Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Go on - say something!

I guess after nearly 40 posts, it seems appropriate to address the issue of the 'loud mouth'. Of course, this blog has received its fair share of condescending swipes, so the call is being put out there for those who can cover the issues better (it wouldn't take much, after all) to please post links to your marvellous efforts in the comments section.

Sometimes the silent among us are holding onto a deep, deep wisdom - but often it's a simple case of the person having nothing of worth to contribute, fear of speaking out or an unwillingness to disclose true feelings on a subject due to the meagre value or offensive nature of their content.

Go on - if you're such a worthy judge on matters of importance and those who choose to make public comment, show us all how brilliant you really are!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Anex Bulletin - September 2011

The latest Anex Bulletin has published a piece about people on opiate pharmacotherapy programs and this blog thought it best to respond:

This blog has just been forwarded sections of the latest Anex Bulletin and it finds the inclusion of a couple of 'top 10' lists very offensive, especially in light of the trajectory of the illicit drug discourse in this country; not to mention the practice of gross simplification, pioneered and perpetuated by the commercial media, that the articles draw inspiration from. For what they are worth, here are our thoughts on the methadone list:

Methadone Appointment Excuses

-      Dodgy excuses are provided in ALL areas of life, by ALL people – this is common knowledge and any teacher, boss or lecturer will make this clear. Also, in this context, a discriminatory, unfair and inhumane legislative and policy framework means that those people who are targeted are too often left in desperate situations that require wrangling to get out of – and yes, sometimes the truth needs to be stretched, as it is in innumerable other situations, such as parking fines, sick leave, tax evasion, drink driving etc. etc. etc. This is clearly an example of ‘kicking people whilst they are down’ and exploiting the behaviour of marginalised people who are actually exhibiting very human attributes that are not unusual given the circumstances involved. Instead of focussing on the far more pressing concern of a discriminatory, unfair and inhumane system, Anex has instead scored cheap ‘laughs’ with excuses that not only DO NOT represent everyone who is prescribed methadone, but the excuses listed are new to me – I have never, in reality, heard of anyone using any of these excuses. As far as I am concerned, the list is a complete fabrication and is in no way the “retorts of an old hand”.

-      We now have evidence that stigma has negative effects on people’s health and stereotyping has been a ‘thorn in the side’ of the harm reduction sector since the beginning – this list flies completely in the face of the harm reduction ethos that has been developed under extremely difficult conditions over many years, including the soul-destroying but invaluable labour that drug users have undertaken. 

So let’s have a look at the actual list:

#1) There is nothing remarkable about this first excuse – that is, it bears no specific relation to the OST program. This is a mistake that could be made by anyone, in any situation, attempting to obtain something. However, by using such a ubiquitous example in this context, the implication is that methadone users are dim and conniving (and delusional in their ability to be conniving), possessing poor memories that are unable to recall the other occasions when the excuse was used. Furthermore, the extraordinary nature of the lives we lead, drug user or not, means that it is entirely feasible that a person may indeed have attended their mother’s funeral, even though it was used falsely on prior occasions, so this possibility needs to be considered and, given the sensitivity of the matter if the person’s mother had passed away, due sympathy provided.

#2) This one doesn’t actually make any sense whatsoever, as it is entirely reasonable that the door would be unlocked as it was only on this most recent occasion that the person realised that he/she didn’t have keys and therefore did not wish to leave the house unlocked. That is, either the person had accidentally left the house unlocked on the prior occasion or the person had only popped out for a brief while and had deliberately left the house unlocked due to not having keys – the house being unlocked on this previous occasion actually has no direct relationship to the person’s current predicament in which he/she feels unable to leave the house unlocked. However, the implication inherent to the list is that the person has been caught out with a glaring inconsistency that again shows how dim-witted the ‘perpetrator’ is. Furthermore, the person might then need to explain that circumstances have changed since his/her discovery that his/her keys are missing and it is therefore necessary to remain in the house (e.g. an expensive item is now present in the house, or the person fears that someone has actually stolen the keys and is looking to break in). It is worth pointing out that if the prescriber didn’t treat the consultation like a police interrogation in the first place and actually treated the person with dignity and respect, then maybe such details would emerge more easily and terse questions wouldn’t need to be asked.  

#3) Again, the most extraordinary things happen in life all of the time – this series of events is actually entirely possible. Apart from anything else, number 3 is not actually funny or humorous in any way and is just an example of how cringe-worthy the author of the piece really is.

#4) Not only is this excuse not funny, but what kind of worker would respond in such a nasty and sarcastic manner??? When treating a person respectfully, one doesn’t use offensive humour – this is a no-brainer, yeah? One would simply ask how much the school uniform is, or some other relevant question. The ‘worker’ in this situation deserves a verbal warning for such shoddy, harmful practice. Furthermore, why is it an issue that the person has only one child? Without further detail, this point is irrelevant – what is relevant is the cost of the uniform, the income of the person and what their weekly/fortnightly budget is. Again, the author proves her/himself to be the dim-witted, mediocre one.

#5) Again, I’m unclear as to why this is such a stand-out example of ‘client’ manipulation – there is a myriad of circumstances that could contribute to the person’s inability to traverse the city in just under 3 hours and a proficient worker would respectfully negotiate a solution with the person based on their individual situation. The message that really needs to get out there is the critical importance of working with each individual’s particular circumstances – not the insulting and outrageous garbage that occurs in this piece. This is also another example of bland, poorly-constructed ‘humour’.

#6) Yet again, why is this so outlandish? Anyone who has worked with illicit drug use for any length of time with half a brain in their head knows that the most extraordinary things happen to people. Read any edition of a Drug User Organisation magazine and this will become very clear. The salient matter that needs to be conveyed to workers is that people who use drugs are not all compulsive liars and that it is vital to develop respectful relationships so that genuine interactions can occur. If the OST dynamic could be along these lines, then not only would people on the program feel more comfortable to speak openly, but the atmosphere of suspicion and ‘us versus them’ would also dissipate. But alas, Anex has instead chosen to exploit this woeful state-of-affairs.

#7) See point #6).

#8) Big deal! So the person has slipped up in this scenario – who really cares? We are dealing with a ‘War on Drugs’, a continuing hep C epidemic, a worldwide HIV pandemic, fatal overdoses, amputations, endocarditis, imprisonment  etc. etc. and this is cause, instead, for an article revealing the inconsistencies of the perennially devious junky??? Furthermore, the policy and practice regarding takeaway doses verges on ludicrous and the persistent poverty that people endure is fair reason for the selling-on of doses – if people resort to this kind of dialogue then an ethical organisation would be seeking to find out what leads people in this direction. I guess Anex feels that it is more appropriate to have a cheap ‘laugh’ at the expense of the disadvantaged.      

#9) Maybe I am just cognitively compromised, but I fail to see the direct relationship between the fact that the person walked into the prescriber’s room and the issue of takeaway doses based upon the person’s statement that “I can’t walk”. The fair thing to do in this situation would be to find out exactly what the person means by this statement. Often, especially for marginalised people and people who have difficulties with open communication, statements need to be picked apart to find out what is actually going on. And in actual fact, over many years of working in this area, I have seen too much harm caused by workers and clinicians jumping to conclusions, being presumptuous and not adequately listening – these are the most important concerns that should be relayed to Bulletin readers.

#10) Ahh.., unless the prescriber also has a degree in veterinary science, what right does he/she have to dispute this statement? Also, can someone please explain to me, in a sector pushed for resources, what the great value is of going to the trouble of writing and then publishing an interaction about a person’s sick dog???  Is it just me, or should people be using their time far more constructively???

The opiate pharmacotherapy system in Australia is incredibly dysfunctional and to then publish a list that reads like tabloid journalism or the blog of an ignorant userphobe is nothing short of disgusting and potentially cause for litigation, as occurred in Ireland and more recently with Victoria’s Andrew Bolt.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Certified Guarantee

This blog feels it is an appropriate time to inform any person who has graced its pages, briefly or at length, that Limit of Shunt: The War Against Inaccurate and Misleading Reporting on Drugs in the Media will at no point, ever, seek to derive any income or profit from its existence. This pledge also includes the creation, promotion and sale of any related merchandise, fundraising or product. Sure, if there is a worthy cause that is trying to generate much-needed funds, then this blog may decide to assist in awareness-raising, but for as long as it exists for the purpose that it exists for, this web-based resource has chosen to remove itself, as much as is possible, from self-serving, money-making conduct.

Thank you for your time and energy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tolerance a recipe for drug misery: Paul Sheehan

Settling in for a quietish Sunday evening just 'aint what it used to be and tonight's attempt has been overshadowed by the question of "who exactly is Paul Sheehan?" Should I even care? Well, the thought wouldn't have even crossed my mind, and I could have happily continued to ponder what kind of light bulb headgear I would choose if I do actually have a seasonal affective disorder, if it wasn't for his opinion piece in last week's Sydney Morning Herald.

Admittedly, I have never met the man and do not have the inclination to delve deep into his personal history, but is this possibly another example of a prominent individual disseminating opinions regarding currently-illicit drugs without the kind of credentials required for a statement of such magnitude? Surely not. With the kind of rhetoric that Sheehan has displayed in his May 9 article, it would be preposterous to even entertain the thought that he may have never spent a day in the Kings Cross "state-sponsored heroin injection centre" (as he labels it) and he must possess extensive insight into the drugs issue due to the countless hours that he has spent with both people who use such drugs and the seemingly tireless people who work with them. Unfortunately, I am yet to uncover the depth of such experience, but if any readers can steer me in the right direction, I would be most appreciative. Oh, and just to set the record straight Mr Sheehan, the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) has been established for the purposes of all drugs, not just heroin. That's okay, though - just make sure you don't slip up again the next time you are in there, avidly speaking with the staff and people who use the vital service.
As far as your opinion piece goes Mr Sheehan, I'm glad that you started with Stathi Katsidis as this should be yet another reminder to the hordes of wonderful folk out there that drug use should not be confused with 'XTREEM SPORTS'. Hell no; there is no need for anyone who chooses to experiment with whatever substance to prove to the world that they possess the drug-using equivalent of the 'real man' inside them. Apart from obvious safety concerns, no-one actually cares, yeah? There is not a lot more tedious than being at a party gently nursing a once-lonely beverage whilst some guy in designer jeans decides that you will develop character after hearing about his seemingly endless exploits trying to take the most amount of whatever drug in different settings regardless of the impact upon other people and places. It's often best to keep nodding and ensure that you have not been cornered.

Anyway, back to Mr Katsidis. According to Sheehan, this tragic story involves a 12-hour binge involving the following list of substances: GHB, MDMA, cocaine, crystal methamphetamine and shit-loads of alcohol. I know that readers will be shaking their heads in disgust as they wonder how I can be so callous, but seriously folks - surely it is fair to suggest that this might be overdoing it? I understand that certain drugs can vastly reduce inhibitions, leading to unhindered drug use, but what occurred on this particular occasion cannot be explained away in such terms - this unfathomable level of indulgence is clearly the result of something more. Katsidis was a jockey, with his brother being a boxer, and I can't help but wonder whether he approached drugs with the same adrenalin-fueled competitiveness that defined his day job. It also wouldn't surprise me if he was schooled in a male-dominated drug using culture where an ability to tolerate ridiculous amounts and combinations of substances equated to 'true manliness'. I've also seen this amongst male adolescents and without a broader culture where drugs are discussed openly, honestly and outside of the inconsiderate 'thrill-seeking' that is an outcome of illegality, we will probably never see a genuine, concerted response to prevent such destructive behaviour. To then merely point the societal finger at drugs, as Sheehan does, is not only inaccurate but serves to further perpetuate the problem as the public remains entrenched in their media-driven ignorance.

