“The two pillars of 'political correctness' are:
a) willful ignorance
b) a steadfast refusal to face the truth”
George MacDonald

Last week (19/05/06) Sandra Kanck, an MP in Australia, stood up in Parliament and told the house that ecstasy “is not a dangerous drug” and “could have been used to treat victims of last year’s killer bushfires”. Since then the Prime Minister of Australia, her own party and the press have vilified her and called for her resignation.

To some extent one can see why there might be such a reaction. For Australia has the dubious honour of being the ecstasy capital of the world, with the highest per capita consumption of any country and a reported 112 ecstasy-related fatalities over the period 2001 to 2004. To combat this situation the Australian government has recently spent 23 million dollars on a campaign warning against the dangers of ecstasy use. Therefore in those circumstances a backlash to Ms Kanck’s comments might be expected and I have no doubt that, in political terms, her comments could be viewed perhaps as a bit unwise and politically naive. However this incident raises other serious issues.

First a bit of perspective is required. 112 deaths, especially young deaths, is tragic and I am neither trying to minimise their impact nor to advocate or condone drug use. However over a period of 4 years this averages out at 28 deaths per year. We need to compare this figure with 19,000 deaths per year from tobacco-related causes, around 2,000 a year from alcohol-related causes and around 1,000 a year from pharmaceuticals (ie proprietary medications taken for medicinal purposes). Compared to these statistics, ecstasy looks less dangerous. True death rate is not the whole story and research has found that ecstasy can damage the brain, however other research has produced other evidence which has refuted this. So again Ms Kanck appears to be correct, the evidence is equivocal. Finally, in the USA in the 1970’s and 80’s ecstasy was used as a therapeutic agent to aid psychotherapy and some recent research suggests that it could again prove to be useful in this capacity. If we accept all of this, then why has Ms Kanck been vilified?

Currently in many countries there appears to be an epidemic of moral hysteria which seems to lead to a state of evidence blindness and political group-think. This appears to be a state that transcends and obscures party political boundaries. Strangely rather than look at research evidence that could lead to a workable solution to the drug issue our politicians, ably aided and abetted by the media, seem content to remain in a state of ignorance. However, when someone attempts to challenge the orthodoxy arising from that ignorance by alluding to fact, all sides turn on her. Thus Ms Kanck’s problem was not that she was wrong, but rather that she deviated from this position of political correctness.

Sadly this case is all too familiar to people working in the drug field, albeit in this case it is more public. The supposedly unalienable right of free speech appears to be revoked if one expresses opinions about drugs (regardless of the evidence base) that are less than demonising, they don’t even need to be positive. There is a considerable amount of evidence that shows that drug use and alcohol abuse is associated with poverty and deprivation. However, as governments around the world become increasingly right wing, it is more convenient to blame drugs and the pushers for the increased use of drugs than to examine the role of the living conditions of the users and successive government’s failure to fulfil their election promises. To change this trend would require a large fix of those other banned substances, truth and social welfare. No wonder Ms Kanck is in trouble!

John from <a href=www.alcohol-and-drug-guide.com

Author's Bio: 

John McMahon Alcohol and Drug Guide.com for information on alcohol and drugs. Help for people living with a problem drinker at Bottled-up

I have worked in the alcohol and drug field for around 25 years. In that time I have been a therapist, researcher, academic and university lecturer and have published widely in the field.