Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bob McCoskrie & The Burning Bush Of Fact-Free Portuguese Hypomania

I really don't like Bob McCoskrie.

I'm not sure why, exactly ... it might be his followers; it may be my distaste for what he stands for ... or it could just be the way he simply starts outright lying to try and sway people once he runs out of facts.

I mean, seriously. McCoskrie's organization - Family First - *actually found itself de-registered as a charity* in no small part because McCoskrie lies and spins through his teeth. This is set out in the Charities Commission report on Family First's de-registration, which specifically sets out the Commission's belief that what the Trust does "[does not] advance an educational position and [does] constitute propaganda". [I have literally no idea why Bob McCoskrie has handily published the Charities Commission report on his own website, considering the official declarations it contains about his modus operandi ... but I guess there's genuinely no explaining the erratic conduct of  right-wing evangelical types sometimes.]

So you could say I was a bit hazy when I read McCoskrie's latest offering ... a blog piece setting out his apparent belief that, flying flat in the face of just about every other article out on the subject, Portugal's bold move of decriminalizing drugs has actually lead to a massive *increase* in teenage (and under-13) drug use.

Oh, and quelle surprise ... there's a Daily Mail piece involved which appears to be where he sourced all his stats from.

What's apparently happened here, for those of you playing at home, is the UK's Liberal Democrat party have commissioned a government report in the UK that says things like "It is clear that there has not been a lasting and significant increase in drug use in Portugal since 2001", "One of the clearest changes in Portugal since 2001 has been a considerable improvement in the indicators of health outcomes for drug users" ... and, of course, "Conversely, the evaluation of the criminalization of drug possession in the Czech Republic observed that adverse health outcomes for users increased following criminalization".

Or, translated: Portugal pursues what's known as a harm-reduction policy with its drug laws that didn't simply declare open slather by decriminalizing everything ... but rather sought to shift the way its state dealt with drug and addiction issues from being a criminal matter to a healthcare one.

Nobody whatsoever should be surprised that the health outcomes for those on drugs (and according to a swathe of other evidence, it's a shrinking proportion of the Portuguese population who are) have improved as a direct and attributable result of making help more available - and, importantly, removing the fear that you'll literally be treated like a criminal if you seek assistance.

This is why I rather like harm-minimization approaches to everything from drug-use to gambling to prostitution. Because it's intelligent policy-making that *recognizes* we aren't going to be able to stamp out drugs or vice; yet which also realizes that the most important function of state is to improve the lives of its people ... and you don't do that by pretending you can make an entire class of people with issues basically just eventually disappear. [which is, effectively, how a McCoskrie-ite prohibitionist argument works - crack down hard enough and eventually your drug problem ceases to perpetuate slash exist]

However, it's also really, vitally important to review the evidence when it comes to policy-making - particularly when we're dealing with an area as fraught and vitally important as child and teenage health.

What McCoskrie's jumping up and down about are figures from the Mail piece that purport to show an increase in the number of Portuguese teens trying cannabis - and, in consequence, a greater number of Portuguese teens trying drugs all up.

However, it's also interesting to note evidence from the US state of Colorado (which put New Zealand First cannabis policy into practice by holding a #Reeferendum on this issue and letting the people decide) which saw a two percent *reduction* in the number of teens reporting they'd smoked weed in the previous month compared to the situation pre-legalization in 2011.

In concert with other figures showing reductions in the prevalence of drug-use among younger Portuguese teens from 14.1% to 10.6% and a reduction in the use of a harder drugs like heroin from 2.5% to 1.8% amidst older teens in the initial half-decade since decriminalization ... it becomes clear that there's more to the story than the McCoskrie-ite morality play of "start treating drug addicts like human beings and ... y'know ... treating them - then watch your society as your society descends into an epidemic of teen drug use".

An article on the Portuguese reform published in the British Journal of Criminology suggests that any increases in reported drug use which accompany decriminalization or legalization may simply be just that - increases in /reported/ drug use without any actual increase in drug use, due to a reduction in stigma leading to a larger number of users being prepared to be open about their use or actually ask for help.

The same article also suggests that at the time of publishing, drug use (including cannabis) among Portuguese teens had, if anything, been on the *decrease* since 2003; following a brief, initial spike. More interestingly, the decreases in non-cannabis drug use were more pronounced in Portugal than they were in the aggregate European Union. Alongside this, specific and marked reductions in "problematic drug use" and intravenous drug use have also occurred in the same period; leading to the British Journal of Criminology article's authors concluding that Portugal's approach to drug legislation really *has* lead to reductions in harmful and adolescent drug use. It even appears to be positively correlated with greater future employment prospects for former users and dependents (i.e. greater capacity to put-lives-back-together).

Who'd have thought that offering to *help* problematic drug users rather than *harm* them through ongoing criminalization would actually help problematic drug users.

So really, I guess the question for guys like Mr McCoskrie is asking them what's *actually* better for teenagers with a drug problem. Shoving the issue to the fringes of our society and criminalizing their conduct in the hopes that hiding and penalizing the issue will eventually solve it?

Or actually looking at the evidence, coming to some sane conclusions, and deciding "maybe we should help these people" through treating problematic drug users as people with health issues rather than auto-crims.

I know which one's been proven to deliver fewer teens on drugs!

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