An outlook on drug addiction and how we can solve the growing problem
My name is Simeon and everything written below is my own personal research, ideas, and opinions. This is a topic that I was introduced to on my Year 10 City Mission camp where we visited places that were dealing with homelessness and drug addiction in their own individual way. At the end of my experience I saw a clear difference in ideas when it came to the matter of how to deal with the drug addiction problem which is affecting many people, specifically those who are homeless. Below I will talk through both sides of the argument adding my own opinions throughout the way. My opinions on the topic are always changing and I still today don’t know exactly what I think but hopefully in the future I will be able to understand more.
Living in the bubble of the Hills District I am often guilty of being blind to the things that are going on in Sydney, let alone Australia. There are radical ideas and thoughts that you just don’t come across in the Hills District but these are ideas that could help to change the future. When it comes to the problem of drugs we leave that up to the police and let them deal with it however they want to. Although I’m sure there are drug activities taking place in the Hills District it is more unknown compared to places in the city. Victoria’s former police chief said in the news last month that “the war on drugs is over”. What does that mean to us? Nothing, we just keep moving on with our lives because it doesn’t affect us. We don’t see drug related violence or activity on the streets of Kellyville or Castle Hill so why should we care? Going into the city I had this exact same point of view, why should I care? Students are taught from primary school that drugs are bad, don’t take them and stay away from them. Every year each grade even has a policemen come in a reiterate the same statement, about how bad drugs are and to never get involved with them. When I got to the city, I heard ideas and opinions that I have never heard in my life. Ideas that people in the Hills District would never have even comprehended and opinions the police couldn’t even imagine.
As part of the camp we visited a place called Wayside Chapel. It is an extraordinary building with so much history but also a building which has saved the lives of so many people. We met a man named Rob who had an incredible story, I won’t go into depth on that but I will tell you his opinions on how to move forward. Rob believes that Drugs should be legalized. Yes, you heard me right, he believes that drugs should be legalized. Now that was not only a shock to me but also everyone else who was standing there next to him. A group of students from William Clarke College in Year 10 hearing from a man that drugs should be legalized after everything you have heard about them your entire life. After hearing how bad drugs are and how much damage they can do to you and then someone who is a former drug offender telling you that they should be legalized! His reasons for them becoming legalized started to sound more convincing the more he talked. He told us how there has been proof of the legalization of drugs working in other countries. These are some of the reasons for legalizing drugs:
1. It would eliminate the criminal market place for drugs. The market for drugs is demand-led and millions of people around the world are demanding illicit drugs. Making the production, supply and use of some drugs illegal creates a vacuum into which organised crime moves. The profits of drug use are worth billions of dollars which would be decreased immensely. Legalisation forces organised crime from the drugs trade, starves them of income and enables people to regulate and control the market
2. The legalizing of drugs would massively reduce crime. The price of drugs is determined by a demand led market. Drugs are extremely expensive and what I learnt was that addicts are going to do whatever they can to get drugs, if that means robbing stores for money, or robbing people for their drugs. If drugs are legalized then the market would be able to be regulated, so that there is a lower price which removes users having to raise funds through crime. Our legal system would be freed up and our prison population would dramatically be reduced, saving millions of dollars for the government. In Holland where cannabis and other drugs are made legal, they have the lowest crime rate in Europe.
Now what I am not saying here is that drug use is fine and everyone should just try it because it is good fun and it won’t hurt you a bit. What I am saying is that this will make life for a whole lot of people much better. I challenged someone the other day with this statement saying that if drugs are legalized won’t everyone just start taking them? He replied with, “If drugs are legal, will you take drugs?”. I replied with “no” because even if drugs are legal that does not make me want to take them at all. This idea of legalizing drugs is all about harm minimisation. People are going to take drugs no matter what, even if they are on the side of the road with no money they will find a way to take drugs that day.
