Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Cujo the sniffer dog

The War on Drugs can claim one more innocent scalp; Big Day Out party goer 17 year old Gemma Thoms. While standing in line to enter the BDO festival, Gemma panicked while carrying the party supplies for her friends and seeing sniffer dogs up in front. She swallowed three Ecstasy tablets and died a few hours later.

It's a sad, pointless and tragic death, but far from unique. As the Sydney Morning Herald says, a report by the New South Wales coroner in 2006 predicted this sort of thing would happen. The same article cites a government review which pointed out the unintended consequences of staking out dance parties with sniffer dogs:
Rather than staggering their drug use over a long period of time, the report, Review Of The Police Powers (Drug Detection Dogs) Act 2001, stated many drug users would swallow all their pills at once to avoid detection.
Perth police, unsurprisingly, are refusing to accept any responsibility for the teenager's death. This bizarre article in the West Australian, titled Drug victim had nothing to fear: police, has the police denying the existence of the police dogs at the festival:
But West Australian police said Ms Thoms had nothing to fear as there were no drug detection dogs at the festival, apart from dogs being used by railway police at the Showground rail station.
According to the police version, Gemma hallucinated the sniffer dogs and just decided to overdose for the hell of it.

Over at ABC News, it is obvious that neither the politicians nor the police have learned a damned thing from this death. On the contrary, the cops are focusing on who supplied Gemma with the drugs, while the idiots in government are formulating a Get Tough(er) on Drugs policy to ensure this event never happens again. The outcome, as we all know, will be quite the opposite.

Voices such as Australian drug and alcohol educator Paul Dillon from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in Sydney are drowned out. Which is a complete shame, considering his excellent interview with Kathryn Ryan Lynn Freeman on NatRad today. The current one-size-fits-all approach to harm minimisation only reinforces the rebellion of the ones it is most aimed at; the risk-takers. The monkey-see, monkey-do copying by teenagers of adult behaviours erodes the hypocritical status quo. Nowhere is this more evident than in Australia and NZ's religious devotion to drinking.

In a story that closely parallels Gemma Thoms' death, Dillon tells a stark story starting at about 10 minutes into the podcast. It involves a girl's birthday party, a bottle of vodka, and a fear of authority's consequences that overrode the obvious assistance that was available in the next room. Listen and learn.

And until Requiem for a Dream loses its R18 rating and can be shown in schools, consider Dillon's summation of the problem:
"The young people we do have in our society are amongst the kindest, most compassionate and empathic that I've ever dealt with. They don't want to hurt themselves and they definitely don't want to hurt their friends. They want to look after each other. And we just don't provide the information they need. We provide them the information that we think they should have. And that's really dangerous. They're playing a political game with young peoples' lives."