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.