Pubdate: 30 Nov 1998
Source: Irish Independent (Ireland)
Section: Letters to the Editor
Author: Martin Cooke

Author's Note: I have 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)


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 drug.

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 Ireland?

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.

MARTIN COOKE, Drumkeerin, Co Leitrim.
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Checked-by: derek rea