This leads into my next point and idea raised which is about the injection centres. Let me paint two pictures for you. First off we have a man in an alley of King Cross using an old needle he found on the footpath injecting himself. On the other hand, we have this same man in an injecting centre with clean equipment and a nurse next to him to make sure everything goes ok. One of the biggest issues with taking drugs is overdose. When you are in an alley by yourself and you overdose that is most likely a death sentence for you. When you are in an injecting centre, if you overdose the nurse is there to resuscitate you or help you if anything goes wrong. 1 million injections have taken place in the centre at Kings Cross. 15,000 of these people have overdosed and none have died. If those 15,000 people overdosed on a King’s Cross alleyway it is very likely that almost all of them would have died. These statistics seem almost too hard to believe so you would think that there would be injecting places everywhere. Well the injecting centre in Kings Cross is the only one in Sydney, Australia and the only one in the entire Southern Hemisphere. So why is this? Well the fact is that drugs are still illegal and for more of these buildings to be put in place would just seem to go against the laws that are already in place. Police currently stand around the injecting centre in Kings Cross to see if they can find people on parole or bail with drug possession. So what does this mean, it means that we go all the way back to the start and these people have to take their drugs in an alleyway.
The title of this paper is “logical or judgemental?” This is a question that has challenged me more than anything else that I have learnt. Guy Cooper, the Head of Community Management at Wayside Chapel asked me this when I was on the phone to him one afternoon after school. Before he said this I asked him a question that I’m sure the majority of students at our school or people in the Hills District would ask as they walk through the city. I asked him “If I give a homelessness person money won’t they just spend it on cigarettes or drugs? When I give someone money I want them to spend it on something which will help them move forward and buying drugs isn’t helping them break the chain of homelessness”. What he replied with completely changed my thinking. He told me that what I was asking was a very logical question, but not to the person sitting on the ground. This question is just another way of judging someone because of how they are. We learnt on camp that homelessness IS NOT a choice, but still I can guarantee that you don’t want to give that homeless person money if they have a box of cigarettes in front of them. I will admit that before the camp this is how I thought and I would have judged the person because of it. What I challenge all of you is to not judge people when you walk past them in the city or any homeless person that you see. If you ask them, their dream is not to be a drug addict living on the streets of Sydney. If they go and buy drugs with that money well that is ok, it is better than them going and robbing a store to get money to pay for the drugs. If you don’t want to give money you could try to make a difference just by having a conversation with them. Someone just walking up and saying, “How are you?” or “Have a nice day” can actually give them some inspiration and motivation to get up and start moving on with life. Words can be just as helpful as actions. When thousands of people walk past you every day and then someone comes and says “Hello, how are you?” it can completely make your day. Something so simple is so powerful.
After all of my research and everything that I have thought through, I still don’t know exactly what I believe. I believe that yes drugs should be legalized but still in the back of my mind I just don’t know what type of impact this would have on the community. I believe it is one of those things that you don’t know until you try. Unfortunately, I don’t see change in the near future, with the amount of coverage drug related issues get in the media I don’t see a change happening. What I do believe we need more of are these injecting centres. I think they should be put up all over the place and are a brilliant idea. Legalization may be a long way away but at the moment people are still taking drugs and, as the police chief said, it isn’t getting any better. Let’s keep these people safe, and not only that, I believe that these people should be kept in the centre for a certain period of time so that the initial effects of the drug takes place in a controlled environment. This will hopefully, then, provide a safer community and still allow people to take the drugs if they need to.
In this paper I have written a lot about drugs and taking them, but I would like to finish by saying that in no way do I encourage the use of illicit substances. They do horrible things for your body and are something to stay away from. What I do believe in, though, is harm minimisation.
Finally, it costs $137,000 a year to put someone in prison. It costs $30,000 to put that same person in a rehab centre. Let’s stop coming up with plans to build new prisons because the prisons are full but let’s build rehab centres where the goal is the welfare and rehabilitation of the client. All the places that I have visited have their own way of dealing with patients. If we can mix Wesley lodge’s freedom, Wayside Chapels activities and William Booth’s rehab programs we could create a centre which could transform the lives of so many people. Myself and my generation are the ones that can start this change. We have only seen a little piece of this issue but if we all come together we can make changes that will significantly improve the quality of life for so many people.
All that I can say is be non-judgemental to people because it is not their choice to take drugs and live on the street but be kind, gracious and generous. If you were living on the street I think you would appreciate that.