Sheehan then questions the term 'victimless crime' and I can't begin to imagine why this occurs in the context of the jockey's death. Who, in their right mind, would use this term in relation to the Katsidis incident? 'Victimless crime' is a term used in relation to the informed use of a substance by an individual who, like any nicotine, caffeine or alcohol user, is not seeking to harm anyone else. This individual is usually more than willing to contribute to society, pay taxes, pay for their chosen substance, inform themselves of side-effects and appropriate self-management techniques, and is also willing to cease or moderate use if harm is being caused to others (e.g. one's own children) - of course, the individual may also choose to not be a parent and live a life that isn't enslaved to the expectations of family members. But I'm sure Sheehan already knows all this. Instead of misusing the term 'victimless crime' Paul, you are way better off sticking with your clever 'death binge' term - because that is clearly what Katsidis' episode was.

Next up is a section that requires examination and analysis:

The collective wisdom of society is that the more permissive society is with dangerous drugs, the more dangerous drugs will be abused.

I believe the public is right on this fundamental point, and that the balance of evidence is clear: drug legalisation produces higher rates of drug use and drug abuse. Strong deterrence produces fewer drug users and less drug abuse.

It seems Sheehan isn't the only mysterious entity in this whole affair because I have no idea where this supposed 'collective wisdom' is stored and what it is derived from. Where is this 'balance of evidence'? The United States has the most notorious system of 'strong deterrence' in place and yet it has one of the highest rates of illicit drug use in the world, and Sheehan seems intent on further compromising his credibility in his contradictory subsequent paragraph, in which he asserts:

The problem for this argument is that not a single developed country has legalised the supply and consumption of hard drugs, for powerful reasons.

But hang on a minute Paul; you've just stated that the evidence is clear and that legalisation of drugs in this category produces higher rates of use and abuse, but yet "not a single developed country has legalised" their supply and consumption. I'm sure the two people following this blog are already certain that I have taken one whatever too many, but surely I'm not hallucinating here. If I'm not mistaken, the supposedly esteemed author here is claiming evidence based on a situation that he subsequently states has never existed; and it seems that he is stating that the situation has never existed for "powerful reasons" that are based on this 'balance of evidence' from the aforementioned non-existent situation. Wow - maybe I can just keep reading Paul Sheehan and 'trip out' instead of consuming illicit substances? So hang on Paul, let me first clarify something - do you actually understand what 'legalisation' means? And do you actually understand what people mean when they state that prohibition isn't working after fifty years due to the continued and often increasing use of illicit substances (i.e. use that occurs blatantly in the face of 'strong deterrence')? I'm honestly not trying to be patronising; it's just that it appears evident that you might need to consider these matters further, as informed individuals speak of 'legalisation and regulation', whereby currently-illicit substances are brought into a more controlled framework and that instead of a 'more permissive' society, a 'more aware and in control' society is developed.

I love how Sheehan then throws in his one pitch at intellectualism - a reference to 'moral relativism'. Sheehan writes:

Moral relativism encapsulates several mantras which favour victimology: social disadvantage is the root of social problems; addiction is a disease not a crime; prohibition drives crime, not consumption; underground markets drive underground behaviour.

As you probably are already, I am exhausted by this point in the piece. Not only is Sheehan's dismissal of moral relativism a justification of a dangerous over-simplification where one can rightfully equate paedophilia with illicit drug use merely because they are both 'crimes', but he is implying that drug consumption alone drives crime. When was the last time that someone exclaimed, "Gee, I just can't explain it. As soon as I have a toke on a joint, have a taste of heroin or do a line of coke I just can't restrain the urge to commit crime"? Sure, addiction is a strong predictor of crime, but consumption? Even then, why are we not asking the question of why people dependent on legal, reasonably-priced drugs are committing vastly less amounts of crime to support an innate practice? And how is acknowledging the truth that "social disadvantage is the root of social problems" favouring 'victimology'? The 'progressive politics' that Sheehan is so derisive towards are actually looking at the 'bigger picture', NOT abdicating responsibility for people caught up in social problems, and thereby aspire to prevent problems in the first place, instead of continually wasting time with 'band-aid' approaches. Obviously, in Sheehan's world there are those who are merely 'born bad' and the rest of us in the 'good' camp simply need to find a way to 'contain' them. Hmm, I can think of someone from the twentieth century who spoke of 'camps' and sought to 'contain' sections of the population... Oh, and of course not Paul - addiction is most certainly just a crime and has nothing to do with health-related, innate behaviour; and why in heaven's sake is it unreasonable to point out that "underground markets drive underground behaviour" when it is an innate behaviour that we are dealing with, further evidenced by America's experience during the alcohol Prohibition era? When something of this nature is criminalised, human beings don't just transform themselves - indeed, many end up following the market underground.

Sheehan wraps things up with his "alternative to the mantra of tolerance":

...when it comes to hard drugs, more tolerance creates more misery.

And all that he achieves is further proving that when all is said and done, Sheehan is just as confused as so many others on this issue. You will notice that prior to his 'alternative', Sheehan surprisingly presents the recent Portuguese decriminalisation initiative in a reasonable and positive light - isn't this a move towards greater tolerance?  In fact, I am certain this is a move towards greater tolerance. So with "a dramatic drop in drug-related deaths and infections", how in the hell has more misery been created? And in the midst of all of this, Sheehan unsurprisingly brings up the alleged 'holy grail' that is Swedish drug policy. I've actually taken a bit of time looking into this example and it seems that not only does Sweden have a significant injecting population who have fared worse off due to an outdated needle exchange policy (resulting in subsequent pressure by international bodies to improve matters), but the country experiences significant levels of harm regarding alcohol. In line with the over-simplification that Sheehan seems to revel in throughout this op-ed, the author's reference to Sweden provides no insight into the other settings where being 'tough' has had disastrous consequences. I mean, regardless of the illicit drug use that continues in the country, all that Sweden has really achieved is to exert control over the types of drugs that it's populace is dependent upon; and if Swedes are not dependent upon the once state-produced Absolut vodka or snus, then surely making them illegal would rid the country of all substance-related problems, no?

Dear Mr Paul Sheehan, thank you kindly for your contribution to the continuing discourse on illicit drugs and their use, but for future reference, it may have been more worthwhile to have employed the title, 'Misunderstanding and over-simplification a recipe for drug policy debacle'. Warm regards, Limit of Shunt.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cambridge Post: Radical Call by Top Cop

The Cambridge Post from Australia’s sole western capital city is a curious publication in the media landscape – the suburban newspaper remains independent and privately owned since its humble domestic origins in 1977.  Now I don’t know if such beginnings have influenced the Post’s particular brand of journalism, but an article in this week’s edition presents a refreshing attitude; seemingly free of sensationalism and primarily interested in simply presenting the stated, non-judgmental viewpoint of its central figure, Western Australian Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan. Interestingly, O’Callaghan’s son, Russell, was featured in Victoria’s Herald Sun when he was injured in an explosion at an alleged ‘drug lab’ – on that occasion, the Commissioner also seemed to avoid stigmatising language and participation in an established culture of blame.

In the Post front-page piece, O’Callaghan does the unthinkable and proposes a move away from a strict enforcement mindset and asks his audience to consider the importance of a preventative framework whereby disciplines such as “child-care” and “health-care” are provided equivalent attention:

“Police work is at the bottom of the stream, we pick up the debris and scoop it away,” he said. “They do not prevent anything getting into the stream."

And then to consolidate the mini-coup, O’Callaghan then lets us know to what degree he minds what others think of his informed opinions:

“I do not care much if government does not support me, but I like to put my opinion out in the public domain. It is a job where you walk a tightrope.”

It needs to be said that Limit of Shunt is excited that Commissioner O’Callaghan will be joining AIVL’s (Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League) Executive Officer at the ANCD (Australian National Council on Drugs) boardroom table and has its fingers crossed that tea and pastry won’t be the only things exchanged amongst participants.

However, as is the modus operandi of this blog, there needs to be a little elaboration with regards to the following significant section of the Post article:

"Mr O’Callaghan said decriminalising drugs might save money on policing but more would be spent in different sectors and the community would have to be prepared to deal with people affected by drugs."

With all due respect to all parties involved, I just don’t want heavily-tanned surfer mums sitting under umbrellas on Scarborough Beach thinking that O’Callaghan’s cautionary statement is a fair reason for why changes to Australia’s prohibitionist drug laws should not take place. The matter also digs at the heart of the drug law reform issue and has broader implications that affect anyone who engages with the ‘War on Drugs’. Unfortunately, the complexity of such concerns will never be elucidated in the current media climate as journalists in the 21st century are always searching for bite-sized media ‘nuggets’ and it’s a shame that Walter Cronkite would join me in lamenting if he could still be with us.

Not only is the community already well-used to dealing "with people affected by drugs", but it is critical when attempting to conceive the progression of drug legislation that the following are considered:
  • Humanity has never experienced a legal framework whereby all of the drugs currently available have been licitly managed and we do not have the luxury of referring to the trajectory of other civilisations on other planets – humans are learning as we go with only our own history to go by. Not only does this require policy decisions to be well-considered and circumspect, but it also provides us with the freedom to be innovative, as we are not locked into any particular formula apart from the humanistic values that the majority of people try to embrace.
  • A review of Prohibition is in accordance with standard practice in all areas of vocation and legislation. It is a simple matter of reflecting on practice and seeking ways of improving on what has gone before – we are not talking about an incredibly complex concept here. Reflection is also something we all do individually and is a practice that indicates insight and strength of character, especially when a person re-evaluates their practice when things aren’t working in order to do better next time. That is all this blog, along with other supporters of drug law reform, is asking – matters have deteriorated significantly on a global scale so we are required to reassess, and this inevitably involves trying different approaches that can always be recalled or tweaked if they don’t make a difference.
  • Alternative approaches do not merely involve free and widespread access to all drugs, nor do they promise the allure of a ‘black market’-free, harmless utopia.
  • Alternative approaches need to be based in the fundamental premise that the use of substances to alter thinking, behaviour and experience is an innate feature of human existence and must therefore be managed accordingly.
In light of the aforementioned points, society needs to understand and accept that we have the freedom to be innovative and creative in the drugs arena. Once we have accurately comprehended the place of drugs in humanity we can then decide which drugs we legally manage, who has access to them, what are the conditions of this access, where such drugs are available, in what setting these drugs are to be taken, what options are available for people who have difficulty with a licit system, and so on. In the same way that prohibitionist laws are not set in stone, there is no exact formula for alternative drug policy – the only solid foundation that we need to work from is that drug use is innately human, and will therefore not disappear in the foreseeable future (there is a very, very, very, very, very strong likelihood that it will never disappear), and that we need to work from sound evidence rather than nebulous histrionics.

So it is quite likely that in a regulated framework a ‘black market’ will continue to exist, and ambulance call-outs will still happen, and police will still be breaking down front doors. Because the whole point of changing the drug laws is to attain greater control of yet another aspect of ourselves – I guess you could call it a step towards greater self-control. And as a consequence of this, there will be tight regulations and, as a result, there will be individuals who will not be granted access or unlimited access to certain substances for a range of reasons (e.g. age, psychological examination results, past history etc.), and these people may constitute patronage for an illicit market. But on the flipside, the illicit market will be significantly smaller and less powerful than it currently is, the people who are responsibly using whatever drug are not unfairly persecuted, the people who are irresponsible or who experience problems aren’t stigmatised and can access appropriate help, the impact on the broader community is lessened (crime etc.), virus rates for hepatitis B, C and HIV are greatly reduced and the dollars spent on the drug war can be channelled into the areas that Karl O’Callaghan has mentioned. With regards to the people who continue to break the law within such a framework, we can fairly state that such individuals require treatment or intensive support or rehabilitation or even imprisonment – you see, the problem with the current system is not that such responses exist, but that the ‘same brush’ is used against everyone, accompanied by inhumane and unacceptable hysteria that has resulted in death, suffering, misery and disease on a grand scale.

