SBS recently ran a Dateline episode about prescription drug addiction in the US. They’ve done a couple of these recently. It was something of a surprise that the normally progressive station would copy something out of Murdoch’s play book like that. I guess those rumours of cuts have had their intended effect.
When looking through references for the post about meth the other day, I noticed something odd. Along with the mention of self-medication there was much, much more info around on the origins of addiction and stress in children. It’s obvious when you think about it, because humanity has studied these issues for a number of years now and realised that addicts don’t grow on trees. Check out Rat Park, it’s a brilliant pictorial presentation of the research into addiction.
Addiction as a folk devil had to be invented. That was before terrorists. We got Reefer Madness about cannabis. Then demonising of heroin users, then meth addicts. In a similar way, cyber terrorism has been invented to serve as a spectre of evil that we need militarised police forces and black ops spooks to save the children from. The media noise about evils of substance use bears little resemblance to the actual social issues or ways to address them.
A very few people still present addiction as if it’s a random bad choice a person makes, one day out of the blue. The vested interests are usually blatantly obvious in those cases. Most people are well aware that it doesn’t just magically appear. Scandinavia has put in place strong welfare and education systems because they reduce a person’s chances of ending up an addict or otherwise dysfunctional. It’s well established science and policy, in developed nations, that better social standards lead to better outcomes for everyone involved.
When people suggest approaching addiction as a health care issue, that doesn’t mean more punitive gate keeping. Restricting or prohibiting substances doesn’t make the problem of addiction go away. In most cases it makes it worse. Street drugs are cut with bloody anything and the costs result in other crime to support the habit. That’s fine if you’re an avid Herald-Sun reader who loved Atlas Shrugged and thought Gerry Harvey was a brave soul for saying that the homeless should be left to die on the street, or who believes the poor are justly being punished by God. Or if you think that we all should be suffering because Christ died on the cross for our sins.
Opiates treat pain. Mental and physical pain. If Australia really wants to make any progress in regard to problematic substance use, we have to look at the causes of the pain. Then we have to fund programs that address those causes. We’d have to tackle problems like domestic violence, that play such a big part in the development of addiction. We’d need early intervention, housing and living levels of welfare. We’d need more support for parents. We’d need something resembling a functioning Government. We’d need to be putting money into the programs themselves rather than red tape that serves to further victimise those who are already suffering.
The US has the highest rate of prescription pain killer abuse in the world… there’s evidence that a similar problem is developing in Australia. Yeah, that’s what happens when you copy the US. And of course the program focuses on opiate use, not the side effects of major tranquilisers or anti-depressants. Glaxo has been involved in a number of suits related to Prozac and murder suicides, but the SSRIs are still patentable.
Heavy handed medical industry gate keeping is part of the reason so many people are addicted to meth and other things in Australia. If people were getting appropriate treatment and support, this would be a very different conversation. And it wouldn’t be heaping stigma on people living with disability and chronic illness, people whose lives are already so badly compromised that they’re unable to live normally. No prizes for noticing how the media and nasty politicians so often seek out soft targets like that.
In developed nations social collateral and early intervention helps reduce addiction and incarceration. If your Government is still attempting to play through this level with the Dickensian mod, it’s time for an upgrade.