For some time now successive governments, with the aid of the mainstream media, have been painting a picture of an Australia ravaged by a violent and destructive addiction to methamphetamine, or Ice.
By Meredith Jacka, Socialist Party
To back up claims of Ice use reaching pandemic levels, Tony Abbott has been making reference to statistics gathered by the Australian Crime Commission. These statistics show that Ice related arrests are increasing significantly, and according to figures released in May last year, a surge in the use of Ice had caused an increase of almost 20% in the level of drug related crimes in the previous year.
However what these statistics represent is not necessarily an increase in the use of the drug, but rather a change in the methods used by the police. Where police used to focus on arresting dealers and busting clandestine drug labs, they are now focusing on arresting users. Dealers now only represent one in four arrests.
In contrast to the story told by the Australian Crime Commission, research papers by public health experts suggest that only about 2% of the population have tried Ice in the last 12 months. Only 4.2% have tried Ice at some stage. In 1995, according to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey Report, 2.2% had tried Ice at some stage. This 2% increase over 20 years hardly represents a problem of pandemic proportions.
Of course, any substance use that is harmful to users, their loved ones and the community needs to be treated and understood. There is no doubt that many, particularly regional, communities are feeling the impacts of drug abuse. However it is important to maintain perspective and to look for the real causes of the problem.
The last time Australia had a drug problem of a similar scale was with heroin during the 1990s. Then, as now, young people were faced with a declining economy, a bleak future with poor job prospects, savage cuts to public services and few affordable recreational opportunities. It’s hardly surprising that in hard times some people, in an attempt to minimise the drudgery of their lives, turned to drugs such as heroin.
In the 1990s the government responded in a similar way to today with scare campaigns that demonised young working class drug users. At the same time they conveniently ignored the drug use of the wealthy.
These types of scare campaigns are used to justify massive increases in funding to repressive government bodies such as the Australian Federal Police. With the extra funding comes increased police powers, which inevitably get used against broader layers of young working class people.
On top of this, demonising a section of the working class shifts the blame from for the various problems in society away from where it ought to lie – with the profit driven capitalist system and those who run it.
Capitalism, a system that prioritises big business profits, will never be able to create enough jobs or allow the level of investment into healthcare and education which is needed to effectively address the issue of substance abuse.
Only a society organised along socialist lines, where ordinary people have democratic control over how wealth and resources are used, would be capable of meeting people’s needs in terms of jobs, homes and services.
Within a system that shared society’s wealth more equally substance abuse would become far less of a problem. When people are able to genuinely take control of their destinies, and have a bright future, free from exploitation and alienation, then there would be very little need for people to self medicate.