And if the trial of whatever alternative approach does not work then, as ‘best practice’ dictates, we can reflect upon what occurred and try something different  based upon evidence – in one respect, this is not rocket science ladies and gentleman, and we don’t need to make it more difficult than it needs to be. We have the power to pave the way for a better future because we are the only ones responsible for writing history and we should therefore embrace this marvellous privilege and make the most of it in order to have the best time possible in the single lifetime that we have access to. Don’t you think this is reasonable?  As for your good self, Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan, I wish you all the best in your endeavours with the ANCD and I hope that your son undergoes a trouble-free and enlightening recovery.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Australian Government National Drugs Campaign: 'Drugs - The real facts'

I am really loving this autumn. It's been so warm and in the dying moments of this year's Daylight Savings period, it was a pleasure to stand riverside whilst live Australian music heralded the launch of National Youth Week for 2011. As part of the Australian government's commitment to its young citizens, one of the stalls at the launch consolidated upon the Ecstasy. Face Facts. education campaign that has been plastered throughout the country alongside other promotional media asking us to get off the couch and bet on horse racing or to try new alcoholic beverages on the market. If you are not familiar with the 'seatless toilet' campaign, then this will give you some idea.

The stall was giving away show bags that contained a small assortment of items, including an awesome medium-sized water bottle, with the most significant one being a Drugs - The real facts booklet. At first glance, I was considerably struck by the booklet's omission of heroin, nicotine and alcohol. I'm sure it was a financial issue and because of the other campaigns that have been churned out, but given that the resource is selling itself as the 'real' facts, I was perplexed as to why one would leave these substances out. The next thing that grabbed me was the evidence of a more savvy information source with regards to language and updated terms. For example, up-to-date 'street' terms have been included and the content is more comprehensive, with the inclusion of scientific detail such as neurotransmitter names and research data excerpts. It seems that the people involved have decided that young people are more sophisticated in the 21st century and thus require a commensurate resource, which seems reasonable to me.

However, what these people seemed to have missed, yet again, is that the sophistication that is being catered for also means that in order for this type of education to work, one needs to present drugs for what they are and what the subsequent experiences of young people are. Also, many of the particularly vulnerable young people who really need such information will not receive it through this booklet - either they don't access information in this way, or will not have access to such information.

Even though there is one seemingly real dance-floor photo depicting enjoyment in the entire booklet, there is very little recognition of what young people really do witness or experience.

Under the section on MDMA, the best that is on offer is: "MDMA reduces inhibitions and causes users to become more alert, affectionate and energetic. Ecstasy starts to "come on" within 20 minutes of taking it, producing a euphoric rush that peaks after another hour or so." The remainder of the four-page section uses terms such as "blood pressure", "anxiety", "memory damage" and "horse tranquiliser". Don't get me wrong, as I agree that such terms have relevance to the subject matter, but we should have learned by now that in an overwhelming climate where drugs are demonised, the emphasis here is all wrong. We need to be focusing our energies upon the engagement of young people who are in the 'grey area', where they have experienced or seen friends experience pleasure, sometimes immense, with drugs and are consequently confused in light of the messages that they had received up until that point.

In the following sections on 'Ice', 'Marijuana (Cannabis)', 'Cocaine', 'Speed', 'GHB' and 'Depressants' a similar depiction is presented. For ice, there is "exhilaration" and "arousal" followed by a stream of information about the risks and harms. With pot, "relaxed" and "increased appetite" is offset with lines and lines of warnings. For coke, "arousal", "overly confident" and "talkative" are accompanied by four paragraphs of why the drug is dangerous. In the speed section "increased energy", "suppressed appetite" and "alertness" are presented as "normal" before the writers explain in the rest of the page why one shouldn't touch the drug, with a very prominent broken glass image in the top right-hand corner emphasising what is written. And so it continues...   

The point I am attempting to make is not new. In fact, this is a point that is so worn out that it drags at the heels of the drug education field like a piece of sticky litter on the bottom of one's shoe. Not only have the EXTREME dangers of illicit drug use seeped well and truly under our collective, societal skin, but I will be surprised if anyone, not just young people, even get through this booklet. Not only will people switch off after they quickly realise that the resource is only going to reiterate what they already know, but the thing is just not engaging, sitting in a space that has a tenuous connection to the actual life of the person in whose hands it sits.

We don't need to hear didactic drivel accompanied by sleek graphically-designed imagery. We need to hear from the young guy who tried ecstasy for the first time after swearing adamantly that he would never touch drugs, when he fell for a young woman whose best friend is a part-time dealer. We need to hear about the cousin of a friend who started seeing this guy who was in with all these cashed-up music promoters who take 'G' every weekend and have an "absolute ball". We need to read about the young group of friends who recently found out that the guy from Depeche Mode smoked a heap of pot when they recorded a multi-million selling album and then decide to try it for the first time. And we might need to ask the university student who tried cocaine after she was offered it at a party by people who shared her passion for Sigmund Freud, to disclose the connection between her decision to experiment and her studies on the Austrian neurologist.

Because the people who will read this booklet from cover to cover, apart from the annoying bloggers of the world, are concerned parents or journalists who will then treat people who use illicit drugs with even more disgust as they perceive a type of person who is so obtuse that he/she will use or continue to use a drug that has very little benefit and a seemingly endless list of drawbacks. This is without exploring the fact that the booklet provides no meaningful information about what can be done if drugs end up being used and something goes wrong.

It's funny, because one of the bands who played at the launch released the following lyrics with their last record:

"And we don't wanna get fucked up, oh no
 We just wanna get high!"

As a young person, I might actually learn more from those two lines than from the entire National Drugs Campaign booklet. Maybe rock 'n' roll 'aint noise pollution after all?

More info HERE.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

'Necessary Evil' launch

Hello good friends of the Interweb,

For all your moving and talking image needs in the illicit drug realm, check out new web-show, Necessary Evil, over at the Tube: www.youtube.com/preacherpusher

Episode #01's guest is none other than Greg Denham from the newly-formed LEAP Australia. Don't know who they are? Well get on over there then!!!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Neil Burger's 'Limitless'

For anyone who might be thinking that this blog has descended into a cheap version of John-Michael Howson's greatest hits, it might be worthwhile taking note of what everyone's favourite Italian dictator, Mussolini, displayed at the entrance of the famous Cinecitta studio in Rome: "Cinematography is the most powerful weapon" (a quote from Lenin). Regardless of one's political persuasion, it is a nugget of truth in a world where the local multiplex has become a proxy educational institution. Here's betting that whilst your little cousin might not know who the Prime Minister is, he/she can probably tell you what TV show Bradley Cooper was in.

