Pubdate: Thu, 29 Oct 1998
Date: 10/29/1998
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Author: Duncan Campbell

The 'war on drugs' failed to save my child

ONE of our children died accidentally in September after injecting
herself with heroin in her apartment in Sydney.

The illegally supplied drugs that long shamed and finally killed her
should have been available as supportive, life-extending, legal
prescriptions. She did not want them. She would so happily and proudly
have stayed away from them, but could not.

In the order of Jennifer's funeral service, we printed some famous words, of
which she was fond, spoken by Native American war leader Chief Joseph when
he conceded defeat to the US Congress: "I will fight no more forever."

It was the case with Jennifer, as for many drug-addicted people, that
the fight is forever because in the end it is with themselves.

Typically, nowadays it is fought in up to seven ways, and for two
decades Jennifer engaged seriously, painfully, with periodic success,
and ultimate defeat, in each of them.

Obviously, the first is through the several processes of
detoxification, terrifying in prospect, a form of torture to endure,
and at the end the depressing and relentless realisation that the
fight has only just begun, and probably has no end.

Second, through institutional arrangements to provide discipline,
seclusion, protection and guidance. Refuges such as The Buttery in
northern NSW, halfway houses back into society and the longed-for self
control, where after months or even years so much can still go wrong.

Third, in those valiant bands of mutually supportive addicts, whether
in Narcotics Anonymous or numerous related organisations for all
manner of addicts and their dependents and accidental victims. Here
one goes in surrender mode, acknowledging the need for outside help,
drawing strength from the candour and courage of those at the
all-important meetings, and from contributing to them.

The beautiful Serenity Prayer which they have in common: "God grant me
the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to
change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the

Fourth, psychotherapy in some form, sought over those 20 years, to try
to fill an aching void and diminish the brain chemistry's constant
demand for more opiate.

Fifth, through specialist acupuncture designed to help compensate for
genetic deficiencies in the brain's natural chemistry: deficiencies
lying behind the chronic relapsing brain disease from which addicted
people suffer.

Sixth, the years of the legal heroin substitute, methadone, which,
with each morning dose from the doctor-provider, prompted the
questions: if methadone, why not heroin? And if legal, why not
available from normal doctor or pharmacy, without the stigma and other
complications of the methadone clinic?

Finally, the latest treatment available through the pilot project with
naltrexone at Westmead Hospital in Sydney. Jennifer was selected for
this treatment because she volunteered and met the principal criterion
of wanting passionately to be free of her addiction and in control of
her life.

Fallen addicts, whether yet stricken fatally or not, have all this
battle history behind them. They're not weak. They were wounded and
disarmed from the outset, and have fought on despite going from
frailty to frailty.

Imagine living and dying like this for 20 years. Imagine repeatedly
trying the seven ways, and always relapsing and eroding your
self-respect. Imagine desperately finding money and faking your life
away. Imagine having to depend on the most callous criminals. Imagine
wishing the impossible: just to visit your family doctor for regular
small injections or prescriptions.

When, at the end of all that, such people can hold down a job
demanding intellectual input and dream, perhaps forlornly, of being a
parent, yet have still not broken clear of heroin - and know it - then
surely their need to resort to the drug must be recognised, and it
must be conceded that they have won a right to safe access to it.

Prime Minister, Premier, are there no points for battling? Doesn't
another way merit even a trial?

ARE you really blind to the myopic inversion of reason, morality and
language in today's policy symbolised by a dose of street heroin
proving murderous because it's "too pure"?

The addict who fights and falls, over and over again, must become the
focus of the heroin problem.

It is not driven by supply, but by demand. When there is a campaign
that begins with the addicted user of heroin, one that focuses on
their consumption and brings it into the light - the only pitiable,
non-evil link in the supply chain - then it will be possible to break
the chain.

But there is no wisdom in policies that does not aim at some creative
control of consumption, and pretend that merely condemning it can in
any way be productive.

What sort of strategy is it, for God's sake, that doesn't begin at the
user's end?

Eventually it will be seen that only one "war against drugs" is
central to the problem, and that consists of the countless battles by
the addicts themselves.

That realisation did not arrive in time for our daughter, but I hope
help can arrive for others, even in her own generation.

Duncan Campbell