meth use declined gradually between 1999 and 2009. Anderson also scrutinized drug treatment admission reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and found that the Montana Meth Project had no measurable effect on meth use among young Montanans. His findings suggested that other factors, such as law enforcement crackdowns prior to 2005 or increasing knowledge of the ill-effects of meth use, were more likely to have led to declining levels of meth use. "Perhaps word got around on the street, long before the campaign was adopted, that meth is devastating," Anderson said. "Future research, perhaps of meth projects in the other states, should determine whether factors that preceded the campaigns contributed to decreases in usage.">>>

See also;




Yours truly,


Paul Dessauer,

Outreach Coordinator, WASUA.

Email me at [outreach@wasua.com.au]

Article in SMH from Don Weatherburn and Professor Wayne Hall

This article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald this week and I believe it warrants a speedy response. For what they are worth, here are my thoughts:
I just had a few points I wanted to raise in relation to the Weatherburn/Hall piece. Now I know my credentials are far outweighed by the gentleman responsible, but if you got a spare minute or thirty, I thought we might have the opportunity to share:

Firstly, to represent the existing paradigm as being comprised merely of two diametrically opposed 'sides' is greatly misleading. I am puzzled why anyone of stature would place 'harm reduction' and 'black and white' in close proximity as the authors do here. Harm reduction is a philosophy that embraces the 'grey area' and has been a saviour in the 'black and white' world of Prohibition. Furthermore, the regulatory perspectives that have been presented over time do not preclude the role of law enforcement and do not advocate for a world of 'free drugs', as has been presented elsewhere. The authors here unfortunately support the continued, tedious misrepresentation of pro-regulationists like Release in the UK.

Gee, if you get arrested in a fair, regulatory, post-Prohibition environment, you probably deserve it!

Next I would like to yet again speak out against dodgy analogies. That is, comparing oranges to apples; chalk and cheese; that kind of thing, yeah? So, when the esteemed authors compare the failure of the 'War on Drugs' with drink driving I was kinda disappointed. As far as I am aware, the 'War' has the clear intention of eradicating the selected drugs; no two ways about it. 'Booze buses' on the other hand are a harm reduction measure, right? As far as I am aware, the designers of breath testing have always acknowledged that people will not stop drinking and driving (they even established a legal limit), and if they really wanted to do that they would need to ban alcohol (or driving). But hang on, they won't do that because it wouldn't work. But hang on, so why do they maintain the ban on other drugs... Oh, sorry, I'm getting all tangled up here.

Anyhow, I then go on to read that the 'War on Drugs' is not designed to eradicate the selected drugs and the massive rise in prices is the key. Ohhh, I must have misinterpreted the meeting about a "drug-free world by so and so year". Well okay, so now I'm meant to change the way I perceive a war that 'protects' the masses at the expense of the most vulnerable. That's right, because who most often ends up trying to meet those ridiculously high prices, regardless of the consequential risks and poverty? That's right ladies and germs: the most vulnerable. Those of us who end up risking our safety with street-based sex-work; those of us who have suffered abuse; those of us who are poor in developing countries; those of us most damaged. And who ends up paying when such desperate people resort to crime? That's right, the 'protected' masses. Also, the higher prices don't prevent wealthy people from affording these drugs and this reinforces double standards in society, whereby it's okay for the rich because they can get away with it.

And then, the heroin shortage is cast in a positive light due to a reduction in crime, morbidity and mortality! That may well be the case folks, but here in Melbourne we saw people swapping to other (often more risky) drugs and an increase in self-harming amongst marginalised youth. Again, the most vulnerable lose out.

The authors then confuse me further when they seem to unintentionally expose a gross inconsistency. If decriminalisation has little impact on prevalence, why the hell don't they raise this point in relation to the price-hiking 'success' of the 'War', thereby exposing a serious flaw? They state that Prohibition reduces consumption and harm to levels lower than what they would be without law enforcement. But hang on, you have then written that decriminalisation has little impact on prevalence. So if enforcing the law reduces harm and consumption, why doesn't removing the criminality of a law increase use and therefore the harms? They also state that treatment is far more effective than punishment for already-dependent users and they are the ones who will use more if legalisation occurs. In which case, just make it legal and reduce the harms for those who do use because the rest of the community will be okay and an increase in use does not always lead to disaster! Am I the only one perplexed here?

