Tuesday, 21 September 2010

28,000 lives

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

There were so many things I wanted to write about today: a nice thing to do with potatoes and bacon, the real meaning of £16 billion, the nature of prejudice with specific reference to homophobia. In the end though, the figure of 28,000 human lives, which I read in the paper this morning, is the one that will not leave my head.

Imagine you were a politician. Imagine you could pass a law that could save 28,000 lives. It is a fairly simple piece of legislation, but it would involve some pretty complicated politics. You might easily lose office over it. BUT you would save thousands of people from pointless death. That would just be in your own country. If you fancied yourself as a bit of a statesman or stateswoman, you could get together with some other world leaders, and persuade them of the rightness of your case. You could go to the UN. God knows how many thousands are dying fruitlessly in other countries from lack of the same law.

What could this miracle of legislation be? Hold onto your titfers; it is slightly controversial. It is: to legalise drugs.

I know. Don't panic. Before you conjure up nightmarish visions of old ladies going down to the chemist to get their crack pipes, just consider the facts. The vaunted war on drugs is the least successful war in the history of warfare. It costs billions of pounds and dollars and euros, and what is the outcome of all this blood and treasure? People all over the world still take drugs. Ruthless gangs grow rich on the proceeds of illicit cocaine and heroin and skank; their profits often go to fund terrorist operations and other unspeakable illegalities. The tax office does not get a sniff of any of that cash, so no schools or hospitals may be built on the back of it.

A friend of mine recently went to a rather grand sixtieth birthday party. There were fine wines and fireworks, and everyone 'went to the loo rather a lot'. This was at a highly respectable gathering of sixty-somethings. You only have to go into any of the fashionable London drinking clubs to see the same effect. Years ago, I knew a boy whose job was to go round the radio stations getting them to play the records of the bands he worked for. The record company supplied him with a huge bag of coke each week. 'Two lines and they would play anything,' he told me. Drugs are not just confined to inner city estates; they are in the drawing rooms of country houses, the offices of media conglomerates, the lavs of three star restaurants, and backstage at pretty much any gig you can mention. This is how well the War is working.

In Mexico, the government sits powerless as two rival drug gangs fight it out between them. The cartels have policemen and judges on their payroll. Any dispute, real or imagined, is resolved with a shot to the head. This is where the 28,000 comes from. That is how many people have died in the gang battles in the last four years. It makes 9/11 look like an accounting error.

I know it's not that simple. But twenty-eight thousand. Imagine how many more are dying in the same way in the other drug-producing countries. Put on top of that all the users who die from tainted product, because when you are buying stuff illegally on the street, you have no idea what is in it. I know that legalisation would be complicated. I know it produces a visceral reaction. This is because we tend to think that all drug takers are out of control addicts with rheumy eyes and weeping sores. It is a powerful vision, but it is incorrect. It would be like thinking that all drinkers are like the tramp on the pavement who drank away his life. We do not think of the competent barrister who takes cocaine sometimes at the weekend or the doctor who smokes a spliff on holiday.

It just seems crazy that we ban drugs, but let people drink as much alcohol as they can afford. Drinks conglomerates are respected blue chip companies, part of any good pension plan. The Scots are rightly proud of their whisky industry. Guinness is practically the national symbol of Ireland. The dry martini is a world-wide indicator of sophistication. James Bond would not be Bond without shaken not stirred. The Exchequer smiles as it rakes in the duty on all forms of liquor.

The latest statistics I can find are for England. They are quite alarming: over 800,000 alcohol-related admissions to hospital, at a cost to the NHS of over £2 billion; over 6,500 deaths directly related to alcohol. The equivalent numbers for drugs are around 60,000 admissions and 1,700 deaths, the majority from drug poisoning.

I suppose you could say well, this shows the war is working, illegality is keeping those numbers down. You could also say it seems madly illogical to keep legal one substance which causes so much more death and disease and distress than all the other substances put together.

Imagine putting all those raging gangs out of business at one stroke. Imagine putting problem drug users into treatment instead of having them cluttering up the prisons, where they just learn to take even more drugs. Imagine that, instead of having to go to some seedy dealer in a back street, people would go to the pharmacist for their party pack. It might be legal, but you would still have to push through a curtain of social disapproval. I would be far more frightened of the beady eye of the good Margaret at my local chemist that of some small time dealer. I hardly dare ask her for Neurofen Plus.

Well, that's my idea of the day. If the war on drugs were a shining success, I should not have to have it. But from the opium fields of Afghanistan to the coca plantations of Columbia to the mean streets of Mexico City, there is no sign of progress. Is it time for someone to start thinking differently?

