Monday, June 16, 2008

No need for moral panic over drugs

I have pointed out repeatedly that drug use in Australia is under control. Cigarette, heroin, amphetamine and cannabis consumption are declining and alcohol consumption is roughly stable. It is the reason I don’t support moves to reform drug laws on the grounds that current laws have failed – they have not failed at all.

An article in today’s Age makes the same points about alcohol.
Alcohol consumption has costs and benefits – to an economist this suggests trying to get the balance right in consumption and to persuade consumers not to drink in risky situations – such as prior to driving a car.

Proposals to redefine ‘binge drinking’ (meaning socially excessive drinking) to mean the consumption of half a bottle of wine (3 standard drinks) do not seem wise. All activities involve some level of risk but this risk must be balanced against benefits. Telling people who are not driving that they should not enjoy a half bottle of wine is destroying too much enjoyment and not addressing dangerously high levels of drinking and situations of drinking before driving or operating machinery.

The moral panic that is developing needs to subside a bit and the very real problems of drinking that do exist should continue to be addressed. As usage of dangerous illicit and licit drugs decreases then efforts to further reduce harm will need to become more focused – targeting indigenous Australians makes much sense – but this does not mean further coercion across the whole community.

5 comments:

conrad said...

I don't where they are getting their stats from, but if its the ABS site then they'll find binge drinking has gone up a fair bit in the past decade.

Also, if you think that current policy is responsible for the decline in drug usage, then I'm also going to assume that you'll will accept that it is responsible when it goes up again in the next few years even if the economy flattens out.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

Having Tony Abbott complaining about moral panic is breathtaking.

derrida derider said...

"All activities involve some level of risk but this risk must be balanced against benefits. Telling people that they should not enjoy a joint is destroying too much enjoyment and not addressing dangerously high levels of drinking ..."

hc said...

As you are the pop music industry's ambassador to the Pope FXH I cannot see why you don't approve of Abbott. Indeed as an anti-Christian this type of view should come from me.

I have always like Abbott's sensible conservatism and his willingness to argue consequences of his religious views from first principles.

It is intesting to me that in supposedly liberal (small l) circles the main argument against Abbott is his Catholicism. This never worried me (or John Howard) and I thought his policy stance - which he was always prepared to back up with arguments not based on religion - made sense.

I thought he was the best choice for leader of the Coalition in termws of intellect even if not in terms of electoral appeal.

His arguments on alcohol make a good deal of sense. Don't they?

Edward said...

Harry,

Another issue would seem to be context.
Drinking 4 standard drinks late on a Saturday night in a city night spot is more dangerous than drinking 4 standard drinks in the confines of your own home, but rather than acknowledge this context, it would appear the risk associated has been ascribed to everyone who drinks 4 standard drinks.

Context is important, because if you are out on the town, drinking late at night, you are more likely to come to physical harm / misadventure.

I've read the NHMRC proposed guidelines (when they were released for comment in 10/07) with interest and it would seem from the noises emerging, that they will recommend new, tighter restrictions.