Why The Libs Were Wrong On Safe Injecting Rooms
The ghost of Nancy Reagan reared her head last week during the ill-fated final days of the Victorian Liberal party’s election campaign.
Reagan’s '80s anti-drug campaign “Just Say No” famously did very little to keep people off drugs, but no one can blame her for trying.
During the election campaign in Victoria, the Liberal Party created ads attacking the drug consumption room in Richmond, using a graphic image of a needle protruding from a bruised arm, and ‘Say NO to Labor’s Heroin & Ice Injecting Rooms’ in bold letters emblazoned across the top of the poster.
The Opposition promised to shut down the Richmond injecting room within one week of coming into power if they won.
There was a faint moral argument behind their promise: school kids wouldn’t be exposed to drugs. Daniel Andrews retorted, “We don't want our kids walking over, tragically, dead bodies.”
Andrews is spot on -- drug-related deaths are tragic and preventable.
For starters – there’s never been a single fatal overdose in any injecting centre, anywhere in the world since they started. Secondly, there are now more than 100 injecting and inhalation rooms across the globe -- Ireland is soon to open its first, and calls to implement them in various US cities are heating up. Kings Cross saw a significant reduction in needles (let alone bodies) being dumped around the streets. Richmond has barely been open for six months and they are beginning to see similar positive trends.
Even the most hard-hearted person would struggle to see how this is detrimental to any community.
There are many worthwhile reasons why we need more injecting rooms, so why would a conservative political party try this tactic to win an election despite the evidence?
Because there’s a deep history of using people who use drugs as election fodder, in fact, this mentality was mastered by Richard Nixon and his trusted advisor John Erlichman.
Before his death, Erlichman stated:
“The Nixon campaign…had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying?
We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and the blacks with heroin, and then criminalising both heavily, we could disrupt those communities…
Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The hope for any future election is that, not only do conservatives learn this harsh lesson -- once again -- but that more compassionate parties hear the call from their communities -- that reducing harm and saving lives is what matters.
After all, most of us know someone who is struggling with drugs -- if we don’t have a drug problem ourselves. The Victorian Liberals ignored this key point. Instead, they played into the vintage notion that people who are addicted to drugs are bad people who have made bad choices.
But severe drug addiction is not a simple mistake of choice.
Instead, it is a multifaceted mix of psychological and physical health problems, most likely brought about by experiences of trauma.
Perhaps the Victorian Liberals also understood the evidence and were clutching at straws? It clearly didn’t work.
Hopefully the tactics developed by Nixon and his team are an anachronism that the majority of Australians have long moved on from believing.
While this won’t be the end of the far right's using the down and out as their scapegoat for society’s ills, it’s clear that Erlichman’s propaganda machine is broken.