The war on drugs has failed

By Dr David Caldicott

This ‘war’ was doomed to fail as soon as it was declared – it was always far more about the political rhetoric than any practical intent.

We have spent trillions (that’s 12 zeros) of dollars on prosecuting a non-winnable war, only to see a rise in the total global use and a veritable explosion of the types of drugs facing young users.

Fortunately, there is a growing global recognition that the problems associated with drug consumption are far better addressed by the forces of health, rather than by the bizarre, faux-morality elements of the theocratic Right.

Other than in Australia, drugs policy has seen tectonic shifts away from the failed prohibition model towards ‘harm minimisation’. The latter approach acknowledges there will always be those in society who choose to use drugs, and that the civilised thing to do is to try to keep them alive, allowing them to become productive taxpayers one day.

Recent calls in Australia to decriminalise drug use have been met with howls of abuse from tabloid newspapers. However, this misrepresentation as an attempt to ‘legalise’ drugs could not be further from the truth.

Instead, decriminalisation is the pathway taken by Portugal in the early 00s when it was facing one of the worst drugs-related public health crises ever seen in the European Union. It took money earmarked for law enforcement for use on the health side of the equation.

Portugal now has one of the best sets of health metrics for illicit drug use of any country in the world. The Prime Minister of Portugal at the time showed a bravery bereft in Australian federal politics.

The idea that we are doing everything we can to prevent young Australians from getting harmed is not true.

Could you imagine not using the x-ray or ECG machine just because they did not originate in Australia? And yet that is where we are at with ‘pill testing’ or ‘drug checking’.

This process allows consumers to interact with analytical chemists and medical professionals to discuss the results of drugs analysed at the point of consumption.
Although pill testing originated as a way to identify contamination in the market, it soon became clear it also reduced the amount of drug being consumed by users, as well as the practice of poly-drug consumption.