The Limit of Shunt is a counterweight to the media reporting on drugs that too often contributes to the stigma against people who use drugs and the widespread misunderstanding of the drugs issue. Contributions are from a variety of sources, but this blog makes no apologies for the clear stance that it takes. Thank you for turning on, tuning in, and dropping by.
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.
"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.