29th November 2020
It happens very rarely, but just once in a lifetime is perhaps good enough, if an opportunity presents that could have a dramatic effect on a scourge within our population, and a disaster creates that opportunity.
The disaster is COVID, and the scourge is illicit drugs.
The approach to this scourge has been piecemeal, and without putting, to finer point on it, the indisputable fact is, to date, all our efforts can only be described as a ‘Failure’. Too many so-called approaches, or misnamed solutions, tend to be from a misguided cohort of society with laudable objectives but aligned to some ideological bent or other, lacking pragmatism, so failure is inevitable.
Unfortunately, and maybe it is impossible to determine what is a success and what is a failure, because the promoters of strategies have such fervour towards their solution that any challenge is seen by them a heresy to their cause, rejected without consideration or the slightest whiff of pragmatism.
There have been a few notable omissions from any and every strategy thus far. Most significant is the omission of any effort to apply marketing principals to the illicit drug issue, that principle is without question successful in every other sphere you care to name.
We are referring to the basic marketing principals of supply and demand.
Law enforcement tries to address the supply side with little success, if it is measured by the prevalence of drugs in our society.
Lawmakers assume that substantial penalties act as a deterrent. However, the challenge is to find anybody in the illicit drug trade that even knows the offences they are committing (other than they know it is unlawful). It can be guaranteed that they have no idea of the penalties they risk, or much less care.
No crook ever commits a crime, no matter how dumb, without the belief they will get away with it, not get caught, so penalties are meaningless. Increasing penalties are akin to, ‘something has to be done, and this is the something.’
A more likely successful strategy will be to attack the demand side of the equation, reduce demand and disrupt the Marketing model applied to this illicit commercial endeavour.
Critically, part of that strategy is to attack the social acceptance of illicit drugs – a similar strategy to the one that successfully addressed the social impacts and social acceptance of tobacco.
To better understand what a solution might look like and how the equation of COVID and Drugs might work, there needs to an understanding of some facts.
- Drug addict/users cannot be forced to seek rehabilitation. It will not succeed unless the addicted user has come to a point where they REALLY want to kick the habit. Not just agree to rehab to satisfy some Judicial Officer. Addicts and users are consummate and well-rehearsed liars; their whole premise of life is based on a lie.
- Drug addiction is more than, a habitual reliance on an illicit substance, it is also a way of life, an escape, where the only worry is the insatiable urge to secure the next fix and avoid the police.
- The illicit Drug lifestyle attracts particularly the lazy where the lure of living the high life without working or need for personal care is a strong temptation that unfortunately is very rarely ever realised by the majority of addicts.
- Removing key players in the drug scene has minimal to no effect with a plethora of eager replacements waiting to fill any vacancy.
- The damage to families rarely feature in considerations made about addicts whereas the real victims are their families who generally suffer in silence because of perceived society shame that their child is an addict, and they somehow are responsible
- The horrendous cost to the whole community is rarely a consideration.
- The plethora of crime spawned by the drug trade (addicts or users securing the funds to maintain their habit) impact on victims is never seemingly considered.
How does COVID fit in? Coming to that.
The key, therefore, is to damage the demand side, reducing demand will damage the supply side driving down prices and profits. Decreasing demand for supply to a shrinking market will have other desirable outcomes by slowing the rivers of gold that funds the exotic myth of the trade.
Critically, such a strategy must be coordinated with a strategy to adjust community attitude and to use media to change public attitude by debunking rationales and justifications. ‘It’s only party drug’, ‘a bit of hooch never hurt anybody’, ‘It’s cheaper than grog’, ‘I only use it to unwind on the weekend. And there is a myriad of others.
The key is to make dugs socially unacceptable within the cohort of those that are likely to experiment or use; being proactive.
The allure to the drug trade can in part be blamed on Law Enforcement. They regularly brag about and value large busts that would, to many in the community, be akin to attracting bees to a honey pot, an irresistible magnet. We must stop glorifying and bragging of law enforcement success as it is counterproductive. The bragging should be focussed on convictions and penalties linking the consequences to the activity.
A sustained and targeted campaign to minimise and negate the influence of the positives of drug-taking, highlighting the risks of being a user and or an addiction. ‘1 pill = a lifetime of misery’, ‘It will happen to you’, are just a couple of examples.
Having achieved community attitudinal changes, a methodology must be developed to manage those that have unfortunately become tempted as a user and or are addicted. We need, as the community, to take some responsibility for these people who are always at risk of their addiction or use becoming a death sentence.
The evolution of Injection Rooms, unfortunately, labelled ‘Safe’, reinforces that drug-taking is safe, particularly under supervision. This approach is no doubt strongly supported by the drug tsars giving drugs an image to which they are not entitled.
