Regarding Miranda Devine and the advocates of Harm Maximisation

The Daily Telegraph has just published perhaps the stupidest article to be written on the topic of drugs this year; an article by a totally illiberal and ill-informed hack by the name of Miranda Devine; a woman with absolutely no regard for scientific or medical understandings of drug use and, as a result, no credible regard for the welfare of people like Georgina Bartter, whose untimely death she is using as a prop for her anti-drug crusade. Allow me to take her article apart piece by piece.

She begins, of course, by chiding those who would try to discuss ways of minimizing drug-related deaths in the wake of well publicized drug-related deaths, before preceding to do just exactly that..

Next, she lazily smears an advocate of legalisation, regaling us with the tale of how Anna Wood’s parents refused to join his campaign for legalization, opting instead to tour schools to spread their message about the danger of illegal drugs. Did you catch that? Illegal drugs are dangerous, so don’t legalize them. Is anyone besides the pharmacologically illiterate Miranda Devine unclear on what makes MDMA dangerous in an unregulated market? It isn’t the substance itself. Pure MDMA is actually very difficult to overdose on[2]. It’s the adulterants and frauds which render taking purported “MDMA” dangerous[3]. This is an established fact: a small dose of MDMA (even a LARGE dose of MDMA) will not kill you.

She touts John Howard’s ‘Tough on Drugs’ approach.. What ‘Tough on Drugs’ meant in the language of John Howard was a total abandonment of pragmatism and harm reduction[4]. For example, he personally intervened to prevent a scientific trial of prescription heroin for long-term addicts, a strategy which principally reduces disease, crime, and misery[5]. He passionately opposed other efforts to reduce disease, crime, and misery, such as safe injection facilities, which, again, is a strategy which has repeatedly been vindicated [6].

She decries children being “taught that alcohol is just another drug,” in spite of the obvious fact that alcohol is a drug, and -at least according to David Nutt and the panel of experts he assembled in 2010- by far the most harmful, at that. She decries that they are taught “the harm minimisation doctrine that alcohol is worse [I think we just established that it was], or at least as bad as illicit drugs and, hey, if you must “use”, here’s how to do it safely. The message was loud and clear.”[7]

Finally, she offers her solution: zero-tolerance. That is, no tolerance of people like Georgina Bartter. Harass and arrest them where we find them, and let them fend for themselves when we can’t. Do not indulge their legitimate desire to be high; let them die navigating a black market rather than consider that 150mg of MDMA might have produced a beautiful and memorable experience for a bright girl, as opposed to convulsions and ultimately death.

Prohibition killed Georgina Bartter, and hacks like Miranda Devine respond by insisting we ramp up our militant repression of her and her kind all the while masquerading as the voice of concern for drug users. Her hysterical opposition to harm minimization belies the essence of her position: harm maximisation. She is a fraud of the most dangerous kind: it is because of her brand of hackery that a young girl is dead, and she dare accuse me of using her death as a propaganda tool? I am demanding an end to the policy which just took a life, which has taken literally millions of lives to date, and which will continue to take lives until the likes of Miranda Devine summon the moral and intellectual courage to withdraw their heads from their asses.

[1] In pharmacology, the ‘LD50’ of a drug is the dose at which 50% of test subjects succumb to toxicity. This varies from animal to animal, but even the lower findings for MDMA are around 50mg per kilogram of body weight. We know that legally manufactured and distributed MDMA would be pure. Let’s say for the sake of argument it would be distributed in 100mg pills: what this means is that “1.5 pills” would not kill anybody over 3kg, eg. “1.5 pills” of legal MDMA would never kill anybody.

[2] Harm reduction organization Bunk Police have an excellent guide to reducing the risk of dubious and often dangerous chemicals, which you can read here. In addition, they helpfully list common adulterants, which include MDPV (LD50 unknown; reported deaths numerous [in contrast to pure MDMA]),

[3] She goes on to explicitly denounce harm reduction, from which we might make the logical inference that she favours harm maximization, as she does in practice if not principle, but we’ll get to that.

[4] Such methods have been vindicated repeatedly. Here are the results of an analogous trial undertaken in Switzerland in the 1990’s, as summarized in Dr. Gabor Mate’s book:

  • Fitness for work improved considerably: permanent employment more than doubled.

  • The patients’ housing situations rapidly improved and stabalized (in particular, there was no homelessness).

  • There were no notable disturbances in local neighbourhoods.

  • There were significant economic benefits in terms of savings per patient-day, owing to marked reductions in legal and health costs.

  • Among participants there was a marked decrease in crime of all kinds, from shoplifting to drug dealing – in the case of hard drugs, from 49.6% to 8.2%.

  • Overall, offenses dropped by 68 percent. According to the Central Criminal Register, the number of convictions dropped by 80 percent among addicts enrolled in the program.

Sadly, the Howard government had as little regard for evidence as Miranda, and addicts suffered greatly as a result.

[5] The Canadian Medical Association Journal reports on Canada’s Insite: “Vancouver’s safer injecting facility has been associated with an array of community and public health benefits without evidence of adverse impacts.” There is no shortage of similar reports; the assessment of such programs is overwhelmingly positive.

[6] “Hey, if you have to fuck, here’s how to do it safely: wear a condom.” Does she advocate a return to abstinence only sex-education as well? Does she see the correlation between her approach to drugs in the West and the Catholic Church’s approach to sex in the developing world, namely that they both encourage the proliferation of disease in the name of the clearly impossible pursuit of abstinence?


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