Musings arguments and gig reports from your favourite Goth lesbian transsexual vegan recovering alcoholic and drug addict sceptic rationalist atheist comedian chameleon and caricature.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Every Junkie's like a Setting Sun.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has suggested that the UK Government should tighten up the existing drugs laws so that designer drugs are automatically banned, rather than the current system where individual drugs have to be banned one at a time, the process takes so long that usually by the time that it's illegal to buy a designer drug, a new and slightly different chemical that produces very similar effects is out on the market.

So far so sensible right?

Well it would be if prohibition worked.  Which it doesn't, and never has done, and in fact often makes the problems associated much much worse.

At no point when I was using drugs did the fact that they were illegal deter me, if anything they added to the thrill, the sense of community I got with other users and addicts, that we were in this together, that we were outlaws, ploughing our own furrow living our own life outside of society.

Laughing and pointing at the people who got up on a Monday morning and went to work all week who at the weekend did the shopping, took the kids to the park and on a Sunday washed the car.  They were mugs!  They didn't know the pleasure of getting off your tits on a Friday and partying through until Sunday tea time.  Working as a means to an end, as my friends and I explored exactly how far we could take the party.

Could we be like them?  Yes, but we'd rather snort another line of coke or ketamine, take an E and knock it all back a cap full of GBH and get hit by the ecstasy train calling at Euphoria via Body Rushes.  My friends were always surprised when the come down came, when our brains had used every last reserve they had to process the poison we'd inflicted on ourselves and the pain, the hollow soul crushing loneliness and abject despair of the come down hit us with full force why I was the one who could get up and make cups of tea for everyone, who could function and take care of them, who would be the one to do the take away run and feed them when they couldn't get out from under a duvet for 2 days.

The reason, I only just figured out, is because for me that come down feeling was my normal.  That was my default setting.   Whereas my brain's setting was always "I WANT MORE!!!"

See I'm an addict.  I'm an Alcoholic.  It's at the very core of who I am and it affects every part of my life and every decision I have to make.  It's a mental illness, it's a chronic disease that never leaves you and causes obsessive and compulsive thoughts and actions to manifest and I manage it by talking to other addicts and by not having the first drink or drug.

I've been clean and sober since 1st April 2009, that is that was the day I finally realised I had a problem and stopped using.  I'd stopped drinking a few years before that and thought I was doing great when I'd just switched one addiction for another and I was getting towards the end of a downward spiral that would either send me mad, or to prison or to the graveyard. 

It would be one of those for sure had I not stopped, and I did after I had an incident with the Police where they seized my car for having no tax or insurance.  I freaked out, realised that my life had become unmanageable, especially as my car which was now in the custody of the police had some of my stash in it.  I went home and thought through what had happened looked at the stash I had and looked at my behaviour and realised something had to give and so I quit and got in to recovery, which is where I am now, taking it one day at a time for the last 900 or so days.

See it wasn't the prohibition of drugs that stopped me, it was that my consumption of drugs had made my life unmanageable that stopped me.  That day that I hit that particular rock bottom I'd been paid  a lot of money for a job I'd done, basically I got in a lump sum the same amount of money I'd got for my previous year's annual wage.  I'd also on that day moved in to a new flat, my career was starting to take off, I had a girlfriend I was going to marry and all the things that I'd spent my whole life saying "If I just have that my life will be complete!"  That constant endless consumerist impulse to fix who we are based on what we have in status, relationships, trinkets and things.

It should have been the best day of my life.  Well apart from the fact I was driving back from a friend's funeral.  But it should have been.  And it wasn't.  I had everything I'd ever wanted, and it wasn't what I'd hoped it would be, it was horrible, there was still this big hollow hole in the centre of me, and worst of all I was still me.

You can run away, you can change everything about who you are and about your surroundings but you can't get away from you, where ever you are you're stuck with yourself and if you don't like yourself very much then that's hell.

These days I like me, and I'm happy not to have to try to escape being me any more.  I'm still insane, I know that my brain doesn't have my best interests at heart.  I have to ask others what is the correct course of action every time I want to do something, as I've realised that I hear the truth in a 1,000 voices and none of them are mine.

But these are just the things that were part of my drug taking and my stopping drug taking.  And although I no longer imbibe in mind altering substances.  I still don't believe that prohibition is the answer.

I personally think that the drug laws don't work, I think that they're inherently racist and sexist and have helped to keep poor countries from self determination for the best part of a century.  From Billie Carlton to Leah Betts, from Cocaine to M-cat, From Brilliant Chang and Edgar Manning to Howard Marks, the business of keeping drugs illegal has never changed in 95 years and has never got better, only worse.

The seeds for the prohibition of drugs in the UK had their birth in the US, as up until the 1916 Defence of the Realm act there were no drugs laws in the UK, if you wanted drugs you could buy them no problem.  People were dying of addiction to alcohol and drugs in similar numbers to today, but in the US times they were a changing and people were getting scared.

Since the emancipation of the slaves in the US and the slow but steady move towards the civil rights movement the US was changing, Jazz music was starting to emerge and bring what would eventually become rock 'n' roll and the Birth of the Teenager and young people were mixing and having fun with people of different races and the old order of puritanical rule seemed to be coming to an end.  Terrified at the prospect of miscegenation, and of these precious white women being defiled by hanging out with black men in Jazz clubs, smoking marijuana, taking cocaine, or smoking opium with the Chinese  those in power decided that something must be done so as to ensure that their grandchildren were the same colour as them!

Obviously this was only a problem for their daughters, as they believed that women were more susceptible to this, and really couldn't take care of themselves, and besides their slip ups would have further reaching consequences.  It's fine for their son to have a child out of wedlock with someone of a different race, easier to hide the shame and embarrassment and easier to explain away as just "boys will be boys."

So the US government decided to make opium, marijuana and cocaine illegal, and for good measure booze as well, the era of prohibition was starting.

Over in Europe the UK was struggling in a world war against the Germans. as was popular in the first half of the 20th Century.  They were having great difficulty in continuing the fight and needed the help of the US.  The US agreed to help, but on the condition that the UK made Cocaine, Marijuana, Opium and Booze illegal.

The British Government of the time wasn't sure about this.  See the British Empire stretched across the world, it was "an empire where the sun never set." and whilst these days we're the world's arms dealer, back then we were the world's drug dealer.  We'd just spent 100 years fighting with China to allow us to sell the Opium we'd been producing in Afghanistan to their people and it was one of our biggest money spinners.

We also realised that we couldn't ban booze, not without risking a revolution, but Marijuana was no problem as that wasn't popular at all and Cocaine mainly was produced in areas that had allegiances with the Germans.

So the 1916 Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) made these drugs illegal and the licencing laws for alcohol were changed and it was all done under the guise of making safer working conditions in factories for the war effort.

But if you're banning something you need to have reasons, you need to have the people behind you, and if the people don't know much about drugs and don't really care then you need to whip up some moral outrage.  Which is what the press did.  Just a few short years earlier you could go to a chemist to get heroin for a tooth ache, or cocaine for all manner of ailments, suddenly these things are bad!

Stories circulated about prostitutes dropping cocaine into soldier's drinks to knock them out and they would then be robbed.  Anyone with a working knowledge of cocaine knows that this is impossible as cocaine is a stimulant, it's like saying that they gave them coffee and double red bulls until they got drowsy and fell asleep.

This is the time that the also ramped up the anti Chinese feelings, it's the era of "The Yellow Peril" where stories of dastardly genius Chinese men drugging white women and selling them into sexual slavery start to become common place.

The first big victory for the moral outragers came with the death at the end of the war of the actress Billie Carleton who had performed on stage at a massive event to celebrate the end of the war, she was seen at the ball partying and dancing with everyone she was a real party girl, and her drug problem was one of the things holding her back from making her big breakthrough, she was also found dead in her hotel room the morning after the victory ball.  A silver box of cocaine was found at her bed side and the inquest returned the verdict that she'd died of cocaine poisoning.  They said she'd died peacefully in her sleep of cocaine poisoning.

That's just not possible.  When you overdose on cocaine your blood pressure goes up massively and you start to fit and bleed from orifices.  What's most likely and what is the general considered opinion is that she'd tried to balance out her high by taking sleeping pills to get off to sleep and that she'd overdosed on them.  But it was too late and the media had it's first dead blonde girl corrupted by drugs and the dangerous underbelly of life.  Especially when they traced the purchase of the cocaine back to Limehouse and China Town.

In 1915 we didn't have much of a drug problem.  In 1918 we did.

Drugs have always been relatively cheap for the high that they give and have provided a way for people to forget the horrible situation that they're in, and over the next 95 years more and more prohibition came in and more and more people developed problems.

The war on drugs started which was essentially a war on the poor.  If the countries that produce most of the world's drugs were allowed to produce and sell them on the world market legally it'd bring about the end of cartels and corruption in so many poor countries around the world and allow them some self determination.

