It Was Not the Drug, but the Criminalisation 

It Was Not the Drug, but the Criminalisation 
Posted by FoM on March 27, 2002 at 20:11:35 PT
By Fulton Gillespie
Source: Guardian Unlimited
I had been expecting Scott's death for some time. But when it came, just a month from his 34th birthday, it was none the less devastating. The blow was felt more keenly by his four siblings, especially his elder sister, Fiona, who was closest to him and who had tried so hard for so long to help him. But none of them, all drug-free, had suspected that he was so far down the road. The last time I saw him, just four days before he died, I knew he would not see 40 and said so. No one wanted to believe me. 
Up to his early teens, his school reports would have won him a place in heaven. He was everything any parent would have wished for - sensitive, conscientious, well fitted into school life and so on. Then a fellow pupil, a doctor's son, took some Valium tablets from his father's surgery and gave some to Scott. There was the wholly-to-be-expected flurry of panic-stricken letters between headmaster and parents, and the guilty boys were separated. But Scott had tasted the forbidden fruit and, for reasons he could never explain then or later, the taste and the danger appealed. None of the other lads involved ended up on drugs, only Scott. After another episode with pills when he was about 15, I sought advice from friends, doctors and psychiatrists. There was much hand-wringing but nothing else. Taking a stronger tack, I marched him off to Cambridge police station, where I had arranged for a chief inspector to receive us in full uniform. A stern lecture concluded with Scott being banged up in a cell for five minutes to give him a taste of what the future might hold. He was singularly unimpressed. It began to dawn on me that the son I once had, anxious to please, keen to play by the rules, was now rapidly slipping away. Why? What had we done? What made him different from the rest of the family? We didn't know then and we don't know now. At age 17 came his first arrest for possession of amphetamine sulphate. Stories in the local papers, family tears, public disgrace, embarrassment, humiliation for him, and more hunting around to find someone, some place, some service to help him. Nothing. A year later he was in court again on a similar charge, and this time he was found a place in a probation hostel. For a time, it looked as though he might find a new direction, but on his release he headed for London and we lost him for good. In the years up to his death, he kept in touch by letter and telephone, particularly with Fiona, and occasionally he would visit, or he and I would meet in a pub somewhere. His conversation was always about the pain of existence in a world where two-thirds starved so one-third could live well. He hated war, poverty and injustice, and felt powerless to alter things. But he would always try to get back home for the family Christmas, and we took heart from that, happy that he hadn't rejected us completely. On his last but one visit, I found him trying to steal from a handbag in the kitchen. I said nothing because his confusion and embarrassment said enough for both of us. I knew then, with total heartsink, that he was on heroin, because that's what heroin addicts have to do - steal from anyone or anywhere for cash to buy their stuff. This constant scraping around and the toxicity and the malnutrition is what eventually kills the addict. At his death, this tall, handsome, unaggressive misfit, who found the world so difficult to live in, had 29 convictions for theft, all to buy adulterated drugs. He spent the last five weeks before his death on remand for theft. He turned out to be innocent and was released. I picked him up and drove him to his flat. He was drawn and tired. He didn't want to come for a meal, he said, he just wanted to get his head down. My last words to him were: "Well, make sure you keep your head down." His parting words were: "Don't worry, dad. I'll be all right." Four days later he died, asleep in the arms of the old harlot, heroin. On the wall of his flat we found this hand-written valediction to the drug: The hot chills and cold sweats, the withdrawal pains, Can only be stopped by my little white grains. There's no other way and no need to look, For deep down inside you know you are hooked. You'll give up your morals, your conscience, your heart, And you will be mine until death us do part.  So why, in the wake of so much pain, do I want to see drugs legalised? Because I believe it was not the drug itself - unlike alcohol and tobacco, heroin has no known long-term side effects - but the criminalisation of it that killed my son. In fact, a number of things contributed to his death: he was stupid enough to use heroin in the first place; he had spent five weeks in prison without drugs; on release his body could not take his normal dose (the coroner's view); and the heroin was toxic (revealed by the inquest pathology report). I am convinced that he would be alive today if all drugs had been legalised and controlled, because he would have had no need to steal and would not have been in prison, the heroin would have been controlled and therefore not toxic, and proper treatment would have been available under such a regulated system. Drugs, for me, should be a public-health rather than a criminal matter. First, they should be removed from the monopoly clutches of crime. Second, the billions saved in the costs of law enforcement, street crime and property theft should be redirected towards regulation, licensing, education, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. The present uncontrolled drugs free-for-all will mean that thousands more will follow my son to the grave, victims of criminally supplied impure drugs, unless western governments recognise that the so-called "war against drugs" is unwinnable and wholly counterproductive. Many will ask how this can be morally justified. My view is that there is more moral justification in trying to cut crime and save lives than in leaving things as they are - under the control of criminals. Those who believe legalisation will make more hard drugs available to more young people overlook the fact that drugs of all kinds are more available to more young people now than ever, even with prohibition in force. There is not a whit of evidence to support the idea that there is some massive reservoir of disaffected youth about to rush out and die. There are more pushers out there than chemists' shops, so those who want to use hard drugs are using them now and will continue to use them come what may. Therefore we should make sure the drugs they use are safe. This can only be done under legalised regulation. Just like alcohol prohibition in America, attempts at enforcement have served largely to demonstrate the lethal impotence of the law. We are beginning to see US-style gang warfare in our towns and cities. Apart from the health costs, multibillion-pound drug cartels, by bribery and terror, are undermining and corrupting law-enforcement and political systems across the world. Prohibition is simply fuelling this fire. We are spending billions dribbling water in at one end while criminals are making billions pouring their toxic fuel in at the other. Prohibition did not work in the past and it will not work in the future, simply because - now as in 1920s America - crime is controlling the supply. Therefore the link with crime must be broken. This would be a first step to removing the drugs issue from the monopoly control of crime and putting it where it belongs - in the area of public health, where it can be most effectively dealt with. Drug abusers, like alcoholics, should be treated as patients needing help rather than criminals to be punished. At present, we cannot control the drugs supply, either in quantity or quality, because we are not in charge of it. The Al Capones are. So we must dump prohibition and go for control by legalisation. Setting up a royal commission would be a good start. Decriminalisation will not provide a long-term answer because it leaves the offence on the statute book and leaves supply in the hands of crime. It will mean repealing or amending a number of United Nations treaties, including the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which prevents the unilateral legalisation of hard drugs by individual governments. But the drugs laws provide governments with powerful enforcement tools which are often used for non-drug purposes - like Nixon and Watergate - so these are tools that will not be surrendered easily. Further, there are lots of people who live off drug prohibition who will not want to give up their seats at a number of influential tables. I am no advocate of drugs - I wish to God people wouldn't use them - because for my son the drugs road led to a very dead end. But that need not be so for thousands like him if we take control of the supply. At least we will be sure that they will get treatment and the chance of rehabilitation. And for those foolish enough to keep using, we will be sure that what they take will not kill them. Special Report: Drugs in Britain:,2759,178206,00.htmlNote: Fulton Gillespie on why drug policy should be turned on its head.Complete Title: 'It Was Not the Drug, but the Criminalisation of It That Killed My Son'Newshawk: puff_tuffSource: Guardian Unlimited, The (UK)Author: Fulton GillespiePublished: Wednesday, March 27, 2002Copyright: 2002 Guardian Newspapers LimitedContact: letters Articles: Are We Tolerating The Wrong Drugs? Parents Call for All Drugs To Be Legalised
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Comment #7 posted by Ethan Russo MD on March 28, 2002 at 06:58:18 PT:
The UK is Getting the Point
Please see: The War on Drugs is an abject failure. Drug abuse is driven by poverty. Treatment clinics and employment are the answers.
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Comment #6 posted by goneposthole on March 28, 2002 at 06:46:15 PT
governmental prejudice and hostile neglect
translates to fraud and treason.fraud: 1.a: DECEIT, TRICKERY: specifically: intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right b: an act of deceiving or misrepresenting: TRICK2. A: a person who is not what he or she pretends to be: IMPOSTOR; also: one who defrauds: CHEAT b: one that is not what it seems or is represented to besynonym see DECEPTION, IMPOSTUREThe Meriam-Webster online dictionaryLooks like treason, too. 
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Comment #5 posted by Ethan Russo MD on March 28, 2002 at 06:02:28 PT:
Another Way
Under programs available today in Switzerland and Holland, this story could have turned out another way:The UK legalizes heroin in an institutional setting (as it was in the past before US intervention). Young Mr. Gillespie has no need to find a fix on the street, but rather goes to a clean clinic with supportive, non-judgmental people to inject his heroin. With each fix, he is offered counselling and support, including vocational opportunities. In a few months he decides to switch to oral methadone, and begins an extremely slow tapering from the drug. He starts using the gym facilities at the clinic, and meets a fellow struggling addict who offers him a job. He finds that he likes being self-sufficient, and chooses himself to adopt a more "conventional" lifestyle. Within a year, young Mr. Gillespie is employed, paying the rent on a flat himself, and is off of all opiates. He still smokes cigarettes, but figures he can beat that, too, given enough time, and the application of a will-power he never though he possessed. He still goes to the clinic, but as a volunteer, to show others that it can be done, indeed. He considers himself extremely lucky to have survived, and to have done so without contracting AIDS or Hepatitis C along the way, ravages of the illegal drug trade.Failure of our governments to adopt such an approach will be judged harshly in the light of history. The wasted lives, and resultant crime of drug abuse are by-products of governmental prejudice and hostile neglect.
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Comment #4 posted by Jose Melendez on March 28, 2002 at 04:59:33 PT:
Sen. George McGovern lost a daughter...
from: this advice from former Sen. George McGovern, who lost a daughter to alcoholism and knows firsthand the ravages of abusive behavior. Writing in The New York Times, McGovern cautioned, "Our choices may be foolish or self-destructive, but we cannot micromanage each other's lives. When we no longer allow those choices, civility and common sense will be diminished." - technology with substsance
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Comment #3 posted by Dan B on March 28, 2002 at 04:02:29 PT:
To echo el toonces, powerful stuff
How desperately sad it has to be to witness the slow death of aloved one, knowing full well that society could stop it if it would simply stop looking the other way. This stark story of fatal community injustice should penetrate the thick skulls of prohibitionists everywhere. Sadly, prohibitionists think they can control the situation by controlling people. The sad irony of totalitarianism is that people's behavior cannot be effectively controlled. That is why totalitarians invariable resort to genocide. It is the natural result of a campaign against human behavior. If you can't beat 'em, kill 'em--that is the heart of our world's drug policies (save for a few pockets of lucidity, such as can be found in Holland and Switzerland). With enough stories like this one, perhaps we can change that. Thank you, Fulton Gillespie.Dan B
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Comment #2 posted by goneposthole on March 27, 2002 at 21:05:04 PT
Fulton's words
He states it all matter of factly. Makes very good sense. His words could carry a lot of weight.However, these days, if it makes sense, it is not going to happen.How much war is enough? morewarmorewarmorewarmorewarmorewarmorwellian
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Comment #1 posted by el_toonces on March 27, 2002 at 21:02:38 PT:
Powerful Stuff....
But this poor father is right. I sometimes analogize society's delusion of being "drug free" despite the obvious fact humans, like most animals, have and use a drive to alter consciousness (as do cats with their catnip), and the intensity of it can vary from one individual to another. To deny this drive on a cultural level is like the Catholic Church's (I write this as a lifelong Catholic) implicit denial of the human sex drive in requiring priests to be celibate. I think we all know or are discovering what that kind of denial leads to: abuse. With sex and the Church's disease, it's physical and mental abuse that results. With our culture and substances, it should be no shock the resultant abuse involves the relationships -- good or bad -- people have with the substances they might use to alter their consciousness, however slightly and whether by Ritalin in school, coffee in the morning as an adult, alcohol in any significant quantity, thrill seeking behavior and the unreality of things like sky diving and scuba diving, or even, the Church!The sad fact is the reason we persist is that the newly discovered disease amaurosis voluntarans (eponymically known as "Russonian blindness") causes real fatalities and can be beat back just like polio has.It's hard to see truth through pain, and the fact that Mr. Gillespie can do so earns my respect and honor. He has had my compassion from the moment I read the first paragraph.Thanks for this one, FoM.El
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