Pubdate: Tue, 20 Jun 2000
Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Copyright: 2000 The Sydney Morning Herald
Contact:  GPO Box 3771, Sydney NSW 2001
Fax: +61-(0)2-9282 3492
Author: Paul Edwards


As a former drug education officer during the 1970s, it is depressing
to see the same old arguments against harm minimisation rehearsed
again and again. The war against drugs was lost by the 1970s and it is
lost now. The enemy is well within the gates of our society and has
settled down and become a "local".

Drug addicts are not criminals per se, they are victims, and their
criminality flows from being a victim. Illegality keeps the price of
illegal drugs high and, therefore, forces addicts into crime to feed
their habit. Illegality keeps the trade highly profitable. Illegality
also encourages addicts to delay seeking help.

Prevention, harm minimisation and treatment are complementary
approaches to the problem. Injecting rooms are merely the lifeboats
into which addicts can be pulled so that their lives can be saved.
Offers of effective help should be the next step.

By definition, addicts need their drug. Supply an addict with their
drug of choice, legally and under strict control, and you immediately
break the nexus between addiction and criminality. Once an addict has
his/her need for a drug met, then he/she is available to consider a
range of options for recovery including the decision to stay on a drug
of addiction if he/she cannot succeed in becoming drug free.

The most successful drug maintenance program I have come across was a
small, rural heroin maintenance program run by a very sane and humane
British GP. He was supporting 18 addicts, all of whom were stable and
crime-free. The Home Office finally closed the program.

The GP's epitaph for it was that all of his patients would be dead in
12 months. All but two of them were.

Paul Edwards, Balgowlah Heights.
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