The Drugs debate

We continue the discussion about the heroin crisis, this time with two readers' letters. Your views are welcome.

Dear WSM,

I read with interest the article on drugs in your last issue and agreed with it's overall thrust.

It should be noted, however, that the call for decriminalisation is not the unthinkable alternative it once was. It has been aired in 'The Economist' and other bosses' journals for several years now in response to the failure of tougher policing to deal with the problem.

But your proposal for the "legalising of heroin on prescription" falls short of an adequate response. All drugs should be legalised and sold under a State monopoly. Private companies would happily push (*every pun intended we presume ..editorial committee) the most addictive and expensive drugs in order to boost profit; they would find a way to cut drugs and sell inferior product.

While the legalisation of drugs would undermine the criminal syndicates, it is necessary to ensure that the corporate gangsters of the multi-national pharmaceutical companies don't replace the street gangsters. That is why a legalised drug industry should be nationalised and socialists should lead the demands for control by workers of drug production, sale and distribution.

On a separate note, I welcome the expulsion of pushers from communities when this is brought about by the self-activity of locals. The only ones who have a problem with this are the bleeding heart liberals who don't actually live in the working class community destroyed by drugs.

Like you I agree that expelling pushers is not a sufficient solution. Pushers will always find ways of dealing and alienated youth with no prospects will continually turn to drugs.

The problem can only be addressed concretely by the fight for community drug treatment programmes, administered by properly funded clinics run by the local communities themselves. In this way they could monitor the supply and quality, distribute clean syringes, etc.

We should recognise that the search for stimulation from drugs is as old as civilisation itself. Humans have always sought to "get off their heads". It's not drugs that are the problem per se. It's not drugs that kill you or bring crime to your community. It's contaminated product, high prices and uncontrolled use that need to be tackled instead.

Bernadette Barrington,

Dublin 12.

P.S. Is there a contradiction between your current position on decriminalisation and the following extract from Workers Solidarity of Summer 1994?

"We are not going to call for the decriminalisation of heroin dealing any more than other anti-social crimes like arson or rape"

Note from the Editorial Committee

The article in WS no.49 discussed above was a personal opinion piece, and does not necessarily represent the views of the Workers Solidarity Movement. An article discussing the question of legalisation of drugs in greater detail will appear in the next issue of this paper.

Dear comrades,

Patricia McCarthy, in Workers Solidarity no.50, wrote of communities organising themselves in the battle against heroin addiction and all the crime that follows in its wake. Their achievements have been impressive: local groups setting up their own treatment programmes, and showing the pushers that they aren't wanted. It's well summed up in the slogan that flies on banners from many inner city flat complexes: "Addicts We Care - Pushers Beware".

However there are very real limits to what more can be gained. The Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign and the Inner City Organisations Network place a lot of emphasis on lobbying the government for more facilities, while the Coalition of Communities against Drugs (COCAD) puts more emphasis on removing pushers from localities.

The fact is that heroin addiction mainly effects people in areas with a lot of poverty and unemployment. There are not a lot of junkies in Dalkey or Castleknock. There are a lot in the inner city and some of the western suburbs. This is no accident.

People who don't believe they have much of a future, who can't see themselves being able to get a well paid job and a nice house, are those most vulnerable to a drug that offers instant bliss. Because capitalism is a system based on inequality, this problem will remain until we rise up and change the society we live in. But that is not to say that nothing can be done right now.

A militant fight by anti-heroin and community groups for well-paid jobs to be located in the most depressed areas would go some way towards lifting that depression and undermining the demand for drugs that are dangerous both to the user and the rest of the community.

Otherwise the options may become no more than marching people around to either (a) show the government agencies that the organisers represent something and should be 'consulted' about the problem; or (b) that there is support for a relatively small number of people 'sorting out' junkies and other anti-social types. Neither offers an answer, because neither tackles the root cause of the problem.

And to those who doubt that such a strategy could mobilise people, let them look to the houses in the north inner city. When the tenements were pulled down in the 1970s the Corporation wanted to send most locals off to the new estates in the foothills of the mountains. Most didn't want to go. A campaign of protests and disruption forced the Corpo to provide a lot more houses in the area.

Could we not force the IDA or semi-state firms to locate work in the areas most devastated by heroin if we had a strategy of road blockades, occupations of government offices, etc? It wouldn't solve the problem but it would be a start, and it would be an assertion that people in the inner city need dignity and financial security just as much as anyone else.

Alan MacSimóin,

Dublin 3.