Sunday, February 06, 2005

Drugs damage the capacity for reason

The drugs debate takes another of its ponderous turns with the reaction to the new Met Police chief’s ludicrous attack on middle-class drugs users. Ekow Eshun makes a few valid points, but misses (or denies) the truly glaring inconsistency in the argument that the moral middle-classes should forgo cocaine because of its connection to global terrorism and crime. If ever an argument begged the point this is the one – is it the affluent user who creates the crime with their demand or is it the ass of a law which puts the control into the hands of gangsters.

Eshun makes an interesting point about Pete Doherty, the shambolic pop star, whose pictures – looking decidedly worse for wear - graced the tabloids throughout the week and who spent the weekend in prison after allegedly assaulting a photographer and stealing his money. Doherty, Eshun says, is feted by the broadsheets whilst being condemned by the tabloids. He thinks it's because Doherty is from a middle-class family, but it strikes me that drug-crushing rock stars were always working-class in the old days and were feted just the same. Well, not quite the same, since Doherty was – extraordinarily - interviewed by Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark, but it's just a matter of degree. It’s easy to say that if Doherty was in a Burberry suit he’d be ignored but history disagrees. Talent will out, generally, given the chance. (This is not to express an opinion on Doherty's talent which I have yet to actually witness, despite occasionally trying to listen to the Libertines.)

In fact the point about the tabloids points up something else, which is the way that the working-class often have stricter morals than the middle-class (which the tabloids reflect with their lurid and condemnatory coverage). They need them, because they can end up so much worse than the poor rich kids. So the problem with middle-class drug users becomes that because they have the leisure, money and space in which to indulge their drug use they encourage society as a whole to accept drug use, the results of which are far worse once they become endemic on poor council estates amongst people with none of these luxuries.

But this is really an argument long overtaken by events. It seems to be a constant one step forward two steps back. A study comes out showing that heroin, removed from its criminal snare and simply prescribed to addicts is actually basically manageable and causes little strain on the addict’s body, certainly far less than alcohol. I remember reading a report of a Swiss study which showed this in the seventies. The reaction to this sensible study is entirely predictable – a cacophony of condemnation for suggesting that people can take heroin safely. The fact that it appears they can is lost. Again it comes down to the same old point. The drug laws create more problems than they solve.

Looking through newspaper reports this morning you see the same words coming up over and over again. “Feted”, “shambles”, “worse for wear”. Luckily I’ve managed to avoid using them myself.

Rather brilliant headline here ’I chased Pete Doherty with a claw hammer’ in the Telegraph of all places.