12 September 2015

BMJ article: increasing overdoses but they ignore known solutions (+ Hari TED talk).

Dear Colleagues,
There is no more ‘final’ statistic regarding drug use than overdose deaths.  And in England the official figures go back to Victorian times, then often involving opium, laudanum and other strong drugs including alcohol.  The British Coroner’s Act of 1844 was ahead of its time and even pre-dated the famous Broad Street Pump reports of the London cholera epidemic of 1854.  The latter is sometimes quoted as the first exercise in modern, scientific public health. 
The BMJ has reported increasing overdose deaths in the UK which are little short of disastrous, reflecting experience in America - doubling in a few short years and overtaking other causes of death like a tragic game of leap-frog.  The UK now has about 50 overdose deaths per million of population or 3346 in 2014 of which 952 were from heroin or morphine.  In Portugal it is about a tenth of this rate according to EMCDDA.  
The familiar story of increasing overdoses happened in Portugal before 2001 when a forward thinking and science based experiment was undertaken moving away from prohibition. 
Portugal decriminalised personal drug use 14 years ago, heralding a new era in public health in that small country.  Since the liberalisation experiment the country has gone from a pariah to a paragon of public health outcomes.  HIV, overdose and addiction rates have dropped significantly while resources have been strongly diverted to treatment and social services.  The UK and USA have comparable drug control laws strongly relying on punishment, in stark contrast to Portugal.  
Like seeing refugees on a television screen, overdose deaths only come home to us when they are personalised by a friend, family member or particularly moving portrayal such as the recent footage of a dead young boy on a beach in Turkey.  Why is nobody taking notice of one of the biggest and longest and most successful real-life experiments in drug law reform?  Why are those supporting prohibition so successful in beating a drum which has no scientific or empirical basis?  And their actions are leading to preventable deaths every single day. I recommend a 14 minute talk by Johann Hari about his ‘journey’ investigating addiction*. 
* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PY9DcIMGxMs Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong. Johann Hari. TED Talks 

I acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of this land on which I walk and work, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to elders both past and present.