Melbourne drug overdoses: a side effect of failed drug policy?

Today the people of Melbourne and Australia woke to the news of more drug overdoses at a music event. The story was headlined by the media and will soon be jumped on by policy enforcers no doubt. The bandwagon will likely attract conservative and tow-line politicians, and will become some sort of demented proof that they are right, along with the danger of drugs to society.

The incident in Melbourne happened at a music event, a fact which is not so surprising. Entertainment, celebration, inebriation, music, and dancing have all been associated and complimentary activities since the dawn of human history, and that will continue into any foreseeable future.

The continuation of anti-drug policies that criminalise people for engaging in behaviour that is a personal lifestyle choice is causing more harm than good. The cost of these failed policies, both fiscally and socially, is extreme.

Drug users are not criminals, in history they are the Moulin Rouge, the Venetian Carnival, the Rolling Stones, the jazz clubs of the 1920’s, even last year’s Christmas drinks with friends and family. Yes alcohol is a drug. Inebriation has been a part of our celebration of life, emotion, art, music, and humanity for millennia.

Sure, art and music are not for everyone. But that is hardly an excuse to criminalise an activity that causes no harm to another person or their property. The percentage of people who engage in various activities considered potentially dangerous varies. Horse riding is a dangerous activity, some people ride horses more than others and some not at all, yet it is not criminal. Swimming can be called a dangerous activity yet people swim. Driving a car is a dangerous activity, however…I’m sure you get the point.

The creation of effective drug policy that focusses on safety needs to be based on:
1) An acceptance that people may engage in the activity.
2) Education and tools to help people engage in the activity safely.
3) Measures to identify and reduce harm and social/community costs.

I think at this point it is quite obvious to any thinking person that people do engage in the use of inebriating substances. The illegality of the activity has not really discouraged their use, and the policy has created unintended social and community problems.

It has been reported that responsible chemical in this ‘mass overdose’ was GHB (gamma hydroxybutyric acid). GHB is a naturally occurring amino acid (neurotransmitter) and is EXTREMELY dangerous to consume if a person has consumed any alcohol in the prior 24 hours or has alcohol in their system. Also the active dosage and overdose threshold are also very close, which is dangerous in an uncontrolled environment and this is what leads to people overdosing.

People will choose to do what is safe, avoid things that are dangerous, and most people will take precautions if they are educated. Safety and community harm has to be prioritised. The current government policy does not allow for this.

The politicians don’t seem to realise people are in fact not saying no, and for the last fifty years never really did. Some people just still like riding horses it seems, dangerous as it may be.

The costs of the current policies that criminalise drug use are not an effective use of community resources. The policy has created massive costs in the legal and criminal incarceration industries at the expense of the community services, families, and public safety. The current policy is not compassionate or humane. It misses the point entirely that people still choose to use drugs, and there has been no reduction in availability. The problems are social, not criminal, and peoples safety is being compromised.

The time has come to rethink how our communities manage an activity that people are choosing to engage in, have done so for millennia, and will continue to engage in for the foreseeable future.

The “War on Drugs” against what the criminal president, Richard Milhous Nixon, called “public enemy number one” has failed the community. We are continuing with a failed policy of a U.S. President who was not only resigned to avoid being impeached, but also chose Elvis Presley as his anti drugs campaigner in 1970. Seven years before Elvis died following his long, and very sad, battle with prescription drugs.

Time for a rethink.

Top image: Warning signs in Amsterdam. On 25 November 2014 two British tourists aged 20 and 21 died in a hotel room in Amsterdam, after snorting white heroin that was sold as cocaine by a street dealer. The bodies were found less than a month after another British tourist died in similar circumstances. At least 17 other people have had medical treatment after taking the white heroin.