In the 60's if you were a heroin addict you could be prescribed heroin by your doctor and we didn't really have a heroin problem.  The US did.  In the early 70's we stopped prescribing heroin and started prescribing methadone, and around about that time we developed a heroin problem that ballooned and got worse and worse.

Prohibition doesn't work.  It really doesn't it just makes things worse.

So what's my solution?

Legalise all drugs.  To some people that's a massively shocking statement that doesn't make much sense, but let me explain further.

Legalisation isn't the same thing as making something socially acceptable or condoning it.  It's legal to fart in a crowded lift, doesn't mean that the government are condoning it or promoting it.

If we were to legalise drugs we'd really hit organised crime badly, we'd take away 90% of their revenue stream.  our government could buy drugs from the countries that produce them for a decent price and a lot cheaper that way than our battle for prohibition.  It was worked out that for the government to buy and prescribe the heroin needed to keep one addict in their drugs would cost 50p per day.  Compare this with the fact that the average heroin addict has a "habit" of between £30-£200 per day.  They need to get that money every single day of the year no matter what, such is the nature of addiction that it takes and it takes and the obsession will turn otherwise normal lovely healthy productive members of the community into someone who will lie, cheat, steal, rob, and even kill to get their fix.  In order to get £80 per day you need to nick about £500 worth of stuff.  Every day.

£500 worth of nicked stuff, or 50p?  I'd rather pay less on my insurance for my house and car have a smaller chance of getting mugged in the street and have the government pay that money, I don't know about you?

Plus the sheer cost of prison is massive, and when you consider that 80% of crime is drug related.  If we treated people who were in there for drug related robberies and crimes for their addictions, and had legalised drugs meaning you'd almost completely wipe out organised crime you'd have a very very small prison population when at the moment we've got the highest prison population in Europe.

The money saved could go to funding the NHS and funding education and detox and rehab for addicts and alcoholics.

Also a lot of drug dealers (and addicts) are self starters, who aren't scared to work hard, they are also good entrepreneurs, it's just that they're working outside the system.  Get them working inside the system and think of all the extra tax we could get.

Plus from a health and safety perspective, if you're getting clean drugs that are regulated for quality, purity and strength from the government and providing clean needles for intravenous drug users you'll knock a lot of the associated medical complaints associated with drug use on the head.  Every time someone dies of a drugs overdose there's an inquest, these cost over £30,000 a time.  That money can be better put to use.

How do you provide the drugs without making it cool and trendy and exciting to teenagers though?

That bit's fairly simple.  You make it so that you can get what you want for a reasonable price with tax included, but you can only get it from the town hall after you've filled out a bunch of forms.  Nothing removes glamour like local government.  It'd stop kids from doing it but would make it possible for other people to get what they would like.

The thing is drugs can be dangerous, and they can be dangerous for all sorts of reasons, but you're not going to stop people from taking them by banning them, you're just going to make things harder for the people who do take them.  Provide education, provide a support structure and take away the more dangerous aspects.

By banning them the Government has essentially said "We don't know what to do so we don't want control of this" and organised crime has said "we'll take care of this for you."

The government needs to take the power back on this.

There's an Einstein quote which is used a lot to describe the behaviour patterns that we addicts follow, it is also the same behaviour pattern that successive governments have towards drugs, and it is this "the definition of insanity is to repeat the same action over and over again and expect a different outcome."


Ron said...

Absolutely top blog award. I have been saying this for years. Also if companies like Astra-Zeneca or Pfizer made them, they would be to exact dosages without the impurities current suppliers put in them and where most of the danger lies. However, it will not happen, especially in a recession. If the drugs problem was eradicated, as your system would almost do, then we would need hardly any courts staff, police, probation, social services, mental health services, prisons etc. the job losses would be unsustainable, so the government make token gestures to keep the Daily Mail readers and their ilk happy. A few dead junkies, to them, just ekes out the pensions a bit further.

Sarah said...

You have some good points here. You talk a lot about crime but one thing you don't mention in great detail is the effect of drugs on mental health. I know it often leads to a "chicken and egg" type discussion that could go on forever. I work with a lot of people with dual diagnosis and under the current drug laws we're fighting a losing battle. The government's educational approach doesn't work either. If the government got things right then perhaps there would also be more psychiatric beds available and less repeat admissions. Just a thought!
The form filling in approach made me chuckle, but actually seems like a good idea in a way.