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Drugs and an Election

As mentioned in my previous post [1] the government is using our money to advertise its policies. I previously covered the “Internet as a threat to children” issue, the other big one is drugs.

The first significant message in the “Talking with your kids about drugs” document concerns the criminal penalties for drug use. That could largely be removed if the penalties were dramatically decreased and if hard drugs were administered to registered addicts for a nominal fee. Forcing addicts to commit crimes or work as prostitutes to pay for their addiction just doesn’t work, economically or socially.

The next message is that parents should be involved in their children’s lives and be trusted enough that their children will accept advice. A large part of this would be related to the amount of time spent with children which is determined to a large degree by the amount of time not spent working. As I mentioned in my previous post it seems that the actions of the Howard government over the last 10 years has made things significantly worse in this regard by forcing more parents to spend large amounts of their time working (including situations where both parents work full-time) just to pay for a home.

One notable omission from the document was any mention of alcohol problems (apart from when mixed with illegal drugs). By many metrics alcohol causes more harm than all the illegal drugs combined. The US attempted to prohibit alcohol and failed dismally, and alcohol is legal in most countries. The government doesn’t want to adopt a harm-minimisation approach to drugs (which bears some similarities to the approach taken to alcohol) and therefore is stuck trying to claim that one somewhat addictive mind-altering substance is somehow inherently different to all other mind-altering substances.

The document provided no information at all on harm minimisation. The idea seems to be that it’s better for some children to die of overdoses than for other children to potentially be less scared of the consequences of drug use. The problem is that children are very bad at assessing personal risk so they simply won’t be scared off. It’s best to provide equipment for testing drug purity etc to reduce the harm.

The list of reasons for young people to try drugs starts with “availability and acceptability of the drug“, Parmesan cheese is more available and acceptable than any drug but I’ve been avoiding it at every opportunity since I was very young. :-#

More serious reasons in the list include “rebellion“, “depression“, “as a way to relax or cope with stress, boredom or pain“, and “to feel OK, at least temporarily (self-medication)“. But predictably there was nothing in the document about why children might consider that their life sucks to badly that they want to rebel in that way, be depressed, stressed, bored, or in pain to a degree that drugs seem like the solution. It seems unreasonable to believe that the school system isn’t a significant part of the cause of teenage problems. Flag poles for flying the Australian Flag [2] seems to be John Howard’s idea of a solution to school problems. I believe that the solution to school problems (both in terms of education and protection of children) is smaller classes, better supervision, an active program to eradicate bullying, and better salaries for teachers. I’ve written about related issues in my school category. I believe that the best thing for individual families to do is to home-school their children from the age of 12 instead of sending them to a high-school (which is much more damaging than a primary school).

Another significant issue is drug pushers. They are usually drug users who try to finance their own drug use by selling to others. As most drug users get the same idea there is a lot of competition for sales and therefore they try to encourage more people to use drugs to get more customers. In the Netherlands, Coffee Shops sell a range of the milder drugs at reasonable prices which removes the street market and therefore the pushers. When drugs are produced commercially the quality is standardised which dramatically reduces the risk of infection and overdoses. When drugs are sold by legal companies they are not sold to children (a typical pusher can be expected to sell to anyone).

The document has 3.5 pages of information about some of the illegal drugs (out of 23 pages total). They include all the most severe symptoms that most users don’t encounter. If someone reads that information and then talks to a drug user they will be laughed at. They also group drugs in an unreasonable way, for example listing “marijuana” and “hashish” as synonyms and list problems that are caused indirectly. If alcohol was included in that list it would include beer and methylated spirits (ethanol mixed with methanol to supposedly make it undrinkable – rumoured to be consumed by homeless people) in the same section and imply that blindness and other bad results of drinking “metho” apply to beer. It would also say that alcohol kills many people through drunk-driving and is responsible for rapes, wife-beating, and any other crime which can statistically shown to be more likely to be committed by a drunk person.

A final issue with the document is that it advises parents to be “informed, up-front and honest” when talking to their children about drugs. Unfortunately the document itself doesn’t demonstrate such qualities. By omitting all information on harm minimisation it is not being up-front at all, and by not mentioning alcohol it’s simply being dishonest. Anyone who tries to convince someone else to not use illegal drugs can expect to hear “but you drink alcohol” as the immediate response from the drug user, it’s necessary to have sensible answers to that issue if you want to be effective in discouraging drug use.

9 comments to Drugs and an Election

  • s/it’s/its/ in paragraph one. Just spotted that, but while I’m here, I’ll also link to the similar Preparing For Emergencies scam that the UK government did in the year before our last election and the farce that followed: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3936497.stm
    http://www.preparingforemergencies.co.uk/

  • Felipe Sateler

    I have a few comments:

    Alcohol is not a somewhat addictive drug. Deprivation syndrome (or however it’s called in English) is stronger for alcohol than for many of the illegal drugs. Quitting marihuana will not get you killed, while quitting alcohol can (assuming a heavy consumer of each).

    Raising teachers salaries will not improve education. Raising the competitiveness will, though (better teachers will get better salaries, which in turn makes more people be teachers).

    Making drugs legal will have another positive side-effect: elimination of black market and cartels (and the associated loss of power for those maffias).

    In my experience, the most effective way to avoid children and teenagers from consuming drugs (legal or illegal) is to make them (drugs) look stupid, not bad/dangerous. Nobody wants to be stupid, although several will want to be “bad” or “brave” for consuming them.

  • etbe

    Felipe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delirium_tremens

    I agree that raising the salary doesn’t help on it’s own. Raising the salary while reducing the class sizes will get more good people to become teachers.

    Good point about making them look stupid. Maybe they should provide free drugs to “big brother”… ;)

  • Daniel Burrows

    Drug legalization would eliminate the pushers for sure, but it seems to me that the companies selling the drugs would be even more aggressive in their advertising. All the legal sellers of drugs (e.g., tobacco companies, phamaceutical companies) have insanely aggressive and highly targeted branding and advertising campaigns. True, the federal government occasionally slaps them on the wrist, but never hard enough to stop them from trying again (that would be bad for the re-election campaigns, dontchaknow…)

    I’ve only twice in my life been approached by someone trying to sell me illegal drugs. I see ads for legal (and likely more dangerous) drugs on a daily basis. Even if we assume that kids tend to tune out advertisements and are attracted to the illicit dealers, that’s still a huge number of advertisements for them to ignore.

    I suppose you could try to regulate advertisement at the same time you deregulate drugs, but I don’t know if the courts would allow that in this country (Australia may be a different matter here).

  • etbe

    Daniel: It really depends on how the legalisation process is implemented. As for what the courts can regulate, that only depends on the constitution (which is the only real limit on what laws the legislature can pass). I am not aware of any country with a constitution that only permits products to be banned or sold wildly. In fact I am not aware of any country that doesn’t have restricted pharmaceutical use of chemicals that are also sold on the street.

    One possibility is that Heroin could be sold to registered addicts for a nominal fee (low enough that there is no possibility for a black market) and administered at government owned hospitals by nurses (who incidentally administer very similar chemicals to patients who suffer severe pain). Then no-one would benefit from advertising.

    I agree that there should be greater controls on alcohol and tobacco advertising. I also think that there should be controls on sugar advertising (products which contain sugar as the main ingredient are routinely marketted as health-foods for children).

  • Daniel Burrows

    Russel:

    What I was obliquely referring to is the fact that the US courts have taken a very expansive view of the free-speech rights of corporate entities (at the same time they’re busy restricting the rest of us). I don’t know for sure that this applies to commercial advertising, it might only be political advertising, but my impression is that it’s quite difficult to get anti-advertising rules to actually stick. (this might be due to “campaign contributions” and not the courts, though)

    I wasn’t suggesting that the products would be “sold wildly” as soon as they were unbanned (by which I guess you mean sold without regulation). We have lots of restricted pharmaceuticals here — and many of them are advertised on television and elsewhere in order to convince as many people as possible to start using the drug. The ads have to meet certain requirements to be legal, but it hasn’t stopped them from making medically inaccurate (explicit or implicit) claims and attracting many buyers whose need for the drug is questionable. (this is all AIUI from second-hand information, I don’t get cable TV and I’m not a doctor!)

    It may be, though, that in .au you can still expect the government to occasionally regulate corporations effectively on your behalf (especially with your new government — congratulations). If so, I could see this working out.

  • etbe

    Daniel: Political advertising is unique in that many parties will want to advertise for one organisation. For example you can limit what adverts the Liberal party pays for but limiting the ability of (for example) fundamentalist Christian groups (which in many ways can be regarded as cults) to promote the Liberal party is extremely difficult.

    Advertising for commercial products is much easier because almost all the advertising is directly paid for by the company that produces or sells the product in question.

  • Daniel Burrows

    Russell: That’s probably true. On further reflection, I think my perspective is warped by living under the utterly broken political system here in the US. The flimsy regulation of prescribed drugs probably has more to do with the corruption in our Congress than anything else, and unless Australia suffers similar problems I don’t see why you couldn’t do what you’ve proposed.