Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Pubdate: Thu, 29 Oct, 1998
Page: 13
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 difference."

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

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

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

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

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Checked-by: Don Beck