The following is a re-post from a blog I (Nick Wallis) started while working at a commercial radio station in regional Victoria. It was originally posted on the 20th of May 2011.
It seems appropriate to re-post it now, even though it is raw and probably a little ranty. It includes a bit of a to-and-fro between me and the bureaucrats who run this nonsense. If you’ve ever had one of these, you’ll know how head-bashing-against-the-wall those useless, often templatey conversations go. You make comment, they send back a barely altered template re-stating the design of the thing. It’s all very robotic.
I was perhaps more naive and aggressive toward the political process back then and feel a little more savvy now, but it is a learning lesson in actually being HEARD in the democratic echo-chambers. Perhaps, as time goes on, naivety and aggression give way to an ocean of cynicism, peppered with little victories that give hope that glimmers for a moment, only to be toppled by the onslaught of the next wave of nonsense. Here’s the post.

National Drugs Campaign

This appalling waste of tax-payers money on useless propaganda that does nothing to help those with drug problems, nor assist parents in the realities of the situations, nor arm young folk with the necessary knowledge when one day a situation may arise where there are drugs about, needs to end.

I don’t know if you’ve seen their posters or ads about, but here’s an example of one atrocity:

Clearly the set designers for SAW have now begun working for the NDC, creating ad designs with a horror movie-esque spin.  It’s to scare all the kiddies away.

Seriously, let’s take a little analytical microscope (actually, I think an obvio-scope will do fine here) to this particular ad.

First:  It’s claims.  They are fair enough, although completely unfounded claims (If they do have a base of truth, this is not published by the NDC and this is an issue I have taken up with them, as you will soon see).  They’re “fair enough”ness comes from the fact that an unregulated industry can pretty much do whatever they want, and if they happen to be the low class kind of citizens that would like to adulterate a product with harmful chemicals, even though this would be to their own personal reputation’s detriment, then so be it.  Who’s going to stop them?  Well, eventually no body would buy their product again, but if they remain hidden enough in the black market, no body will know.  That’s the problem with underground black markets.  There’s no regulations and often many, many faces that aren’t the primary source.

But, hang on a tick.  Clearly we have a product here that is STILL in demand, even though it was made illegal by this country, with harsh penalties over 20 years ago.  Why is there still demand?  If it really is the evil, killing, adulterated, dodgy substance it’s made out to be, wouldn’t people have talked about that and agreed, “Yeah man, that Ecstasy stuff is shit, let’s boycott that!”?

I would have thought so.

But, that didn’t happen.  In the years the government has been running campaigns against this particular substance, people continue taking it, there have been very, very few deaths, and what deaths there have been can often be associated with a problem rising from the black-market nature of the industry, rather than the drug (MDMA) itself.

So, where is the problem then?

Prohibition.

As always.

Prohibit something from a market that wants it and that doesn’t cause the problems that the prohibitionists claim, and the market will still continue on.  But, it won’t have the checks and balances we have come to expect in industries today.

The reality is that the market for substances which alter one’s consciousness has ALWAYS and will ALWAYS be around.  So for governments, it’s a matter of finding the middle ground.  In a world where we have social programs of all sorts, to educate, heal and provide welfare, then we are ALWAYS looking out for eachother, so we don’t want vast problems to overcome the population.  Drugs have been made out to be a scourge that will do just that, but think rationally and look into the history of prohibition.  Was it really about saving people’s lives and protecting their health?  Are we really better of under prohibition?

Do you ever see a junkie, head between their knees, vomitting?  …shouldn’t that sort of thing never happen under prohibition?

Here’s the email correspondence I’ve had with the National Drugs Campaign so far:

"Just one quick complaint on your website, and with the strategy in general.
You fail to produce sources for your "facts".  I know it's far simpler
to show people simple facts at a glance, but it's actually not educating
people.  Kids end up knowing more about drugs through websites such as
Erowid.org and various drug related forums, and learn more from friends.

Surely you have sources for the fact sheet, it might be a good idea to
provide them, including links to research reports on your website,
backing up claims like MDMA causing "Decreased emotional control".