The current marketing approach by the issue is injecting rooms is counterproductive to what should be the marketing strategy, and the government approval of these facilities is seen as a positive, in marketing terms, for the trade. If you don’t think that the drug dealers are not exploiting this marketing tool, you would be naive in the extreme, ‘Have a go at this, it’s ok because you can take it to the room”. You can’t lose when the government endorses your product.
We need to ensure the safety of the users and addicts, and that can be best done under medical supervision, but approached in a holistic way, not merely the management of their drug ingestion.
That is where COVID comes in.
To battle, the potential for a massive demand for hospital beds, particularly ICU there are a number of facilities modified or repurposed, at substantial cost, including the former Peter McCallum site in East Melbourne to deal with the demand, should the pandemic escalate dramatically, a sound government strategy.
However, as we come out of the pandemic and in the not too distant future, well before the next flu season, Vaccines will be widely distributed so these facilities will then be mostly redundant.
Applying a little pragmatism, these facilities could be repurposed to help beat the drug scourge.
What we propose is that the approach to the addicts and users come from the health perspective, and these facilities used to place a hiatus into their addiction or use, under medical supervision where their total health can be adequately evaluated and managed to try to encourage the addicts and users to seek to break their habit.
The facilities should not all be drug rehabilitation facilities. However, some maybe, but the priority is to provide beds for addicts and users so that pre-emptive action can be taken to motivate a willingness to deal with their habit, and improve their overall health.
Using powers created under the Health Act, Police who come across drug-affected people could lodge a person at one of these facilities rather than criminal processing even when small amounts of illicit drugs are present. Considering the safety of the user and the first responders generally, the patient would be transported by ambulance.
This will not affect any criminal proceedings as patients can be remanded initially to these facilities which by their nature are secure, before being transferred to corrections.
The user of illicit drugs can receive immediate medical assessment voiding the costly alternative of police and medical resources at Hospital Emergency Departments being used. The proposed modified Drug facilities will be safer for the user and remove the ever-present danger of psychotic drug users and the danger they pose to staff and other patients at hospitals.
Once a person suspected of being under the influence of drugs arrives at the facility, a more detailed medical examination determines whether the person is under the influence, and, if not, immediately discharged.
Once it is determined that they are under the influence, then they are admitted to the facility for fourteen days to have their health properly evaluated and to decide whether or not they are addicted. Once a Doctor is satisfied that the user is not addicted, they can be discharged provided; their health has been appropriately screened and evaluated.
As most if not all, users are in denial of addiction, denials of addiction by the patient are insufficient medical evidence that they do not have an addiction.
This fourteen-day hiatus in their drug use will have a number of desirable outcomes including, ensuring if they have any underlying health issues that can be addressed, the nexus in their drug associations/networks are broken at least temporarily. The medical practitioners have the opportunity to provide support for the addict.
The privacy of the addict should also be protected and cutting them from friends and contacts will generate inquiries however the answer to inquirers should always be the same, ‘They are safe, and they have been advised of your concern and will contact you directly’, it is up to the addict to explain their absence, not the authorities.
How might a facility like this operate? Security is essential to ensure the patients do not abscond and that illicit drugs or other unacceptable contraband do not enter the facility. As a cornerstone of this strategy, there can be no communication between the patient and the outside world for the period of treatment. We would consider that the Office of Corrections has the necessary skill sets to maintain security at a facility.
Under this scheme, many who are not recognised as ‘addicts’ can be identified and we can then perhaps get a handle on the size of the problem because generally, it has been anecdotal evidence only.
Once we know the actual size of the problem, we can develop strategies to better deal with it, remembering that only addicts that want to be rehabilitated will succeed so clogging the system with criminal addicts who use their addiction and promises of rehabilitation as mitigation in the court system will be found out.
Notably, two other important outcomes will be achieved by this initiative.
Drivers who test positive to drugs must be included, and that will have a dramatic deterrent effect on the misinformation circulating particularly with young drivers that police don’t test for drugs most times; therefore, it’s better to use drugs than alcohol. And the second equally important deterrent is that young people caught up in this scheme (albeit provision for young people will have to be built in) may receive the wakeup call (explaining their behaviour to parents etc.) that steers them away from serious and prolonged drug use.
This initiative would have a very positive effect on the drug problem at a relatively low cost given infrastructure will only need relatively minor adjustments and the cost-saving overall to the community would be enormous.
The starting point for this program has to be a cost-benefit analysis as a starting point with input from economists essential.
It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will never present again, not to grab this opportunity would be an absolute tragedy.
Ivan W Ray
Chief Executive Officer Community Advocacy Alliance Inc