Cooper's new vehicle, Limitless, also stars Robert De Niro and I can't help but wonder about the views of both De Niro and long-time friend/collaborator Martin Scorsese, as the latter is an Executive Producer for HBO's current hit, Boardwalk Empire. My pondering comes about because of the potential subtext in Limitless and the tagline for Scorsese's HBO debut that has been plastered all over Melbourne's artsy walkways - "Alcohol was outlawed and outlaws became kings".

Limitless may have been made with Hollywood coin, but its content seems removed from the usual fare that is churned out under such duress. In a nutshell, the film relays the rise of a struggling writer into the role of senate candidate via the highest echelon of the corporate world. How? Using, as Cooper's character Eddie Morra states openly, "medication". Without being a 'spoiler', it is fair to say that director Neil Burger delivers the audience a drug dependent hero who fights 'baddies' that take the form of Mafia types and business moguls. Unbelievable, huh? As you can imagine, with sugar, fat and sugar in hand, I sat expecting the usual morality tale to unfold before me, with Cooper resplendently repentant following a path of selfish, drug-fuelled destruction. But no; as the pieces of chocolate fell to the floor between my knees and the couple behind me insisted on being excessively annoying, Burger and Co. conveyed a narrative that shows how drugs can be managed in terms of their harms.

The film's first substantial statement on drugs, conscious or not, arrives in a scene where Morra unexpectedly returns to his ex-brother-in-law after experiencing the powerful effects of the drug ('NZT-48') passed on to him as a launch pad for his yet-to-be-started book - a way to unleash creative power. Desperate to commence writing, Morra had popped the pill and subsequently discovered that NZT allows him to tap into memories and knowledge that had previously been 'locked away' in the hidden recesses of his mind. In the dealer's apartment Morra's running narration questions whether he should obtain more of a drug from a person he doesn't trust, made in illicit conditions and not legitimised by the FDA. His prompt answer? - "Yes. Definitely!" And this is from a person who has only taken a drug once. A response to the frequently-asked question of "why do they do it?!" or "why do they keep doing it?!" is partially illuminated, as the viewer is introduced to the basic equation of 'something is proven to make a significant difference, it works and more is available = so people seek that something out again and again'. And it works in a profound, unrivalled manner in spite of its origins. This is not alien behaviour - it is essentially human and Limitless seems to comprehend this.

Matters just seem to only get better as the film covers several more important points in a fresh, non-hackneyed way (I know, one has to ask, "What drugs were they on?!"). The pervasiveness of drug use, where class distinctions are inconsequential, is dealt with in a story where all kinds of people are taken by the drug's power. Then, the notion of tapering use when withdrawing from a drug is introduced in a scene where Morra seeks assistance from the dealer's partner who warns Morra not to immediately cease using the drug to avoid death. And then the whole dependence/withdrawal thing is looked at and the film's protagonist really does look incredibly unwell, to the point where I completely believed that he was unable to physically move for the purpose of obtaining the remaining drugs that he had stashed at his girlfriend's apartment. I momentarily hated on Morra for sending his lady out to do his dirty work, but not only was he being followed, he was also in a state comparable to day three or four of opiate withdrawal - with Burger and Cooper doing it justice.

However, it is the next scene in the film that most impressed me. After Morra's supportive girlfriend returns with his stash, he recommences taking the drug as part of a pre-meditated plan and relays to the audience what he learns to do different the second time around to ameliorate the drug's harms, including avoiding alcohol. Hang on, hang on, I better go over that again slowly. Morra... recommences... using... the drug... thereby... maintaining his... dependence... but... teaches himself... how to best... reduce... the harms. Did you catch that? Sorry to anyone who got it the first time, but I had to do that for my own good also. That's not where it ends though. Morra then goes on to not only continue use and build his own $2 million laboratory to maintain his supply, but also gets to stay in a relationship with the non-drug using partner!

Tool front-man, Maynard James Keenan, was once quoted as saying something along the lines of "The point of using drugs is to try and then replicate those experiences without the drugs". Regardless of what you think of this statement, Limitless probably owes a thing or two to Keenan and, without giving away too much, the ending is further evidence of this.

Now it may be worth noting that I might be getting a little too carried away with this film, as Morra's journey is not all smooth sailing and it would be valid to question the values that drive his trajectory (the sole injecting scene is also questionable and aside from any 'demonising' purpose, seems to get the whole 'duration of effect' thing wrong). But what is so refreshing and wonderful about Limitless is that it isn't clear cut and life is not portrayed as a sickeningly trite picture of 'good and evil'. And, for once, we are not asked to despise the drug dependent and the drug itself is not Satan incarnate. I also believe that the questions that it prompts us to ask - such as what is the role of pharmaceutical companies in the future and the inherent dangers when drugs are in the hands of the illegal market - are worthwhile ones. At the very least, the film comes from a different angle. Hopefully for this over-excited blogger, Neil Burger won't be the next spokesperson for 'Hollywood hates heroin' or 'Tinseltown talks tough', or some other poorly-titled campaign.

The drug in Limitless purports to provide consumers access to the entire human brain (apparently, though, humans have access to the entire brain and the '20 percent' claim is a myth - but then again, since when have we been experts on our own brains?). Psychedelic drugs have also been discussed in relation to 'mind expansion', 'awareness enhancement' and 'consciousness elevation'. Whilst I have to say that I think it is still too early for us to make empirical, fact-based statements about the validity of such claims, I have observed people, in both personal and public domains, who seem to have flourished creatively and developed keen insight following experimentation with drugs like LSD. What seems to have been the greatest difficulty for such people, and others who haven't fared so well, was the lack of guidance - the absence of substantial support from experienced 'teachers' or legitimate information sources that can facilitate learning.

