I doubt that Count the Costs of the War on Drugs will be on our new/old Prime Minister David Cameron’s “things to do next” list.
We have a Conservative majority government to contend with for the next five years. It seems likely they will bring us more of the same in terms of their responses to psychoactive drug-taking. Expect more bans on more ‘new drugs’ and continuing bans on ‘old drugs’ from the Ministry of Banning Stuff.
Rather unfortunately, those novel psychoactive substances (NPS) – or ‘legal highs’ as they are known colloquially – mentioned in this pre-election article from the Guardian have already been replaced by new NPS (come on, keep up!). The internet is awash with unfamiliar chemical compounds for anyone to purchase. It is quite astounding in an ‘oh sh*t, genie out of the bottle’ sort of way.
Some NPS carry some serious acute and chronic side effects. Understandably fatalities related to NPS use (typically taken in tandem with alcohol and other drugs) are the focus of academic research and global media coverage. However, there is little writing, beyond excellent user forums such as Bluelight.org, on potentially life-changing side effects from NPS use, which may include irrevocable damage to nerve tissues (eg. Oral Dysaesthesia or ‘burning mouth syndrome’) and the development of patterns of dependency which ‘mirror’ those of prescribed drugs (eg. benzos). This is all a process of learning for drug researchers, but such learning can take time, and for some, it will already be too late.
As Transform and many other progressive drug policy reformists argue, well established, well researched psychoactive drugs such as MDMA, cocaine, cannabis and heroin must be regulated, licensed and sold with appropriate restrictions (age, location etc), and coupled with world-leading harm reduction interventions. We simply cannot and must not continue ‘business as usual’. The War on Drugs has in part produced this problem (see Measham et al 2010). Using the same tactics to fight a War on NPS is utterly pointless.
I will end with a choice quote from one of my students last term following a class debate about the global drug prohibition system which included a discussion of NPS online:
“If Karenza says those legal drugs are bad, they must be”!
Take care, rave safe,