By Robbie Meredith BBC News NI Education Correspondent - 16 March 2018
A new pilot project to introduce American-style 'drug courts' to Northern Ireland is being developed.
They are courts aimed at keeping drug users out of prison and getting them into treatment.
A senior American judge is in Belfast to advise local judges, politicians and others working in the criminal justice system about how they operate. Gregory Jackson was appointed to the District of Columbia Superior Court in 2005 by then President George W Bush.
Judge Jackson said drug courts were not about punishment.
"If you successfully complete the programme, you're done - you're out of the criminal justice system," he said.
Drug users and even some small-scale dealers are offered a way to escape prison and a conviction
"We average on any given day between 75 to 125 people participating in the drug court programme.
"Our graduation rate is around 50% to 60%."
That means that over half of those who begin the treatment programme complete it.
And they literally graduate, with special ceremonies held in courthouses to recognise their achievement.
The statistics are impressive.
Drug courts in the USA have been shown to reduce crime by 45% in comparison with other sentencing options.
According to Judge Jackson, they also save the public purse between $3,000 and $13,000 dollars per person.
Yet he admits that getting the public and politicians to recognise that they are not a 'soft option' has taken time.
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It is important to express from the outset of this declaration that best practice health care and family/community well-being are an important value to Dalgarno Institute and that both the sick and vulnerable, particularly children, are protected to fullest extent possible from harms from all drugs both legal and illicit. We also acknowledge the long fought for and won regulatory processes and science behind drug prescription processes must be defended and maintained for the best health care outcomes for the community.
Self-medication is bad medicine
All professional health practitioners and responsible government understands this fact. The AMA has commented saying that “any therapeutic potential of cannabis requires more research!” 1 This statement by our leading medical body is important to note on two levels.
Firstly, the ‘self-medication’ experiment has been run and done! The USA had its highest number of registered addicts in the late 19th Century for one reason only - Substances such as opium and cocaine were ‘peddled’ as medicine without regulation or testing. Bought and sold on the free market as one would purchase an analgesic at a supermarket. People determined their own dose, according to their felt need, and perceived benefit, unaware of side effect or long term impact – This failed experiment led to the commencement of prescription processes and the regulation and classification of current illicit drugs.
The current folly in the U.S.A also demonstrates how chaotic and utterly abused the so called ‘Medical Marijuana for self-medication’ exercised has proven to be. The standard 'marijuana legalization bill' in the current U.S scenario ensures that, pot becomes "medicine", users become "patients", and drug dealers become "caregivers"!
Secondly, is that foundational principles of good healthcare/practice dictate that untested and unregulated psychotropic substances be kept from the community as their potential for damage and/or dysfunction of users is high. The two foundation principles of disease and/or dysfunction management are to
1) reduce/minimise susceptibility and
2) reduce/minimize exposure.
Best Practice Medicine
Taxpayer funded healthcare initiatives will also insist on these measure for best practice. Any practice or medication that can potentially increase either, susceptibility or exposure to further disease/dysfunction, cannot be permitted in patient care – Self-determined ‘experimentation’ on patients, by even the best medical practitioners with substances (let alone an unqualified parent or care-giver), would be an outrage and is not permitted under current legislation and protocols – this must be protected and defended.
Proper testing and regulation of all potential medicine is imperative and any mechanism that negates these protective processes must be scrutinized fully and carefully. Good science and wise socio-political policy making cannot be overridden by emotional vitriol and manufactured media consensus. One does not ‘vote’ on which chemicals should be made freely available to the population. To do so is to set a disturbing precedent that will ultimately unleash a ‘self-medication tsunami’. (as we are currently seeing in the USA)
As a juxtapose to the issue and warning; It is vital to note that in the USA ‘medical opium’ (prescribed regulated opiates i.e. codeine based medicines) is now killing four times the number of people (over 16000 in 2010) than the illegal form; heroin. 1 This too is the result of a combination of ‘self-medication’ by patients and/or simple ‘recreational use’ of prescription drugs for ‘pleasure’.
Marijuana is not a benign substance with some therapeutic values; it has a significant number of physiological, biological and psychological negative impacts.
“Although the general public may perceive cannabis to be the least harmful illicit drug, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of persons seeking treatment for cannabis use disorders over the past decade, particularly in the Americas, Oceania and Europe.” 2
Marijuana is a complex plant and whilst there are potential and even proven medicinal properties in these plants, they also have a significant number of dangerous constituents. The extraction and synthesizing of the potentially beneficial components has been subjected to over a decade of trials and processes which have yielded a number of currently registered pharmaceuticals for pain management and other medical conditions - on the market now , i.e. dronabinol (Marinol), nabilone, nabiximols (Sativex) and rimonabant.
Whilst it is also acknowledged that there are perceived benefits from some emerging formulations from Marijuana plants, it is imperative that thorough and fully understood testing is done before registering such for public consumption.
There can be no place for use of Marijuana or its constituents outside of properly authorized and prescribed T.G.A and A.M.A approvals process.
Both wisdom and compassion for current and future patients insists that we recommend...
Full investigation and testing of potential therapeutic components of Marijuana to ensure short and long term safety for patients. (Let’s not repeat the Cigarette ‘health promotion messages’ of the past)
Proper regulation and management of any therapeutic derivations from Marijuana through the T.G.A (Therapeutic Goods Administration) and dispensed only under strictest medical prescription guidelines.
Candidates eligible for use of these medications to be given low or no cost access to them as soon as possible.
That all and every measure be taken to ensure the pro-cannabis lobby and their parliamentary backers do not manipulate/hijack this health agenda to simply further the agenda of legalizing cannabis for ‘recreational’ use.
1 100 Americans die of drug overdoses each day. How do we stop that? (The Washington Post - February 2014)
2 Executive Summary: World Drug Report 2014
20 Flaws in Study Finding No Health Problems in Adult Males Who Were Chronic Marijuana Users as Teens, Young Adults2015
Beyond Smoke Screen D F Aon MM 2014
Current Position American Epilepsy Society Medical Cannabis March 2015
Drug Free Australia Brief to Australian Parliamentarians Medical Cannabis
MMJ A systematic review 2015