Russia, Drugs, and Rock’n’Roll: (1) Why I'm not Buyin’ Bryun on Who’s to Blame

Russia has a terrible drugs problem. So too does America, Britain and the rest of Europe, plus practically every other inhabited part of the planet including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and even Timbucktu in far off northern Mali. But who is ultimately to blame for the current world-wide drugs epidemic that has left so much misery and destruction in its wake?

According to Yevgeny Bryun, chief specialist on drugs abuse at the Russian Ministry of Heath, ultimate responsibility for the current scale of drug abuse in his country and elsewhere lies with the Beatles. At a press conference last week in Moscow, he said:

‘After the Beatles went to expand their consciousness in India’s ashrams, they introduced the idea – the changing of one’s psychic state of mind using drugs – to the population, When business understood that you could trade on that – on pleasure and goods associated with pleasure – that’s probably where it all began.’

Bryun went on to call for ‘tough measures… to combat mass culture and advertising which promoted drug use today’.

His proposed remedy for stemming current levels of drug abuse seems little better than his diagnosis of its cause which is lamentably unfounded. However many young day-trippers the Beatles may have encouraged to pay a visit to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, majiruana smoke was blowing in the wind well before the Fab Four caught a whiff of it from Robert Zimmerman (Sorry, no relation) –aka Bob Dylan — who reputedly first introduced the Beatles to the drug.

The Byrds would still have been ten miles high with or without a little help from their Merseyside musical friends. And had the Beatles never existed, it still would not have been necessary for Oasis to invent them to get the rave ecstacy parties of the 1980s going.  Starry eyed hippies were San Francisco bound, complete with flowers in their hair, well before John Lennon and Paul McCartney added beards and beads to their mop-tops.

Not only was it absurd of Bryun to suggest the Beatles were the cause of the world wide surge in illicit drugs that began in the Sixties. Equally as absurd was  his suggestion that mass culture and advertising somehow promote, let alone condone, illicit drug-taking. Why on earth should they? Neither have been able to hold out much for tobacco, or, increasingly these days, even alcohol, despite both being legal and the billions spent on advertising for them.

Bryun has misidentified the cause of the drugs problem. If he wants to go in for the blame game, before targeting those who were no more than puppets on a string in its manufacture, he might do well to do a little soul-searching and hunt around the archives of the GRU and KGB. There, he might discover evidence of the alleged Soviet plot to flood the West with drugs and thereby demoralise and disorient its youth sufficiently to enable the seeds of suspicion and hatred of their own political way of life and institutions to be sown.  It is surely no accident that the rise of the New Left followed shortly after the pipers at the gates of dawn had blithley entered through the doors of perception after they had been flung open.

As to what is best done to stem the present world-wide demand for illicit drugs, slowly attitudes seem to be changing among those in the West in positions of power and authority to determine policy.

If legalisation is mercifully not on the cards (yes, yes, I am aware of all the multifarious arguments for that policy), slowly the realisation is dawning that the present hard-line policy of zero tolerance and penal sanctions for all persistent drug possession, in however small a quantity, merely compound the felony, so to speak.

Whether straightforward decriminalisation is the answer is also highly moot. Many in America have hailed Portugal as an example where decriminalisation has drastically curbed the consumption of illicit drugs and as a model to be emulated. But the consequences of its twelve-year old social experiment have been by no means as unambiguously in favour of the decriminalisation of drugs as advocates of that policy maintain.

As was reported in the British Medical Journal in December 2010 by Dr. Manuel F. Pinto Coelho, chairman of the Association for a Drug Free Portugal:

‘The number of new cases of HIV/AIDS and Heptatis C in Portugal recoded among drug users is eight times the average found in other member states of the European Union.’

 ‘Portugal keeps on being the country with the most cases of injected drug-related AIDS (85 new cases per one million of citizens in 2005, while the majority of other EU countries do not exceed 5 cases per million) and the only one registering a recent increase. 36 more cases per one million of citizens were estimated in 2005 compare[d] to 2004, when only 30 were referred.’

 ‘Since the implementation of decriminalization in Portugal, the number of homicides related to drugs use has increased 40 per cent. Portugal was the only European country to show a significant increase in homicides between 2001 and 2006.’

 ‘With 219 deaths by drug “overdose” a year, Portugal has one of the worst records, reporting more than one death every two days. Along with Greece, Austria and Finland, Portugal is one of the countries that recorded an increase in drugs overdoses by over 30 per cent in 2005.’

‘Behind Luxembourg, Portugal is the European country with the highest rate of consistent drug users and IV heroin dependents.’

 ‘There remains a notorious growing consumption of cocaine in Portugal… cocaine drug seizures have increased sevenfold between 2001 and 2006, the sixth highest in the world.’

 In light of the chastening statistics supplied by Dr Pinto Coelho, he is surely correct that: ‘the Portugese drug decriminalization model is a mistake… [and] should not be followed by anyone.’

However unsound are many of the excessively lax penal policies of the current UK Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, he had surely been reporting a correct decision of the present British government when, on Tuesday of this week, he told a House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry into Drugs that:

‘The government has no intention whatsoever of changing the criminal law on drugs… We are all disappointed by the fact that, far from making progress, it could be argued we are going backwards at times. But…I would be worried about losing the deterrent effect of criminalization of youngsters who start experimenting… One thing that does put them off is that they would get into trouble with the police.’

So, what is to be done if neither zero tolerance, nor legalization, nor decriminalization is the way to win the war against drugs?

In my next posting on this subject, I propose to address this vexed and contentious question.