Turns out the wee dram isn’t the only poison for which Scotland is justly famous. The country is also way ahead of England in the number of drug-related deaths.
And not just England: no other European country comes remotely close to Scotland in that rubric either. No doubt they are all eager to welcome the Scots into the sanctum of the EU.
Not that England and Wales are too shabby in that department. Last week’s figures show over 4,500 such deaths in the past year. That isn’t quite Covid levels, but still sizeable, relative to most other European countries.
The findings instantly gave rise to the lapidary British cry of “What are we going to do about it?”. Well, considering that even the almost total closing of national borders during the pandemic did little to stem the influx of drugs, there’s precious little we can do.
After all, a good chunk of the prison population regularly test positive for various controlled substances. This shows that demand will find supply even in extreme unfreedom. Therefore even replicating prison conditions throughout the country won’t solve the problem, though I wouldn’t put it past our government to try.
Such pragmatic considerations have led to vociferous demands for partial or total decriminalisation, which would at least destroy the criminal infrastructure propping up drug sales. Before I explain why I’m opposed to such permissiveness, I have to admit that rational arguments in its favour are sound.
In fact, the only rational argument against that I can think of is that the consequences of decriminalisation are unpredictable. Those in favour argue that, if anything, the consumption would be likely to go down, but no one knows. It may also shoot up, creating a social problem from hell. But such conjecture doesn’t amount to an irrefutable rational argument.
After all, we don’t ban alcohol, which is responsible for more deaths than drugs and is more addictive than most of them. Cold turkey can peck an alcoholic to death, whereas coming off even opiates is comparatively easier – regardless of the nightmare stories one hears from addicts who simply don’t want to quit.
I once spent a month on an intravenous drip of diamorphine, medicalised heroin. On release from hospital, I was given a good supply of Oxycontin, a milder opiate currently enjoying much street cred. When after a fortnight or so I decided I no longer needed such powerful painkillers, I stopped taking Oxy – only to find that I had developed an iatrogenic addiction.
Since I had written about drug addiction before, I recognised the withdrawal symptoms, similar to those of a bad cold, for what they were. I immediately went back on Oxy and then gradually titrated the dose down to nothing. There went my addiction.
Having observed alcoholics trying to quit, I know their anguish is real. They experience unbearable pain, especially if their liver is already calcified. And yet booze can be freely scored at any street corner, in any volume – this though alcohol is physiologically, and not just psychologically, addictive.
Milder drugs like marijuana aren’t physiologically addictive at all. That’s why people talk about a habit, rather than addiction. Users may develop an habitual dependence on marijuana, but this is a psychological problem, not a medical one.
Heavy use over time may lead to brain damage, which I observed years ago, when a good friend, who smoked spliffs the way I used to smoke cigarettes, was inexorably slowing down day to day. However, there’s no evidence that moderate use of soft drugs is especially harmful – even if much evidence exists that immoderate use of anything, including tap water, may kill you.
Since few of us are Mormons, we don’t mind starting a day with strong coffee and ending it with a strong drink, both artificial stimulants. Hence even a moral case against drugs isn’t exactly open and shut. In fact, those who make it may be accused of hypocrisy.
That’s why my objections to decriminalisation are neither moral nor medical. They are cultural and aesthetic.
The Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920 criminalised opium and cocaine possession. Until then, no stigma was attached to such drugs, as any reader of Sherlock Holmes stories will confirm. The great detective smoked opium like a chimney and snorted cocaine like a suction pump, and yet even the straitlaced Dr Watson raised no objections to his hero’s way of winding down.
Yet in the intervening century things have changed. For it’s not only a criminal infrastructure but also an ugly sub-culture that has grown around narcotic substances, especially since the ‘60s, with their cretinous slogan of “Turn on, tune in, drop out”.
Though, aside from my iatrogenic experience, I’ve never used any drugs, I’ve observed others do so on many occasions. Such exposure was hard to avoid in the advertising industry. Once, looking at a white cloud hanging at the ceiling of the men’s loo at my agency, I even suggested that the urinals be taken out: no one was using them anyway.
At after-work parties, cocaine was used ubiquitously, with a certain ritual meticulously observed. Even though I’d be the only non-user, others would wink at one another conspiratorially and withdraw to the bathroom, where the requisite paraphernalia had been prepared on the marble top: razor blades to cut lines, plastic straws to inhale them and so forth.
I’d be left alone in the room, drinking my whisky and thinking that it wasn’t so much the drugs I disliked as the ritual. And the friend I mentioned earlier would invite me to parties where he and other budding lawyers would sit on the floor in a circle, though chairs were in ample supply.
They would then pass single joints around, even though there was plenty of stuff for each to roll his own. The budding lawyers dutifully followed the “turn on” and “tune in” commandments, but they weren’t going to drop out: there was a lot of money to be made practising law.
Show business, modelling and particularly pop ‘music’ are all sub-cultural aspects of the drug trade.
Pop especially, while devoid of any musical content, heavily depends on pharmacology for both its inspiration and appeal. That deafening, incoherent, vaguely satanic din can be neither produced nor appreciated in the absence of things like blow, poppers, horse or E, to give those drugs their cult names.
Drugs and the derivative sub-culture come as a package. Hence decriminalising the former is tantamount to countenancing the latter, which would be administering a coup de grâce to our already moribund civilisation.
So a message to the Scots: if you have to kill yourself slowly, drink copious amounts of whisky, your great creation, and go to the accompaniment of music composed by James MacMillan, your great compatriot. It’s better than overdosing while listening to the musical equivalent of sewage.