From what I have seen over the last fifteen or so years, I think I would rather see more people using a cheaper form of heroin in a non-discriminatory society than less people using prohibitively expensive dope in a 'junkie-hating' world. I don't think I need to explain why. Plus, this is where the misrepresentation of regulation comes in again. The drugs in question would pose a serious risk to illicit producers because they would not just be offered to seriously dependent users, but would also be available to others in a pure form, dispensed with appropriate equipment by qualified professionals. Or that is how one model goes, because, contrary to this article, there is a variety of models up for consideration.

Next, the authors write of "toxic drugs" with "quite toxic mental effects". Wooaaahh, dude, the state could never support those kinds of drugs. One minute, I just need to attend to yet another client who is suffering from the toxic effects of alcohol and alprazolamdexamphetamine AND ritalin - he seemed positively jubilant and healthy. Also, such drugs would not be regulated merely to remove the black market (even though that is a mighty fine reason), as the authors write. The primary benefit would be for the people who use or may use these substances and the wider community - the authors seem to forget about the person in the equation. Their safety; their dignity; the financial cost to society; the prevalence of viruses. The list goes on. And we may be able to have greater control over who uses the drug, and at what age - the strength of the black market means these decisions often lie in the hands of people who aren't qualified to make such calls, with availability rampant due to the profitability.

So then the authors mention the problems we face with pharmaceutical opioids. Now I'm not telling anyone how to suck eggs, but it is essential to comprehend a problem before using it as an example to support an opinion. So what then is the problem with this form of prescribed drug? From my point-of-view it goes a little like this:

a) people experiment with drugs like Oxycontin because they might be more accessible due to their legality and the growing popularity of opioid-based pain management

b) people who are already opiate users seek out such preparations due to reduced quality of heroin, unavailability of heroin, lower prices or assurance of purity.

c) some people perceive it to be less dangerous due to the licit status of the drug/s

d) people who receive legitimate prescriptions change the mode of administration to increase bioavailability and speed up onset of action (these people are often frustrated by the treatment they receive from medical professionals, whereby they experience judgement and a seeming absence of genuine compassion)

e) people inject the tablet, patch or capsule preparations and experience related harms as a consequence (systemic infection, localised infection, vein damage etc.)

The nature of this problem, far more involved than the passing reference by the authors, strikes me as one borne of a society that refuses to acknowledge that injecting is an enduring practice that is far better managed in a compassionate and health framework, where injectable preparations are required (like they are required, and exist, in other countries). To merely frame this point as "medicalisation doesn't necessarily mean a reduction in crime and corruption - look at prescription opioid misuse as evidence of this", is misleading and comfortably fits into the dangerously simplistic presentations we too often see in the mainstream media. As is always the case, the prescription opioid issue is part of a much bigger picture and exists within a continuing Prohibitionist system. Of course crime and corruption persist, because the issue is not yet medicalised (it is still criminalised of course), with these medications solely prescribed for chronic pain (not drug dependence) and available in a limited range of preparations (no injectable forms and very restricted access to medications with rapid onset of action).

Last, but not least, I must have missed the memo that stated that coerced treatment is effective. I thought we had already established that voluntary treatment with the widest variety of options was the best way to go for the vast majority of people and adheres to human rights principles. The authors present a "sad" situation where people enter treatment only when financial or legal troubles arise. And yes, it is sad when people seek treatment too late for whatever reason. However, in specific relation to this article's information, we should be arriving at an understanding that people might actually fare better if provided with education and support that allows people to manage their own drug use, without the threat of arrest/imprisonment or ongoing poverty/financial ruin. Especially when the drug being used is not causing significant harm and is actually contributing to the person's happiness. Imagine that? A person having a positive experience with drugs, whereby paternalistic sterility is replaced with something meaningful and enjoyable? I'm just a stupid dreamer, aren't I?

There are positives in this article, like the exploration of police seizures, but does the topic always need to be framed in terms of 'treatment'? Real education supported by a humanist and drug-aware framework is the best way to manage, and even prevent, drug use. Education that isn't patronising, is honest and recognises the complexity of the subject matter will do wonders. A society that also prioritises support, rights and equality cannot be underestimated either.

Maybe Gandhi (I think it was him) said it best when he explained that the worth of a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable.