Opinion: Public Health Approach To Drug Use

May 12, 2014

[Opinion column written by Jonathan Starling] Recently the media reported that a video was circulating on social media about an individual licking and kissing a dead cat.

While the media [quite rightly] didn’t show the video, it basically shows a male carrying a dead cat, by the tail, placing it on the ground, just off a major road, and, to the goading of unseen males, licking and kissing the dead cat.

Now, there are quite a few questions and possible angles with which to approach this incident:

  • There’s the immediate revulsion of it in itself.
  • There’s the amazement that this is happening, in clear view, of a major road and nearby shopping centre.
  • There’s the question of what this says about how some members of our society treat animals and display a lack of respect for their corpses.
  • There’s wonder that molesting the corpse of an animal isn’t somehow illegal.

The most important question, to me, is what this incident says about drug abuse and our approach to drugs in our society.

To be clear, I am of the understanding that this incident involved a known addict, and the implication is that he was engaging in this behaviour, at the goading of others, either for money with which to buy drugs, or in exchange for drugs directly.

Such is the desperation that drug addictions can lead.

This, of course, is nothing new.

We know that addictions can drive addicts to crime – to theft or violence – either to fund their addiction through stolen money or the proceeds of crime, or in exchange for drugs – thugs for hire.

And while we generally try to ignore it, we know there is prostitution – both male and female – in Bermuda. And all too often this prostitution is driven by drug addictions, again, either for money to fund drug purchases, or directly in exchange for drugs.

In short, drugs – or more explicitly, drug addictions – pose a very real threat to public safety and to public health.

Criminal or Public Health?

If we are going to seriously address drug addictions and their related problems then we need to reframe our entire approach to it. Right now we treat it as a criminal problem and punish addicts.

What we need to do however is treat it as a public health problem and seek to help addicts.

Addiction of any kind is an illness, and like any illness it can be treated and in many cases cured.

By treating drugs as a criminal problem, by engaging in prohibition and the criminalisation of addicts, all our society does is empower criminal elements, through a black market for drugs, and compound the problems of addicts rather than treat them for their addictions.

If we were serious about truly reducing the negative consequences of drug addiction in Bermuda then we should:

  • 1] Regulate all drugs through the State. This removes the profit motive of private capital, which would provide an incentive to get more, not less, people addicted. Instead the focus will be on providing controlled doses of known quality, reducing the risk of adulterants.
  • 2] Provide safe and secure centres for the use of these State-regulated drugs. This ensures addicts are not taken advantage of, are not exposed to dirty needles, doses can be controlled, medical attention can be readily available and both addicts and non-addicts are protected from harm.
  • 3] Regulated drugs are to be free at the point of use. While a cost to the State, this undermines the criminal elements that currently benefit from prohibition and will reduce the need for addicts to fund their addictions through crime, prostitution or family finances.
  • 4] Trained counsellors to be available at these centres to facilitate reducing drug addictions and addressing underlying traumas and mental health conditions which may contribute to drug addictions.
  • 5] Trial the use of Ibogaine and cocaine vaccines for registered cocaine addicts.
  • 6]Make drug-awareness education, addiction therapy and general counselling mandatory for all convicts, whether convicted of drug offenses or not.
  • 7] It is important to note that studies have shown a strong correlation between being a victim of child sex abuse and adult drug abuse. As such, we need to have a national conversation and aggressive education concerning child sex abuse in our society, with the hope of helping reduce child sex abuse through greater awareness. The long-term goal would be reducing adult drug abuse. It is important to stress here that children and adolescents of both genders are vulnerable to child sex abuse, and that up to 93% of abusers are close family and friends. An aggressive education campaign and national conversation on child sex abuse both increases awareness [aiding detection and intervention] and equips potential victims with the resources to both prevent or react to such abuse.

Treatment, not Punishment

The issue of drug abuse is an emotive issue, and my call for the regulation of all drugs through the State should not be interpreted as advocating drug use.

Instead it is a simple recognition that treating drug abuse as a criminal problem, and resorting to punitive responses, does nothing to reduce the incidents of drug abuse in our society, while at the same time it empowers a criminal element and related threats to public safety [through gun crime, theft and assault] and public health [such as the transmission of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, adulterants or dirty needles].

If we truly want to reduce drug abuse in our society, we need to approach it from a public health perspective, remove the profit motive and provide a safe space for addicts with an emphasis on helping break their addictions.

- Jonathan Starling

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Comments (9)

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  1. aceboy says:

    The State?

    Which manifesto did you cut and paste that load of bs from?

    • Betty Dump says:

      Instead of retorting his essay with scientific data, you insult it. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing, which is actually a great thing to do. But you are just showing utter ignorance with this reply. You honestly don’t know what the word state means in this context?

    • Inspector Gadget says:

      You are clueless… go away.

  2. Rayki Emery says:

    Well written. It does say a lot about our society when we allow something like that to occur for amusement.

    I do have an issue with state regulated drugs. For some reason, I just have this feeling that if the state regulates the supply of drugs someone involved in the process will get rich from it. That’s why I am fine with drugs being prohibited in Bermuda, I know men who have put their children through college selling drugs to suppliment their income. These are average Bermudians who do nothing illegal other than sell narcotics. These same men founded football clubs and other grass roots social projects.

    I just wouldn’t want to see the rich get richer under the guise of health care.

    Also: FIRST!

  3. Betty Dump says:

    I agree with most of your points in this essay. It is quite obvious that our current policies are nothing short of a complete failure. Unfortunately, through peoples’ personal opinions, many will shut down your ideas as absolutely ridiculous. This is mostly due to the propaganda that people have been fed for decades. There is much research out there that support your claims in this essay but too many people aren’t interested in the facts.

    Our current policies benefit only illegal enterprise. The addicts are double victims due to their dependence on substance and that they are viewed as criminals. Society suffers because government spends in inordinate amount of cash and resources to uphold the status quo. So the only benefactors are the violent gangs and others that control the drug supply.

    We need to take the profits away from illegal enterprise and treat addicts as medical patients. We also need to treat each drug differently because they have different effects on the user. Someone who uses ecstasy is not in the same category as someone that smokes crack. These are completely different drugs and have completely different outcomes, but we treat them the same. So we really need to analyze what we do and completely overhaul our system of how we treat drug abuse. People need to understand that what we have been doing for the past 50 or so years has had ZERO percent success. Stop allowing opinion to drive policy and start using scientific data that has shown that treating addiction as a medical condition is a step in the right direction.

  4. empera says:

    In my lifetime I’ve seen alcohol bring out the sickest pattern of behaviour in Bermudians..an all they say is..oh they were drunk..ha ha..

  5. This is some sick ship….heroin or crack or chrystal meth….this is investors….money people…having this perpetrated then put on utube to retain sole stewardship of shadow economy and protect their investment.Decriminalise pot….remove the possibility of additive being put innit….they now put addictive additives innit….most people don’t go near those other dreadful things unless they’ve been hooked with the additives.They don’t want the direct competition…..there is no way to generate interest in the other drugs unless unawares usage.In Colorado it has made govt wealthy enough to utilise and facilitate programs and enforcment….and medical help inclusive of the remidies needed to save.

  6. d says:

    You’re catching up bermuda, these procedures are done all throughout north america.