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article imageOp-Ed: The war on drugs — Time to think outside the box?

By Alexander Baron     Feb 19, 2012 in Crime
Turning America into a police state has been a gross failure in the war on drugs; perhaps it is time for a new approach, there and everywhere else?
The only real solution is the total legalisation of all recreational drugs, including crack cocaine. Although some senior police officers and even here and there members of the judiciary are prepared to consider that option, realistically it won't happen in the next five years, and probably not the next fifteen. Are there other options though?
Watching a BBC dramatisation last week reminded me of the obscene and disgusting lengths to which some people will go in order both to get their hands on these vile substances and to trade in them.
Before I go any further, let me make a total declaration of interest. I have never injected recreational drugs, though I have smoked heroin once in my life, c1984, and grass perhaps half a dozen times, the first time in 1977 or 1978, the last time in 1984. I have never even seen cocaine, and the only place I have ever taken it is at the dentist. I've had morphine in hospital, and I have taken prescription drugs regularly (every week and often every day) since October 1988. As to alcohol, I gave up on a whim in January 1986, and have never regretted it once. Finally, I have smoked maybe 50 cigarettes and a dozen cigars in my life; for a few months back in the early 1980s, I also took snuff. Right, now we've got that out of the way...
The BBC is currently screening a short mini-series called Prisoners' Wives. It didn't strike me as particularly realistic, in spite of its attention to detail. For one thing, I doubt very much a male detective or any detective would visit the very pregnant wife of a murder suspect solo; like tits, police officers come in pairs. British detectives do, at any rate. Last week however, there was a scene that was undoubtedly realistic. A man who might be termed a vulnerable prisoner asked his mother to bring him some drugs, failing which his safety could not be guaranteed. She agreed, albeit extremely reluctantly. After procuring a quantity with great difficulty, she then agonised over taking it in to the prison past a sniffer dog.
At the prison, with this brown substance wrapped in a condom and thrust into her vagina, she sat with her son, removed it, dropped it into a paper coffee cup, and passed it to him. He tried to swallow it with his coffee, and nearly choked, which is an entirely understandable reaction. What man wouldn't gag if forced to swallow a condom, much less one stuffed with cannabis that had been inserted into a woman's vagina, and his own mother's at that? Talk about sick.
Unfortunately, this took me back to the 1980s when I was in close proximity to this sort of obscenity, although I never actually witnessed it, thank Odin. In HMP Wandsworth,1984, (The London Dungeon as I came to call it), drugs were rife. Inmates were locked in their cells for most of the time apart from those few who were working in the kitchen, as cleaners, etc. Drugs would be smuggled in on visits and swallowed by inmates. I don't know what if any protection was used for the recipient, but the word condom was never mentioned at that time. To retrieve these illicit substances, the inmates would have two choices: vomit them up or defecate them out. Most people chose the latter. Usually this would entail making a “shit parcel”. The drugs would be defecated into a towel, sorted from the inmate's excrement, cleaned as far as possible, and the towel wrapped up and thrown out of the cell window. At times, the exercise yard in HMP Wandsworth was festooned with excrement laden towels.
I have what might be termed an addictive personality, but smoking has never held any attraction for me, although I am sure that if it had, the realisation that what I was smoking had recently been removed from another man's anus would have cured any such addiction in a flash.
Having said all that, in the 1980s, there was at times a somewhat relaxed atmosphere over the use of drugs by inmates. Certainly the prison staff were well aware of it, and didn't clamp down on it as heavily as they could. I was told on one occasion that in certain long term prisons, the attitude was that if it keeps them happy and docile, who cares? By the late 1990s, this attitude had changed entirely, and among other things, inmates were subjected to regular drug tests. There is though a massive irony about the whole thing, because it is relatively easy for inmates to obtain drugs openly. Many are dispensed medication with little or no fuss for all manner of reasons. How about depression? Anyone who is facing serious charges and/or a long sentence has every reason to be depressed. Insomnia - ever tried sleeping on a hard bed with a rough blanket in a place where people are constantly banging on doors or shouting, even at night? Anxiety? Paranoia? Stress? You name it. Largactil is just one of the drugs that are dispensed with gay abandon by prison pharmacies, but returning to the subject at hand...
It is not only prisoners who use such disgusting and at times dangerous methods of transporting drugs. So-called mules do it all the time. Here is a recent report of a miserable wretch who was caught smuggling a massive quantity of drugs into Malaysia in similar fashion. Malaysia has a mandatory death penalty. I know I couldn't swallow a condom even with a gun to my head, which begs the question, is there anything that will stop these wretched people?
Clearly, if we rule out prohibition on political grounds, there are two alternatives: we can ignore the problem or find some other way to tackle it. The root cause of the drug problem is supply and demand, to wit, if there were no demand, there would be no supply. The classic drug pusher so beloved of fiction, in America, usually a young black male of a certain type, is largely a myth. Individual pushers may take advantage of individual addicts, but by and large, no one is forced to take recreational drugs. If people stop desiring them, the market will dry up overnight. How can we bring this about?
One way is by social taboo. For instance, we could all convert to Islam. That probably ain't gonna happen, but it's a point the jihadis might like to consider. It would bring them just as much publicity as suicide bombers, but without the public opprobrium.
How about alternatives to recreational drugs? These are already used to some extent; methadone is the most widely known of these substances. Others could be developed, but rather than replace one drug with another, could we perhaps use technology? Maybe we could use computers to simulate the high of say cocaine, either by using some sort of helmet or more directly with wires into the brain. This may sound both unattractive and dangerous, but it is surely no more so than what we have already, especially for addicts who are so far gone that only something radical can help them.
Ever heard of Nikodent? It is one of a number of products marketed to smokers to help them quit the habit. Would it be too much for one of the major drug companies to come up with a toothpaste, a gum or even an oral medicine that cocaine and other drug users can take? Feel the urge coming on to do a line of coke or smoke a spliff? Take this first, and when you do light up, you'll develop a feeling of nausea. Take that first sniff of coke, and you'll vomit.
It that doesn't sound pleasant, remember the alternative, and think that if something like this been developed and marketed a few years ago, you might have seen Amy Winehouse or Whitney Houston in concert later this year instead of...
This could be applied to drug offenders under the current régime: take your medicine as directed by the court, or go back to gaol for ten years, or however long.
Don't watch this space for future developments because the above is my best shot. The rest is up to you.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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