Pubdate: Mon, 30 Nov 1998
Date: 11/30/1998
Source: Irish Independent (Ireland)
Author: Martin Cooke

Sir - Much was written during the recent European Drug Prevention Week
about the scourge of drugs, and what we can do to combat it. However,
very little attention was given to the question of just why the
problem has become so severe.

I believe that it is the very fact that the drugs are illegal in the
first place that is the whole cause of the problem.

This gives them a value far beyond their real market value, and leaves
them in the hands of unscrupulous dealers. And addiction, which should
be considered a medical problem, becomes a legal one - with an
increase in acquisitive crime to fund the addiction - and the spending
of hundreds of millions of tax-payers' money on trying to solve the
problem through the prison system.

I note that the Garda Commissioner, Mr Pat Byrne, was recently
reported to have expressed surprise that the price of illegal drugs on
the street has not risen after recent seizures.

If this surprises Mr Byrne, it comes as no surprise to me. The market
for illegal drugs is so massive that little that the law enforcement
agencies can do alone is going to make a difference.

The UN estimates the total world trade in illegal drugs as $400
billion per annum, or about 88% of the total value of legitimate
international commerce.

As Niall Stokes wrote in the Hot Press the month before Veronica
Guerin was murdered: "It seems blindingly obvious that the best way to
beat the drug barons is to take their market away from them.... And
if, to do this, it is necessary to legalise heroin ... under state
supervision, then that is the route to go."

Switzerland has been dispensing heroin to registered addicts for the
past few years. Nearly one third of the approximately 1100 addicts on
the scheme have entered programs to help them fully withdraw from the

Other effects of the scheme have been: lower rates of AIDS and other
infectious diseases, the re-integration of a sizeable percentage of
the addicts back into the labour market, and a dramatic drop in crime,
saving the taxpayers money.

Is it not perhaps time that such a program was put in place in

Indeed, I read a report a few weeks ago in which Father Sean Cassin,
former head of the Merchants Quay project, told a Dail Committee that
the Swiss project had claimed "significantly good" results, and that
perhaps we should consider copying it.

However, one thing that did worry me about the Garda Commissioner's
comments (given during the presentation of prizes in an anti-drugs
schools art competition) was his attempt to demonise cannabis
(marijuana) to the young people he was addressing.

It may well be true (as Mr Byrne claimed) that 50% of heroin addicts
have used cannabis before using heroin.

But this does not mean that the cannabis led on to the heroin, no more
than the fact that they may have eaten potatoes before using heroin
and that that potatoes should be blamed.

Drumkeerin, Co Leitrim.

Author's Note: I left in the obvious typographical errors that the
newspaper made in printing this letter of mine. In particular their claim
that the drug trade is 88% of the legal world trade (I said 8% in the
letter I sent)