Schools could be key to drug fight

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 June, 2011, 12:00am


It would be good to report after the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking yesterday that the war against illegal drugs is being won. That is what governments, including ours, would like to have heard from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, an international panel of eminent former policymakers. Instead, a landmark report from the commission declares the war a devastating failure that cannot be reversed by a continuation of decades-old policies of prohibition, and recommends a policy of prevention, with the legalisation of some drugs and decriminalisation of some drug users.

No matter how well argued and worthy of debate, these are not the kind of views governments want to hear or are willing to advocate. They are therefore unlikely to influence people holding political office. For example, White House drug adviser Richard Gil Kerlikowske said in rejecting the report that 'making drugs more available will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe'. Apart from ignoring the availability of drugs now, this effectively repudiates the views of former US secretary of state George Schultz and former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Paul Volcker - both members of the commission. So much for the commission's appeal to present-day political leaders and public figures to 'have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately'.

Officials of our government cite a fall in reported drug cases last year as evidence of success in the war against drugs. It is not clear why, when the trend has fluctuated over the past 25 years. Experts say the recent low is part of a normal cycle and worry that first-time users of soft drugs are getting younger and include more girls. The government has stepped up funding of anti-drug programmes, treatment and rehabilitation. Some of it is being spent on random voluntary testing in schools, a problematic and potentially divisive initiative. Nonetheless, the seeds of a deep-rooted anti-drug culture may lie in schools through a partnership between parents, schools and children that reinforces family values and fosters communication and trust.