In the end, like many other areas of life, people learn to make do and use whatever is available to them at the time. Unfortunately, without such guidance people can become isolated and despairing as the misunderstanding of others makes an incomprehensible experience much worse than it needs to be - what is commonly referred to as a 'bad trip', for example, is catastrophised and mistakenly distorted. When Humphrey Osmond wrote to Aldous Huxley, "To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic" I believe that he was making sense of the variability of the LSD experience. The ignorance that the 'War on Drugs' has nurtured has distorted the 'bad trip' into merely an indication of a person's mental instability or the drug's poisonous nature. Instead of attempting to understand the factors that influence drug experiences or the learning that can arise from 'negative' drug experiences, drug hysteria often makes matters worse by patronising or misunderstanding people.

Interestingly, such a challenge also emerges in Limitless, and it becomes readily apparent that Morra's primary problem is his confinement within an illicit arena with no regulatory assistance or scientifically-tested information and the odd shady character to negotiate. Consequently, and with the assistance of the drug itself, Morra puts into motion an idea that many drug dependent people can only dream of - he creates his own supply, enlisting the help of a qualified professional.

Following the discovery of Morra's drug use by his partner, Limitless has the standard relationship tussle in which the matter of the 'real Eddie' and the 'other Eddie' is discussed. Cooper's character earnestly asserts to his girlfriend that the drug doesn't change who he essentially is. And even though Lindy doesn't accept this because she had recently used the drug herself, the film's ending makes it clear that the drug simply enhanced what was already there - it is still Edward Morra who is running for senate and having dinner with his loved one. From cradle to grave, all kinds of things in our lives change who we are and influence us throughout each day. We now have a greater understanding of the continually developing 'self', as our genes continually and dynamically interact with our behaviour and external environment - humans are not 'set in stone' at any one point in time (even though some people might use this as an excuse for why they can't change). Drugs are just one part of this influential landscape, with both benefits and drawbacks, and can be managed as a legal product just like everything else. However, what cannot change is the human drive for drug experiences.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Already Been Done: Rick McCrank Interview

Could you be as open-minded and selfless as Rick McCrank when it comes to other people's drug use? Answering a question about being a non-drinker, McCrank puts a different spin on the whole 'selfish' thing that drug users often get lumped with:

"I also get bummed when it affects people’s skating and they’re too hung over to skate, I wish that didn’t happen. But it’s not too bad. I know they’re having a great time and that’s just me being selfish about it."

Again, skateboarding pushes matters to another level...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Danny Boyle's '127 Hours'

Lesson #31 from Danny Boyle's 127 Hours:

Drugs don't make you selfish; being selfish makes you selfish.

More info here

Friday, February 4, 2011

Every toke, snort or line is hypocrisy: Miranda Devine


Isn't it funny? In no other specialised field do inexperienced, non-participatory community members pipe up with their uninformed opinions on what's what. We don't have laypeople informing the aviation industry on the best way to avoid mishaps. Nor do we have the mostly ignorant explaining how best to improve IT platforms in the retail clothing industry. If there are significant, influential opinions to be voiced, they come from 'experts' or people who are greatly experienced. But lo and behold, if we move across to illicit drugs, it seems perfectly reasonable for people with inadequate experience who have barely stepped foot inside a service or hardly engaged with people who use drugs, to bandy about what they believe is necessary. And, extraordinarily, these individuals even crossover into the realm of policy! I know of the highly educated who study and work on policy who are reticent about expressing their views publicly.

In this week's Daily Telegraph, repeat offender Miranda Devine delivers a sermon that includes, no less, 'blood cocaine', rainforest destruction and murder in relation to the recent Matthew Chesher incident. It seems that whilst drug use is clearly off the menu for Miranda, crossing all kinds of other boundaries is clearly on the cards, regardless of the ramifications.

Miranda, we are never going to get anywhere unless we all get on the same page about what drug use actually is in the grand scheme of things. For example, when examining a behaviour that has persisted throughout the ages and can be traced back to the earliest of eras, it is grossly inadequate to imply that we are merely dealing with aberrant misconduct from deviant individuals or lesser human beings. Sounds familiar? Well that's because it is. Let's see, what else has slotted into this set of criteria:

1. Masturbation - during Victorian-era England, children were forced to wear 'therapeutic' torture devices during sleep to prevent the touching of one's own genitalia. Suicide notes, and their accompanying deaths, have been recorded and verified. There was an intense campaign implemented by the medical fraternity, to the point where even manuals championed female circumcision as a 'cure' - this is documented as late as the 1930s.

2. Homosexual relations - a situation that hasn't been entirely resolved as legislation still exists against the 'perversion' of same-sex relations.

3. Racial segregation - enough said.

What do I derive from this information? No, not that Satan is alive and well (although I did hear that he is 'living large' in Maui). No, what this tells me is that humans have a colourful history of declaring 'war' against innate features of ourselves that, for one reason or another, doesn't sit comfortably with individuals in positions of power who decide to spread their problems using legislation. Of course, if I was bestowed this kind of power, Enrique Iglesias would never record again and I would never see another 'Ed Hardy' or 'UNIT' t-shirt ever again. EVER. Flippant? Trivial? Well yes, because neither of those previously, and currently, enforced laws have been based on sound reasoning, humanism or evidence-based science. We never uncovered the outrageously harmful consequences of 'touching oneself', nor have we exposed the true evil face that has shown a sexuality borne of psychopathic rapist-killers with paedophile obsessions; and ethnic diversity is now celebrated worldwide. Such actions have been based, quite simply, on twisted morality, power misuse and distorted information.

That's right folks - we have in the past, and present, made terrible mistakes. Organised religion is always reminding us of our fallibility as humans but yet, when it is convenient for some, we uphold the 'law' as if it was presented to us by a celestial chariot commandeered by the almighty creator of the universe itself. Ladies and gentleman, LAW is the construction; LAW is human-made; LAW is changeable; and LAW can thus get it horribly wrong. Conversely, masturbation is NATURAL; homosexuality is NATURAL; humans of all kinds are NATURAL; and yes, drug use is NATURAL; and thus, NONE of these are changeable.

