MICHAEL PASCOE. Victorian election: Tell me, Mr Drug Warrior, how many votes is a human life worth? (New Daily)

Nov 25, 2018

Would you be willing to kill people to win a state election, to be Premier of Victoria? Such a large price to pay for such a small prize.

In my opinion, that’s what Matthew Guy’s promise to immediately close Victoria’s only safe injecting room amounts to. We know injecting rooms save lives, prevent deaths.

We know closing the only safe injecting facility will result in deaths – it will kill people. That’s the promise.

There are three aspects of this miserable election policy to consider: the performance of safe injecting rooms; the bigger question of the hideously expensive and failed “war on drugs”; and why a state Liberal leader would bother making an issue out of a single trial facility in a seat in which his party isn’t even offering a candidate.

The first is the easiest: they work. Doctor and former journalist Lisa Prior has written eloquently about the realities of the Kings Cross facility in Sydney. If you have any doubts, read it.

In its first 10 years, 4400 overdoes were managed without a fatality. So many lives saved. People who would inject with or without safety, people given a chance to live and overcome their addiction instead of being killed, people given the chance to seek help.

That reality is what Victoria’s leading doctors have focused on in criticising Mr Guy’s policy. Chair of RACGP Victoria, Dr Cameron Loy, said he’d hoped for evidenced-based policy, not ideology-based policy.

A self-professed conservative replied to me on Twitter: “I remain concerned that the safe injecting room effectively legitimises both drug abuse and the criminal trade that sustains it. I don’t think the state should be colluding with crimes, even if the intention is good.”

It’s a neat enough summary of the black-and-white view. I responded that, if he was genuinely concerned about those issues, he should campaign to end the failed policies that promote the criminal trade and treat drug use as a crime instead of a health issue.

Which is what the second, more complex question is all about: the colossal and escalating failure of the “war on drugs”. Helen Clark, the former New Zealand health minister and prime minister, subsequent senior United Nations official and now member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, has written that debates on drug policy tend to be divisive and passionately ideological.

“On one point, however, there is a clear and growing consensus: Around the world, the so-called ‘war on drugs’ is failing,” she says.

Some $100 billion a year is spent fighting the war, yet drug use increases every year.

“Illegal drug markets have expanded relentlessly to meet this growing demand, with opium and coca production rising respectively by 130 percent and 34 percent between 2009 and 2018,” Ms Clark writes.

“The number of drug-related deaths continues to reach new peaks, with 450,000 drug use-related deaths in 2015 alone. Much of this rise is driven by the North American opioid overdose crisis, with total overdose deaths in the United States reaching a record 72,000 people in 2017. This is more than the total number of U.S. soldiers who died in the Vietnan War.

“Punitive drug law enforcement is fuelling mass incarceration and prison overcrowding, with one in five of the world’s 10 million prisoners now incarcerated for drug offences, mostly for minor, nonviolent drug possession. This proportion is even greater for women, reaching over 50 percent in several Latin American countries and over 80 percent in Thailand.

“Furthermore, drug market-related violence has spiralled to unprecedented levels. In Mexico alone, there have been up to 250,000 killings and 32,000 disappearances since 2006. This horrific level of bloodshed is compounded by illegal state actions where, at its extremes, the war on drugs is providing political cover for some of the most egregious human rights abuses taking place anywhere on the planet.

“Thousands have been executed for drug offences over the past decade and, according to several human rights groups, up to 12,000 people have been killed extra-judicially in horrific drug war operations in the Philippines since 2016.

“Rather than eradicating drugs, prohibition is empowering and enriching organised crime groups.”

John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations publication has collated a convincing series on this appalling policy failure. The evidence is overwhelming, raising the question of why we persevere with policy that doesn’t work at horrendous cost.

It’s like the mindless and uncaring World War I generals who continued to send troops to certain death in battles of no strategic or tactical worth. Like generals who killed hundreds of thousands for no purpose, it’s difficult for those responsible to admit they’re wrong, that they are at least partially to blame for so such waste and carnage.

And there are massive vested interests at work in continuing the war – careers and fortunes based on it, enforcement empires to be maintained and expanded, politicians strapped into the law’n’order bandwagon, media outlets pushing fear because fear sells.

Which leads to that third question of why Matthew Guy would bother taking aim at the Richmond room that has already saved people from dying of heroin overdose.

After all, it’s only a trial facility, opened in July with a two-year licence. And it’s hardly a highpoint of Daniel Andrews’ career as Premier – he had to be dragged to acceptance after opposing it against all the weight of the aforementioned evidence. But credit to him for being willing to at least allow the trial.

Would a single vote be swayed Mr Guy’s way by this issue? I sincerely doubt it. On the other hand, it could well cost him votes among Liberal voters with experience of the drug curse reality.

So what’s the answer? Blind ideology? Stupidity? Or a subset of Mr Guy’s determination to beat the tough-on-crime, law’n’order drum?

Some people will do anything to get power – but that’s just my opinion.


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