Pubdate: Fri, 04 Dec 2015
Source: Advertiser, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2015 Advertiser Newspapers Ltd
Author: David Caldicott
Note: Dr David Caldicott is an Emergency Medicine Specialist at the 
Calvary Hospital in Canberra and a former Rah Emergency Department Clinician.


WITH the Stereosonic music festival coming to Adelaide tomorrow, 
parents will be asking, "What do we need to do to keep our children 
safe?" This follows the tragically predictable death at the Sydney 
event last weekend of a yet another young Australian.

It's as if we are faced with some sort of horrendous "toxicological 
terrorism" - we don't know where the next death will be, just that 
inevitably, there will be another.

Having become a parent myself in the decade since I last wrote about 
drugs in The Advertiser, it's a question that has become a very 
personal one for me.

Our relationship with drugs, as a species, is a complicated one. 
We've always used them, in some shape or form. In older times, their 
use was more often associated with the search for spiritual 
enlightenment, or communing with one's deity, than the widespread use 
we are so afraid of acknowledging today. How did this ever come to pass?

When the prohibition of alcohol was repealed in the US in 1933, it 
was widely considered as having been a failed experiment. It had 
resulted in the emergence of brutal gangland warfare, dangerous 
ethanol substitutes, and profiteering.

Harry Anslinger - the man in charge of an army of unemployed 
prohibition agents, needed another scapegoat - which he found in marijuana.

And so began the evolutionary arms race that is The War on Drugs. To 
facilitate transport and profit, naturally occurring products were 
refined, purified and distilled - coca to cocaine, opium resin to 
heroin, and ever increasing strengths of cannabis.

Products evolved and developed in a rapidly cycling game of 
"whack-a-mole", where the only effectively funded response was to 
prohibit and prosecute every product that could elicit a psychoactive reaction.

This response has always been politically driven, from Nixon, through 
Reagan, to our own John Howard's " Tough on Drugs" approach.

Successes have been measured in tons of drugs seized, or numbers of 
users arrested, but not in lives saved.

Predictably, like a bacterial infection treated with the wrong 
antibiotic, the market has now finally developed resistance. Drugs 
are researched and ordered online, paid for by crypto-currencies, and 
delivered by Australia Post. They are undetectable by sniffer dogs 
and standard urine tests. A now truly global economy serves as 
catalyst for trade in both licit and illicit products.

Our children have a more uncertain future, and higher levels of 
anxiety, than any preceding generation, and yet we blame them for 
seeking tribal and chemical consolation in congregations of 
like-minded individuals.

I have always been sceptical of those declaring "wars" on anything. 
In response to last week's latest heart-rending loss, NSW law 
enforcement has spoken about the need to "escalate" their war and 
"create cultural change".

Given how attempts at "cultural change" by police elsewhere in the 
world usually pan out, perhaps that's an option on which we should pass.

When it comes to drugs, we are faced with a difficult decision as parents.

Is it more important for us to increase the chances of our children 
developing resilience, and surviving their unavoidable brush with 
drugs in those impulsive adolescent years, or to hope that somehow we 
will achieve that which has never been achieved anywhere, a drug-free country.

You get to pick one - not both. I know which I think is more likely. 
How about you?

When you back an escalation of that which is clearly not working, or 
cannot learn from the lessons of history, you are demonstrating the 
same misunderstanding of science as immunisation sceptics or homeopaths.

As a parent, which would you prefer for your children; evidence-based 
policy, or policy-based evidence? Science or ideology? Because the 
evidence from Portugal, a little country that was brave enough to 
buck the international pressures to "keep digging" back in the early 
part of this century, has shown healthcare outcomes relating to drugs 
that are globally unrivalled. Their children are safer from drugs 
there than ours are here. And more countries are joining them.

I have been an advocate for "pill testing", or "drug checking" as 
it's now called, since the early 2000s. This November marked the 
decade anniversary of the AMA's call for a trial of pill testing in Australia.

This started as an article about why we should introduce pill testing 
in Australia, 10 years after it should have been introduced. All the 
arguments have already been made.

Responsible parents are now going out and doing the research 
themselves, and backing the policies shown to work elsewhere, anywhere.

Pill testing or drug checking is merely a very small part of what we 
could do - what we need to do - to keep our children safe.

Our recently appointed Prime Minister has called for us to be 
"innovative", to be "nimble" and "disruptive". If we can do that with 
drugs policy, we can keep our kids alive. If we don't, we won't.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom