Friday, December 2, 2005

For shame

Forty seven percent of people polled in Australia believe that executing another human being is more acceptable than trafficking an illegal substance. Most of these people, dullards at best and sociopaths at worst, have enjoyed peppering stale cliches like "Do the crime, do the time" through newspaper message boards all over the country in recent days.

Like chicken counters clucking excitedly before anything has hatched, many quoted the figure of 26,000 doses that could theoretically be obtained from a 400g batch of heroin, a figure they learned from the media, a figure they proffer as pregnant with meaning, a figure that settles the question. The fact that no drug user did die seems not to warrant consideration.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare publication Statistics on Drug Use in Australia 2004, 0.2% of the Australian population used heroin in the last year. Other illicit drug use during the period includes ecstasy (3.4%), meth/amphetamine (3.2%), marijuana (11.3%) and cocaine (1.0%).

Deaths from accidental opiod (including heroin) overdose in 2003 and 2004 amounted to 364 and 357 respectively. Or approximately 360 people each year. So it becomes a tad difficult to tolerate the bad math from the dolts who refer to the "thousands" of people who were put at risk by Nguyen Tuong Van, aged 25, a first offender with no previous record, who was hanged by the neck this morning by the Singapore government and presumably died within the statistically average 15 minutes.

By comparison, a November 2000 Suicide and hospitalised self-harm in Australia report starts with the sentence: "Suicide is a prominent public health problem in Australia. Currently, more than 2,500 people die by suicide each year" with a similar number (around 2,100 each year) dying in transport accidents.

Research into drug use in this country overwhelmingly shows that tobacco and alcohol are by far the most dangerous drugs in society. Yet alcohol, the drug that is most likely to affect other people through violence, family breakdown and abuse, is celebrated as a central part of our national character. Inuit people are said to have 30 words for "snow". Australians have at least that many for "drunk". So the government is to be applauded for its funding of various initiatives aimed at minimising the use and abuse of these legal substances. But it is sobering to read that:
"the net government revenue associated with tobacco products increased from $4.3 billion in 1995–96 to over $5.6 billion in 2003–04 (Table 2.4)"
"The net government revenue associated with alcohol increased from $2.5 billion in 1996–97 to an estimated $3.3 billion in 2003–04 (Table 3.6)."
That no-one in public life alluded to the seemingly arbitrary and culturally determined nature of drug law (where some countries allow opiates, others incarcerate alcohol drinkers and the line between prescription medications and street drugs is increasingly blurred) during Nguyen's final days surprised me.

If we had been considering a vicious murder or violent rape I'd have concluded that the nature of the crime itself had led to this level of public support for execution as an appropriate punishment. But it wasn't. It was a law relating to a drug that is amoral in itself - opiates are used legally in most countries to provide pain relief. It was a law relating to a substance that the user/"victim" chooses to obtain and inject. It was a law relating to illicit scenarios where the people who profit most from the crime are rarely identified or arrested, where the dime a dozen drug mules are disposable pawns of no genuine value in any sincere "war on drugs".

Meanwhile jails and brothels all over the country contain countless individuals who are addicted to both legal and illegal drugs and who have ended up in those places because of those addictions. But before you say "Well there you go - drug abuse is the scourge of our society!" consider this: "There is...a direct correlation between children being sexually abused and youth suicide, homelessness, prostitution, crime and drug abuse."

Anyone who wants to find heroin doesn't have to try too hard. It's out there. But how many of us do? How many of us have even considered it? Buggar all, if not less. Is heroin the problem? No. Is execution a solution? No. Does child abuse get identified as the issue deserving the most urgent attention in a civilised society? No.

A survey last year asked people to prioritise a list of key issues facing society that concerned them. Child abuse rated 15th on the list. Which may have been forgivable if "interest rates" and "council garbage removal" hadn't rated more highly. So it's no surprise to notice that child abuse is becoming more prevalent each year. (Being a government report, it is careful to note that the "substantiated" cases aren't rising at an alarming rate but a quick read of any newspaper will, on most days, tell the sorry story of another overworked and underresourced child protection worker or another child who fell through the gaps).

That the hypocrites who brayed for Nguyen's blood would on a different day, in a different poll, register their contempt for drug users whose lives were supposedly saved by his execution at dawn this morning only sickens me further.

I hate the idea of all drugs and the harm they wreak in a society. I really do. But the idea that Nguyen was alive this morning and is now lying mutilated in a coffin fills me with extreme horror and gut wrenching grief. That anyone in this country supports this cold blooded murder only makes it worse. What terrible, God-forsaken times we live in.

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