Pubdate: Mon, 17 Nov 2014
Source: Herald Sun (Australia)
Copyright: 2014 Herald and Weekly Times
Author: Aaron Langmaid
Page: 24


SYDNEY student Georgina Bartter has become the latest casualty in the 
unwinnable war against drugs.

As her family and friends come to terms with the loss of a beautiful 
and promising young woman, campaigners have renewed calls for a 
wideranging crackdown; to end the scourge and save lives. It's 
commendable but it's too late.

Any push to round up dodgy dealers or curb the spread of illicit 
drugs must start with a clamp on the most common legal drug of all.

Booze is our biggest killer and should be our greatest focus.

While the sad toll of dead drunks barely raises an eyebrow, the 
public reaction to every "party drug" fatality is always packed with 
emotion. Parents want answers and campaigners vow it should never happen again.

But here's the thing: Each weekend inside the most popular city clubs 
right across Australia everything from ecstasy pills to MDMA caps, 
vials of GHB or neat little lines of methamphetamine are snorted, 
popped and dropped faster than the electric beat pumping through each venue.

Illicit drugs are everywhere and our attitudes towards them are 
shifting dramatically.

There is no doubt that drugs have a devastating impact on lives. But 
it hasn't stopped us. You can buy them off the street, in a bar or 
online. Australians love the stuff.

Overseas, street dealers in tourist hot spots have learned to target 
young Aussie travellers because they know they're almost always 
guaranteed a sale.

Per capita, we are the biggest users of ecstasy in the world and 
parents are kidding themselves if they think their kids will never try it.

At summer festivals, police and their sniffer dogs might corner a few 
punters, maybe even a dealer or two. Most promoters will declare that 
there is no place for drugs at their events. But it's a token gesture.

Only one major Melbourne dance festival has ever actually pulled the 
plug due to excessive drug use. In 2009 organisers of electronic 
dance event Defqon 1 cancelled because of the excessive use of GHB 
and the subsequent demand on paramedics. The event has never returned 
but continues in Sydney where in September, 83 people were arrested for drugs.

Those caught are ordered into diversion programs but the impact of 
counselling is hard to measure when illicit drug use, in social 
environments, has become as widely accepted as drinking.

Users don't consider themselves "druggies" and for the most part 
they're not. They'll tell you ecstasy lowers their inhibitions, gives 
them energy, deepens conversations and strengthens relationships.

One man at the dance festival where Ms Bartter died said MDMA, a 
purer form of ecstasy, was everywhere. "I met plenty of people using 
MDMA," he said. "It's far more prevalent than people think. It's not 
junkies taking these things, it's people with white-collar jobs. 
That's how widespread it is."

There is an argument that legalising and regulating the sale of 
illicit drugs could save lives and end the backyard trade. Maybe. But 
it's a slippery slope and one hard to justify when regulations around 
the most popular stimulant of all still fail to prevent the spiral of 
violence, abuse and lost lives.

We live in a country where getting drunk is celebrated; where alcohol 
advertisements plug into our consciousness and make us all feel like 
we don't just need a drink - we deserve it. Latest data shows 26,000 
Victorians drank themselves into oblivion in 2012-13 - easily 
tripling the number of drug users admitted to hospital.

Across Australia, deaths from alcohol wiped out the lives of 3467 men 
and 2087 women in 2010.

But for the vast majority there would be no major media coverage. No 
outrage. Just a bitter sweet toast at their funeral and a headache 
for mourners after the wake.

The death of a promising student with the world at her feet is a 
shocking reminder that drugs can be deadly. But accepting our culture 
of booze is far deadlier.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom