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Howard's End: Drug Hysteria Misguided

The illicit drugs trade is conservatively estimated to bring in around $700 billion in profits to the global criminal fraternity each year with many of our young adults falling victim to drugs and alcohol. But I lived through the turbulent 60's and we grew out of it, so let's not reinvent the wheel by harshly judging our kids. John Howard writes.

Sex, drugs and rock & roll were all part of the turbulent 60's generation that I lived through with our lives deeply affected by the Cuban Missile Crisis, the daily possibility of nuclear annihilation and the Vietnam War. And want human being with any humanity in their bones, could not be affected for life by that 60's image of the young Vietnamese girl running down a road nude, screaming, after being bombed and burnt with napalm.

Our youth are also concerned about our world and, like we of the 60's generation, they are angry and they will rebel. They worry about the environment, war, racism, hypocrisy, injustice, jobs, their future. It seems to me that only the names of the problems have changed.

Today's young generation are no different to my generation who, when we rebelled, were also alienated by "the system." I still feel "the system" failed us and I am convinced, despite all the political rhetoric today, "the system" is failing our youth. Like the 60's and 70's, the adults seem to know best and everyone talked, but nobody really listened.

We had inquiries, task forces, commissions and meetings all to do with the problems of the day, but nothing was really solved.

I mean let's get serious. If the politicians really wanted to break the narcotics rings then they would introduce laws which prevented the banks from laundering $7 billion the Australian Federal Police say Australian banks laundered in 1997.

If authorities were serious they'd look at people laundering drug money through front men in stock brokerage houses around the world.

They'd look at Swiss banks where their federal prosecutor says more than $40 billion of Russian drug money is lodged. They'd look at the banking systems of Liechtenstein, Luxemborg, Cyprus, Great Britain, the US, Germany, Spain, and all manner of tax-free havens and offshore islands.

Yet, for more than 40 years, the drug problem has been blamed on unprincipled traffickers whose only motivation is greed, and on the users - errant youth - who provide the vast profits to criminal cartels.

Yes, and they'd look at US judges who didn't get it after the FDA presented proof that the tobacco industry manipulated nicotine to hook smokers and targeted minors to take up the habit.

The judges wondered why the FDA should regulate tobacco by prohibiting marketing deliberately manipulated nicotine to teenagers. They wouldn't allow regulation and neither has the US Congress done it.

Naturally, adults of today worry about the effects of drugs and alcohol on our young people and we try to instruct them about the dangerous and addictive properties. We do it because we see negative consequences and we try to alert our children to the dangers and prevent them from hurting themselves.

In the case of illicit drugs, our goal has not been about moderation but to eliminate all use of illicit drugs such as marijuana. That has been a failed policy since the 60's and it would not be over the top to say that most high school students nationwide have already used an illicit drug. Total elimination policies haven't worked.

At the same time, few students have become the typical dope fiend and have not become compulsive users. Most seem to avoid addiction and, if true, it's the same pattern of the 60's.

At that time studies over use of amphetamines revealed that while most young people enjoyed the sensations of the drug, they actually took less of the drug over time. The studies revealed that drugs eventually interfered with outside activities the users preferred over the sensations the drug offered. In other words, they grew out of it.

For the 1960's youth, peer group pressure was certainly evident, there was alienation by parents and society, there was rejection, truancy, lack of understanding and anti-social aggressiveness. But none of these indicators were the consequences of alcohol or drug abuse. Abuse was a result, but by far the vast majority ceased abusing drugs and alcohol by around our mid twenties.

To put it in a positive context, as we matured we found we had the ability to achieve more meaningful rewards than those offered by drugs and overdrinking, rewards so superior that they came to dominate our adult outlook from approximately the mid-twenties onwards. In the long-term, no indicator is better for the cessation of substance abuse that the assumption of adult roles, responsibilities and self-images. I found that changed life circumstances rather than clinical intervention was most important to abstinence. Things like improved working and housing conditions and getting away from abusive parents.

I think we make a mistake if we tell our kids that they will relapse into a chronic substance abuser if they ever use a drug or drink again. We were frequently lectured in that manner with little effect. The last thing we want to do is tell our young people they are alcohol or chemically dependent is such a way as to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Massic sums spent on interdiction of drugs supply lines and on military and police campaigns have not reduced the number of substance abusers. Nor has a network of drug lecturers, programs, and media campaigns designed to get young people to avoid drugs produced any notable successes.

I think the real solution lies in having programmes which minimise harm to our young people as they grow into adulthood. We found some solutions in the 60's which are just as relevant today, but seem to have been forgotten them.

That our young people do not seem to have enough of an investment in life to reject opportunities for possible addiction remains a strong commentary on our society.

Recently I asked some secondary school students to list their worst fears and greatest aspirations. The leading fear was dying from a nuclear war. Welcome to the 60's - the more things change the more they remain the same. But change we must.

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