TASMANIAN based medical practitioner and researcher, Dr Michael Keane, questions the logic behind demonising opioids.

In an article in The Age on 19 January 2006 (The heroin guilty trip) Dr Keane summarises available evidence which suggests that opioids, which include heroin, do not induce users to violence nor are highly addictive.

He says that the present policy of prohibition is based upon widely accepted myths, and is illogical and harmful to sufferers of genuine pain. “It is a pity that decisions about such efficacious and potentially beneficial drugs have been so deeply politicised. The almost religious conviction that opioids are evil is leading to needless suffering for hundreds of thousands of Australians with pain”.

Yet we persist in this simple-minded notion of a “War On Drugs”. We continue to divert incalculable resources towards an objective that King Canute would have scorned.

Drugs are not an enemy. Drugs are not even a disease. Drugs are a symptom. We might just as effectively use make-up to prevent the outbreak of red spots associated with chicken-pox. There is no strategic planning associated with this “War On Drugs”. There are no benchmarks or goals. There is no vision of success in this “war”. This is nothing more than government by the maxim, ‘Something must be done — this is something — I must do it’.

Why is it largely young people who abuse drugs?

Here’s a unique approach: why don’t we try leaving the symptoms (drug abuse) to take care of themselves whilst we try to identify the disease? Because, if we got some kind of handle on what leads our young people to the end of a needle, then we could divert some of those billions that we spend forbidding the tide to ebb into curing the malady and making the spots go away. Wow!

Now, I’m no social anthropologist, but I do enjoy a little wager now and then. If I was looking for the favourite in this field I reckon I’d start by investigating a few basic questions: Why is it largely young people who abuse drugs? Are they attempting an escape from reality? If so, what is it about reality which incites a need to escape? Is experimentation normal, and if so, why does experimentation graduate to abuse for a significant number of Australians?

Of course, your author is not the only person to have considered this issue, or these questions. This is an area of great difficulty, of long-term policies, of critical introspection.

The answers to questions like those above can lead to doubts about the nature of our society, and about the validity of ‘The Australian Dream’. Perhaps then we should just forget all about entering such a complex labyrinth; much too hard to get through successfully. Let’s just head down to the beach and tell that tide a thing or two about where it should stop.

Gabfest: Bike speed and skunkweed