11 September 2003 Edition
Alcohol - time for a complete rethink
I write in relation to Ireland's alcohol problem. It seems that Republicans are good at applying our analysis to the peripheral issues surrounding alcohol, without looking at the central issue.
Alcohol is the most available drug in Irish society and, along with tobacco, causes serious harm to society, through anti-social behaviour, violence and illness. Alcohol is an addictive depressant, while nicotine (the most addictive of several addictive substances in cigarettes) is more addictive than heroin, according to England's Department of Health.
A successful drugs policy must take on board the actual characteristics of separate drugs, which Ireland's drug policy currently does not do. It is long past time for a complete rethink, and for this we should look abroad, in particular to the Netherlands, and their `harm reduction' model, which treats all drug addiction as a medical and social issue, rather than a policing issue. As a result of their progressive policies, cannabis is available in the Netherlands, thereby taking the market out of the hands of criminals (the illegal drug trade is worth $400 billion a year, 8% of world trade).
The World Health Organisation stated that "cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies''. The largest long-term study ever undertaken, of over 65,000 cannabis users in California, found that long-term cannabis use had no effect on life expectancy or rates of illness, while alcohol and tobacco do. However, despite the fact that cannabis is a safe drug, our policy is mired in misinformation and hysteria.
The Dutch policy of supplying heroin to heroin addicts has eradicated the market for heroin in that country, and the average age of heroin addicts is 40, and rising by 11 months each year. By contrast, in Ireland it is 20 and more are becoming addicted each year, while our government persists with the idiocy of methadone treatment. If we are proposing to look at Ireland's dependence on alcohol, we must consider the issue of drug dependency in its entirety.
Brendan Hogan, Dublin.