I highly recommend that if you want to help parents and their children
to know the risks associated around drugs, then you educate.
The less facts you provide, the more that you emphasis hellish cases and
unsubstantiated "facts", the more people will distrust your campaigns
and shy away from them.
That also leads to people trusting the government less on such things,
and trust in the government is not something that should so easily be lost!

It just seems to me to be a poorly resourced strategy, with too many
other projects and organisations with differing views and information
being supported by the government too.

I've CC'd my local MP, Kelvin Thompson in to this email as I don't
believe the strategy is an effective use of public money."

-----

Thank you for your email dated 6 May 2011 regarding the National Drugs
Campaign website.

The National Drugs Campaign is designed to contribute to a reduction in the
uptake of ecstasy and other illicit drugs among young Australians, by
raising awareness of the harms associated with drug use and encouraging and
supporting decisions not to use.

The development of the campaign was based on current evidence and best
practice in relation to reaching youth with a behaviour change message. In
developing and implementing the National Drugs Campaign strategy, a
comprehensive program of market research and concept testing has been
undertaken to ensure that the messages and images used resonate with the
target audience.

The campaign website has been developed to assist people wanting to gain
further information on illicit drugs or who are concerned about their
current drug use. As part of the research undertaken, it was identified
that the most appropriate format for the website would be as a gateway for
people to help locate further information about illicit drugs, counselling
and help options available. The Department works closely with the
Australian Drug Foundation (ADF), and the website information has been
developed in collaboration with the (ADF).

Kind regards,

The National Drugs Campaign team

-----

To The National Drugs Campaign team,

Thank you for your reply, but you didn’t really answer my query regarding sources for your information.
I understand that the aim of the campaign is to deter people from taking drugs in the first place, and I presumed that you would be required to market test your messages, but what statistics do you have to objectively show that in the time of this campaign, there has been less uptake of Ecstasy users (for example) in the Australian population (in particular, your target demographic)? And, when analysing this data, is data relating to other drug use uptakes also taken into account, so that you can see if people are ACTUALLY choosing to not take the drug at all, or are just using a different drug because one is not as available as another.

I can’t help but feel that there is little data to justify the expenditure of this campaign.

And when I see posters like this:  (SEE THE POSTER ABOVE)
Ecstasy
All I think is:
a) Why are you hiring the set designers of SAW for what’s intended to be a legitimate and sensible campaign and use of tax payer’s money, and,
b) Since when did scare tactics (which is all this is) work?

The problem is that when people ACTUALLY take Ecstasy (for example), a VAST MAJORITY of people have a great time with very little consequence, because a vast majority of people don’t develop a problem (as a vast majority of alcohol users don’t develop a problem), so then people see campaigns like this as purposefully misleading of the government, therefore creating a mistrust between the government and its citizens, which I don’t imagine is a good thing for anyone.

And one last thing, when will the government acknowledge that the reason FOR the particular problem articulated in the above poster (that Ecstasy could be made my anyone, could be anything), is DUE to the laws, and not due to the drug itself? Clearly there is a demand for the drug, because people keep wanting it and it’s not leading to the detriment of many at all to justify NOT wanting it, so there will always be entrepreneurial folk setting up home labs to create it. But they aren’t regulated, nor likely trained. They have no reason to use all the correct ingredients, or safe methods of production. But, this is the fault OF the law at the expense of the consumer, rather than the fault of the product itself.

I have again CC’d my local MP, as I believe there is a growing momentum in the world and in Australia to change these laws, stop wasting tax payer money on ineffective, inefficient and socially detrimental campaigns, and look at the real problems with more progressive solutions.

Thank you again for replying, and please hear my concerns.

I’ve passed on my complaint to my Local MP along with a few of the local Greens folk.  But I don’t expect this mob of idiots to do anything.

This is a branding exercise for government.  The brand says (to the ignorant voter), “We’re doing something about drugs!”.

The reality is, they ain’t.

I just realised that I actually have a fair bit for this post.  So I’ll leave it here and let you continue on.  I highly recommend a nice complaint email to your local MP or the Health Minister (I’ll detail how to do it soon) about this waste of money campaign.  They can’t not listen to their constituents (US!).  Remember, the government are OUR EMPLOYEES.  We’re boss.

Let’s keep the bastards accountable.