Drug Reform Policy and I: with Nick Goldstein

drug reform poster

We invited super brain Nick Goldstein to talk about Drug Policy Reform in conjunction with our online issue of Doncopolitan online themed Art In Action.

Born in the old, analogue 20th century in the Shetland Islands,  Nick was educated at public school,University and the street. He started taking drugs at 15 and if you name a substance the odds are he’s used and abused it. Consequently he has been a client of substance misuse treatment services for over 30 years, 20 of which were spent on a diamorphine programme. These days he works occasionally in harm reduction and cares for his parents and daughter who both keep his on his toes.

I’m guessing many of you are thinking “drug policy! So what? It’s nothing to do with me!” Wrong! If you’re reading this, drug policy affects you. Maybe you’ve been burgled or mugged, or had your car stolen. A large chunk of acquisitive crime is committed to fund drug use. Or maybe you have a friend or loved one who uses drugs? Even if you, thankfully, don’t fit into any of the above you’re still affected because this policy is enacted in your name and on your tax pound.

So, we’re all affected. The problem is that our drug policy is failing as it was always going to do. We have record highs in drug related deaths, HIV hot spots and a HCV ticking time bomb and there’s no sign of any decrease in drug use. In fact we’re seeing more dangerous drugs like spice and fentanyl becoming more easily available through the dark web. 

The punitive prohibition model of drug policy that the West uses is failing and was always going to fail because it goes against human nature. People have been using drugs since the stone age. They use drugs for many reasons: curiosity, pain relief, pleasure. Drug use is normal and laws that go against basic human nature fail and become unenforceable and unenforceable laws damage society. 

So, prohibition is failing and damaging drug users and wider society, causing unnecessary death and suffering, but, nil desperandum! There are alternatives. We could decriminalise drug use. We could medicalise addiction. We could end stigma around drug use. We could even legalise drugs. We have many policy options. We just need to accept prohibition has failed and have the courage to look at alternatives.

 In the future, prohibition will be looked back on with the same queasy disbelief that burning witches or encarcerating gay people engender today. We’ll look back on events and think “why the hell did they do that!”

My personal opinion is that drugs aren’t dangerous. Drugs are inanimate objects and claiming they’re dangerous is a little like saying a table is dangerous. But, what we do with drugs can be dangerous. Us – the human race. Homo sapiens at this stage in our evolution often struggle to use drugs in a positive manner. So,there is a role for  state control – until we develop, but we need to constantly question our drug policy and be prepared to change policy as our relationship with drugs change. Or we could carry on as we are – turning a blind eye to the results of the deeply flawed, cruel policy of prohibition we practice.   


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