Pubdate: Fri, 30 Jun 2000
Source: Australian Financial Review (Australia)
Copyright: 2000 Australian Financial Review
Contact:  GPO Box 506, Sydney 2001
Fax: (61 2) 9282 3137
Author: Campbell Aitken


In her article of June 23, Jan Wade quoted some of the Macfarlane Burnet 
Centre's research on illicit drug use and driving to support her argument 
that tougher law enforcement is needed to combat drug problems.  It is true 
that many of the heroin users we interviewed drove to buy their drugs, and 
some routinely consumed heroin before driving away.  Unfortunately, Mrs 
Wade ignored our less convenient findings, including (from a review of the 
scientitic literature) that the links between illicit drug use and 
increased road accident risk are far from clear-cut.  Some of the best 
local research has been conducted by Professor Olaf Drummer (Victorian 
Insitute of Forensic Medicine), who found that opiate users were not 
significantly more likely to be culpable in fatal accidents than non-users 
(unless they had also recently consumed alcohol).  For cannabis users the 
likelihood of culpability was actually slightly lower than for drug-free 
drivers, but not significantly so.

Mrs Wade also neglected our finding that the reason many heroin users 
consume drugs before driving rather afterwards is because they perceive the 
risk of being apprehended in possession of drugs to outweigh risks 
associated with drug use, and that drug-driving is of little concern to 
most users because they are already acting outside the law by using 
prohibited drugs.  This is another example of drug prohibition policies 
having an unintended adverse effect.  Mrs Wade's call for increased law 
enfocement flies in the face of evidence from the home of drug prohibition 
and "the war against drugs" - the United States - where HIV is rampant 
among drug injectors, where the prison population is huge and increasing 
rapidly, where seizure and forfeiture laws have generated massive 
corruption and eroded civil liberties, and where drug problems are worse on 
almost every criterion than in Australia.

Dr Campbell Aitken, Macfarlane Burnet Centre for Medical Research, 
Fairfield, Vic
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