Now for pictures. The very kind Mystica, who always leaves the most delightful comments, has remarked that what she likes most at the end of a long day is some pictures of the dogs. This is very dangerous, because as you know I hardly need any encouragement. This blog was started as an adjunct to Backwards in High Heels, intended to cover all manner of subjects that might be of any relevance to the female condition. It was not supposed to be a canine festival, although on some days that is what it seems like. But then I think: what the hell, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. And when there is so much ugliness in the news, is it not practically a public service to spread the beauty? And what could really be more beautiful than this? -

21 September 1

Or this?


(That is the face the duchess makes when she is rolling over for us mere commoners to scratch her stomach.)

Could anyone be less fretful about the war on drugs than this?


Or less bothered about the balance of payments than this?


Or really more perfect than this?


Humans are humans and dogs are dogs, but sometimes I think we may take a lesson from our dear canines. All they want is a biscuit, a rabbit to chase and some love. They are wonderfully straightforward about the love. They come and ask for it, when it is required. Once they have had enough, they go away again. I know that we cannot live on biscuits and rabbits alone, but sometimes I do think there is a small homily on priorities in there somewhere. Anyway, they make me very happy, and I love that you dear readers seem to appreciate them too. It is not at all what I thought would happen when I began this enterprise, and it makes me smile.


  1. Just spotted that one at least of your lovely dogs is a black lab/bordercollie cross. Our family had the joy of a prime specimen of one of these mixes from 1968 (the year I started at Grammar School) to 1982 (when our widowed mother died and the dear old dog was too dimmed by cataracts to cope with re-homing, and had to be put down the day before our mother's funeral. If ever I had a bleak week...).

    Please kiss yours on the nose from me. In memory of Bess, our own particular black and white beauty, a childhood friend to me, nanny to my baby daughter and a reason to get up in the morning for my mother after my father died.

  2. Great post, Tania. Also excellent point about the way society pictures drug users, and saying it is like thinking that all drinkers are like the tramp on the pavement. I fear there is too much money being made for this law to pass though, and so it probably will never happen.

    I am still curious about your nice thing with potatoes and bacon. And your dogs are just gorgeous. Mystica has the right idea!

  3. Fabulous article! A real eye-opener.It's so true how tainted our image of who drug-takers really are.

  4. This is so interesting because I agree there are many reasons to legalise drugs. Hard though, because the thought of my daughter walking into a chemist and buying something for the purpose of getting high makes me incredibly uncomfortable. How do you do it in moderation?

    Your girls are beautiful, as ever. And super glossy!

  5. I have to read your article slowly to actually assimilate what you say. It is a Wednesday morning here and this is something that needs time.

    Anyway, the dogs are as usual beautiful. I have my dog Googly sitting under the table just beside my feet whilst I am at the computer. Unconditional love and acceptance.

  6. Golenoldlady - what a lovely story about Bess. Really touching, esp the thing about your dad. My own girls are in fact both lab/collie crosses (well spotted, mostly people think they are labs). They are sisters, but as you can see one has much more collie heritage and one much more lab. They are completely different in their attitudes to sheep, balls, sticks and food. They are, however, united in their adoration of children.

    Jayne - thank you. Always rather alarming when I go out on a limb. Promise shall do the thing with the potatoes.

    Vanessa - thank you so much.

    Em - I KNOW. Same thought about my lovely shining niece. Education? Very scary pharmacists? You can see my brilliant new policy is not quite fully baked. I still think something must change, because the current situation is too mad.

    Mystica - how kind you are. I know so well the dog under the desk. One of the best feelings in the world.

  7. I didn't know that was the statistic, it is horrifying. It is also horrifying that our hospitals are low on morphine because of the war in Afghanistan.

    I obviously live and work in London and the thing I notice is how difficult it is to be a smoker but how fantastically easy it is to take as man drugs as you like recreationally and I don't think that is quite right (I don't smoke and I have never have apart from trying it and so on).

    I am actually happy enough for people to do with themselves as they wish so long as they don't hurt others and I suppose there is an argument that taking drugs doesn't hurt others- although it does really, it harms the mules, the people who are made to sell drugs and so on- the pictures of the dogs with cocaine in their stomachs make me livid with rage.

    So I would support legalisation of drugs to take the crimial element away from them.

    I don't want to take drugs and I don't want to feel bad because I don't- something which is a regular problem in London. You get no support from the authorities if you are trying to stay away from drugs and I find that frustrating.

  8. I always find wealthy professionals who are drug users immensely uninteresting what with all their sneaking to the loo and behind the bike shed cool kid crap. Maybe we could just ban them instead of the drugs? Or at least get them arrested and thrown in jail for a bit instead of some poor kid out of care who is using to get some escape from a miserable life. Perhaps legalisatoion would help - anything other than the status quo.


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin