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Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines His Former Life on Drugs

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Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines His Former Life on Drugs. – Heroin (Option 5)

The prevalent use of illicit substances in the social content, exclusively heroin, has stimulated the attention of the political realm, which in turn has introduced the enforcement of several drug policies within Australia. The utilisation of these drugs has developed into a social and wellbeing issue, rather than just a matter of criminal justice with credits to the ever-changing attitude in today’s society, emphasising on the need for the advancement in unbiased research. Heroin, as defined by the National Institute of Drug abuse is an illicit and highly addictive substance which is processed from morphine and can be found in various form, with the most common being white powder and is mainly injected into the body. Lewis (2011) depicts the practice as being a ‘ritual (p137)’ capturing the societal attractions dependent on the use of illegal drugs. Traditionally, the utilisation of heroin increased drastically without the society understanding the health, social or political aspects. Though, with the establishment of exclusion policies, many research showed the concurrent factor linked to heroin-related overdoses and the decrease in price (Bryant et al., 2004; Darke, Topp, Kaye & Hall, 2002). The indications confirm the dire need to further research about illicit drugs in the social realm and also suggest the importance in effective policy decisions.

There are a number of social constructs that can be linked to all drugs (Zingberg, 1984) and with these models in place it highlights the existences of societal expectation related to substance use (Manderson, 1995). The ‘rituals’ correlated to the injection of heroin, casts a negative connotation to the items used in the process of the ‘ritual’ such as syringes and needles. The image of injecting a needle or syringe is associated to illegal substances such as heroin, which then induces an emotional response from society, emphasising the customs prevailing the understanding of illicit substances (Manderson, 1995). The reactions provoked by the society with these images assert the societal issue of illicit drugs. Toit (1997) demonstrates this societal view through his belief that procedures turn into rituals only if the procedure itself holds great value to the individual. Individual use substances for various reason, whether it be for leisure, depression, stress or pain reliever (Trocki 1999). Relatedly, the process of injecting heroin with a group of individuals build a physical and emotional bond between the user, which in turn becomes a substitute for intimacy (Murphy, 1987). Lewis (2011) demonstrates this level of emotion as he ideals the rituals of ‘shooting up (p138)’ as discovers ‘complete confidence that I could make myself happy and free (p139)’. The level of emotion produced by both the users and non-users of drugs further accentuates the social issue of establishing illicit drugs.

Society puts pressure on the human mind where any distortion to the rational decision-making of an individual was perceived to be an mental health issue, which is exactly what drug-use contests (Manderson, 1995); stressing the need of acknowledging illicit substances as a health issue. The effects of drugs differ from one individual to another with various factors affecting this result; from the biological nature of an individual (Robson, 1999) to the drug, set and setting in which the individual consumes (Zingberg, 1984). The early 1950s to the late 1980s saw an implementation of the harm minisation approach with ‘The Poisons (Heroin) Act 1953’ and the ‘1985 National Drug Strategy’ put in place (MCDS, 1998), aiming to reduce the supply and demand of the substance and the reduction in usage. These policies were a success until heroin was re-established by the US servicemen in the 1960s on leave from Vietnam, and until the 1990s heroin usage was increasing rapidly from 5kg million to 350kg million (Social Alliance, 2013). This lead to the adoption of the zero-tolerance policy implemented in 1997 by the National Illicit Drug Strategy – Tough on Drugs with assistance from the Australian National Council on Drugs, promoting abstinence as the social opinion of heroin changed. The population feared this restructuring, as there was an increase in the political input and commanded governmental judgements in the potential future drug policies (Fitzgerald, 2005). Darke et al. (2002) discovered that the zero-tolerance policy has accordingly decreased in price of heroin and increased substance users. Similarly, Woodak (2000) has established an increase in deaths from overdose and an increase demand for sterile needles, which suggests growth of injections. These studies concludes the inability to enforce national policies with the adoption of the zero-tolerance approach and suggests the dire need for further research into the illicit drugs with boundaries within the social and health issues

As of current, the National Drug Strategy has been taking on the harm-minimisation approach in assisting the use of drugs. The restructuring of this program has seen a change in the perspective of how they govern the drug scene, acknowledging the detrimental effects of promoting zero-tolerance behaviour within society, and rather, adopt policies that emphasise the health and wellbeing issues surrounding the utilisation of illegal substances. The move toward a more lenient and unprejudiced approach to the effective enforcement of drug policies is apparent in the new evidence-based methodology, where strategies are put in place based on unbiased investigations (Fraser & Moore, 2011).  This unbiased research has taken into action by the National Drug Strategy (2007) where the research shows a decrease in heroin use and a drop in the overall usage of illicit drugs by more than 8.5% since 1998. However, the detrimental effects of these illicit drugs still resides, which shows the lack of awareness in certain areas of the field and should take on further research on the health and social approach as oppose to taking legal actions.

Harm-minimisation procedures are put in place for the main purposes of reducing harm, and reducing the supply and demand of illegal substances, however, factors beyond the control of these enforcements and legislation endure. There are main forms in which heroin can be traded through, with hydrochloride being the most common form within Australia. Hydrochloride form allows for easy water-solubility and is relatively pure (Ciccarone, 2005), which makes it safer for the user. South-West Asia on the other hand, manufactures the substance with additional acids for easier water-solubility and can be vaporised.  It is reported that the distribution of heroin in Asia and Europe is mainly in smoke form, which consequently reduces the risks of HIV and AIDs (Strang, Griffiths, & Gossop, 1997). These findings conclude that efforts should not only be placed in interfering with the distribution and allocation of illegal substances rather should be placed primarily in minimising the threats and the safety of the population. This is of a greater concern than attempting to imprison the suppliers. With the ever-changing market and economy due to globalisation, the international trading of heroin has increased, which has subsequently blurred the lines between the wholesalers and the retainers (Ciccarone, 2005). This blurred lined has consequently created a greater of difficulty in reducing the supply and demand of the substance (Gibson et al., 2005). The separation of the distribution will not matter, as the virtual world has become a larger and more sophisticated market place for illicit drugs with all credits to the development and innovation in technology. Although policies are made to take control over society and the sanction from society, the enforcements are not able to keep up with the ever-growing popularity of the online market for illicit drugs. This can also be seen through the failure to shut down Silk Road over a period of time (Martin, 2013). Though Silk Road is now closed, there are still several online drug markets out there that are yet to be investigated. The inability to enforce these policies and the lack of skill and information to interrupt with these online markets show the need for higher levels of research to be conducted, in order to establish more effective policies to accommodate the general society and its citizens, creating a more harm-free environment.

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