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We will never make a dent in this war. But that doesnít mean we should stop caring for its casualties, says someone who works at the front line of "the drug war" in response to Andrew L. Urbanís ESSAY, which was prompted by the subject of Steve Soderberghís exception new film, Traffic, starring Michael Douglas, Benicio del Toro - among a team of others. "The hierarchy of which drugs are considered evil is the problem rather than the drug use/abuse itself, " says our correspondent, who wishes to remain anonymous, due to the political sensitivity of the issue and his professional status.

What do I think of Andrewís proposal?

"As a character in Trainspotting observes, after vomiting from a heroin injection, drugs do make you feel great; similarly, 16 year old Caroline Wakefield in Traffic, takes drugs because she enjoys the experience, even though it comes at a high price. So why arenít we making safer drugs and selling them under controls like alcohol, to replace the illegal ones sold by criminals, asks Andrew L. Urban."

Perhaps you should ask the Chinese who were caught up in the Opium wars.

Perhaps you should ask the policy makers when they last chatted with a "reformed" addict.

Perhaps you should ask a homeless person who lives for the next bottle of MacWilliams sherry.

Perhaps you should ask a straight-A, middle class, private school educated teenager why she sucks down bongs like thereís no tomorrow and why she occasionally snorts coke. If given the chance, she might respond with something akin to "middle-class guilt." If only she could articulate this to her parents and talk about it at school without derision from her peers.

Perhaps you should ask the electorate who, ignorant of the issues involved, stymie the progress towards a "solution."

Perhaps you should ask the 70-80 percent of heroin users why it is that they have not gone on to become addicted to the substance, but use it only on the weekends.

There is no solution to "The Drug Problem." There never will be. Drug use occurs as a continuum in ALL societies. It would be a sweeping generalisation to state that ALL people experiment in drug use and abuse, just as it is a ridiculous statement to suggest that people with addictive personalities are the only ones affected by the drug "problem" and the only ones who do become "addicted."

Selling drugs under "controlled" conditions is a noble aim, but it guarantees success (to reduce harm) as convincingly as Nancy Reaganís (in)famous quip, "Just Say NO." Doctor shoppers seem to do quite well in their hunt for benzodiazepines, and this group of drugs is (perhaps) the most difficult to come off. Fatal, in fact, if not done under the right conditions.

Your proposal is indeed noble, and I support your aims to create discourse. I donít know how well such a proposal will go down at the 2nd International Conference on Drugs and Young People, though. Perhaps you could hang out in the Foyer of Melbourneís Conference Centre on the 4th, 5th and 6th of April and see how well you go. Iím going, might see you there. Iím sure "Traffic" will be given the air time it deserves.

But really, you should stick to your discipline. You review film quite well. People use drugs for too many reasons, way beyond the simplistic "just to feel good" suggestion you make in your spiel, and it is for this reason that I have to disagree with your proposal as strongly as I disagree with your appraisal of the film, Traffic.

I am pleased, however, that you support your review with the goals, intentions and explanations of the writer and producers. Indeed, Traffic is a wake up call for those who do not understand the breadth of the problem. As a health care professional working in Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation, I am too aware of the issues involved for the film to have had any impact, and am pleased to be pissed off by it, if this was the producerís aim(?)

"There is an enormous demand for drugs in this society, and until we deal with that demand and why it exists and the psychological issues and issues of rehabilitation, we are never going to make a dent in this war."

Sorry, NOT "spot on, Marshall!"

He, too, should stick to his discipline. His "art" has created discourse, sure. But just as the film suggests of policy makerís hot air, so too is this film.

"As Traffic so clearly and so effectively shows, people take drugs because they like the effect."

WRONG!!! Way too simplistic. People take drugs for as many reasons as there are fairies dancing on the head of a pin.

We will never make a dent in this war. But that doesnít mean we should stop caring for its casualties. My only praise for the film is that it attempts to make a valid point. I am saddened, though, that the platitudes and accolades I just know in my bones I will hear about (the upcoming Academy Award Ceremony) will frustrate me as I again see yet another young life complicated by the complexity of the issues involved, and the white bread masses watch, nod, go "mmm" and the cost of Naltrexone remains almost as prohibitively expensive (to ex-opiate users) as the heroin that originally caused its requirement, but subsidised to alcoholics. The hierarchy of which drugs are considered evil is the problem rather than the drug use/abuse itself.

Your proposal is naÔve, but well intentioned. I am repeating myself, here. Stick to your discipline, or run your proposal by someone who works at the frontline before publication.
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Published March 29, 2001

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