Miranda writes of a drug using "minority" but fails to remind the hapless reader that it is the vast majority that are drug users, with a significant minority in the illegal realm involved in a market that ranks amongst the top five in terms of global monetary turnover. Why would murderers meddle with such a small market? And it isn't just large - it is bloody enormous. And whilst this is bolstered by 'black market' prices, we are still looking at a very, very big deal when considered in a global context.

Why does any of this matter? Well, when Miranda reels off data to confirm a "marginal" activity that has been supposedly overstated, and aims her cross hairs at the 'progressive, pinko lefties' who hypocritically dismiss the ethical origins of their illicit substances, she misses a critical point. And this is where my opening remark also becomes salient because an informed and experienced individual would have drawn on the learnings attained from working day-in, day-out with people who use drugs, day-in, day-out. As humans we don't magically eliminate this innate aspect of ourselves any more than we eliminate the need for something like sex. Sure, people manage to abstain from either for a lifetime, but the rest of us (and boy are our numbers huge) have to work out how to get by. So when the unethical, African-made chocolate product is left untouched on the supermarket shelf, consumers don't simply stop eating chocolate. Of course not. Chocolate lovers turn to the product that says 'Made in the UK' on the wrapper (without really knowing what the ethical standards of the production stage actually are - how many of us examine the origins of every product that we purchase?). Similarly, when people choose to not use an illegal drug due to the legal status, they instead use substances that are legal such as alcohol, nicotine and codeine. The vast majority don't completely abstain. Because remember, we are dealing with an innate human trait. So an informed and experienced person would importantly explain that the 'success' that Miranda is proclaiming is more accurately articulated in this way:

"We have been successful in manipulating the population into embracing drugs that are legal and therefore profitable for the companies that produce them and the governments that tax them. These drugs are incredibly problematic (including the effects on young people) and harmful but most importantly, they are not illegal, making their use acceptable regardless of the massive number of consumers. It is unrealistic to expect the majority of humans to abstain from all drug use, so by making only certain drugs legal, society has successfully diverted its members into a particular drug-taking lifestyle."

When Miranda asks, "So where is this supposed demand for drugs that is so overwhelming..." with regards to currently-illicit drugs, a substantial response is easily drawn from the broader, 'legitimate' community who have, for a long time, displayed an insatiable hunger for mind-altering substances.

What Miranda also fails to mention is that the difference between the ethical chocolate consumer and the illicit drug user is that the former has a range of alternatives whereas the latter cannot seek out ethically-produced cocaine, for example. On the whole, would that be acceptable for Miranda? Based on this article alone, it seems that Miranda would be much happier if people produced or grew their own drugs in the interests of ethical consumerism? "No, no, no. Why don't they just stop using the drug altogether?", I hear you say. Well, you see, we have already established that drug use is innate, so your question would be more accurately articulated in this way:

"They have had the misfortune of enjoying a drug that is illegal, so they either need to stop altogether or switch over to a legal drug like alcohol or diazepam."

Oh, but I can hear the counter-argument now, "Don't bring alcohol and other legal drugs into it because we don't mug people and break into houses to use them". Oh, okay. Apart from the people who currently pawn goods and commit crime to obtain drugs like alcohol and nicotine, you won't mind then if we prohibit those drugs given the massive problems they cause because you wouldn't miss them anyway. You'd never purchase them if they were illegal and there is no way you would break the law to get money if, for example, the cost was fifty dollars for a bottle of beer. Okay, fair enough; we'll add caffeine into the mix and see what kind of world we create.

To finish off, I need to express confusion about Miranda's celebration of success and again, reinforce a couple of earlier points. Why, in the light of such success, are experienced people in the alcohol and other drug sector continuing to struggle with a lack of resources, long waiting lists and an opiate pharmacotherapy system that is buckling under an ever-increasing demand? Is it maybe because illicit users of licit drugs are not declaring themselves to be illicit drug users in the surveys Miranda refers to? Are the declining figures representative of a normalising following a glut or an inexplicable spike in the use of certain drugs? Are less people admitting to illicit drug use out of fear of disclosure? Maybe Dr Alex Wodak and his band of "liberalisers" might know given that they have extensive experience in the area?

Maybe we should stop fighting the seemingly radical aspects of ourselves and find options for people to explore them in safer and more reasonable ways? For people who love going fast, we offer racetracks and specially-designed vehicles. For people who love adrenaline, we offer skydiving, roller coasters and mountain biking. For people who love shooting and hunting, we offer game reserves and shooting ranges. For people who love fighting, we offer boxing clubs, martial arts and cage fighting matches. For people who love unconventional sexual practices, we offer accompanying devices, catered venues and services staffed by experienced practitioners. For people who enjoy specific stimulation of body parts, we offer body piercing, tattoos and scarification. And sure, we have to draw the line in places, but regarding the current situation with drugs, where a crooked, careless scribble creates a division that doesn't seem to make sense, I firmly believe a better job can be done.

The Huffington Post: R. Gil Kerlikowski


"Despite recent calls to do so, legalizing drugs is not the answer. Our opposition to legalization is not born out of a culture-war or drug-war mentality. It is born out of the recognition that our drug problem is a major public health threat, and that drug addiction is a preventable and treatable disease. Already drug use -- legal and illegal -- is the source of too many of our Nation's problems. Why would we implement policies that would make these problems worse?"

I have to say that R. Gil Kerlikowske's recent piece in The Huffington Post, an online publication that I have enjoyed in the past, makes for compelling reading. However, in relation to the aforementioned excerpt, I continue to insist on knowing why we don't then apply the same restrictions for both legal and illegal drugs. Why do we even need to make a distinction? I understand that each drug is different, but given that we already have "too many" problems, why don't we follow the 'success' we have experienced with illegal drugs and apply the same prohibitionist stance towards legal drugs?

I am happy to accept that I am being naive, but I wish someone would help me to understand precisely why this is so.