15 June 2009

First they came for the terrorists…

The news that Police Officers in Enfield have been suspended while investigations take place in to allegations of assault, ‘torture’ and misappropriation of property has been widely reported in the press. Coming on the back of reported Police excesses at the G20 protests, it is all too likely that it will get dismissed as just another local example of poor policing, an ‘isolated incident,’ rather than viewed as more of a systemic problem.

Because there is a bigger problem here. It’s one that organisations such as Liberty constantly warn us about, but is too often dismissed as liberal softness. It’s the risk that when ill-treatment, brutality or a suspension of Human Rights is suspended in one context, it starts the process of legitimising the same abuses further away from the original case. So behaviour that has become increasingly acceptable to some in the “war” on “terror” seeps, inexorably into the “war” on “drugs.”

Of course, the constant demonisation of drug users by politicians and the media has contributed to this process. Legislation has eroded the legal rights of drugs users to a greater extent than any other group in society, apart, possibly, from terrorists. While the police have largely balked from setting up Itemisers at the door of McDonald’s to search for people who have had contact with explosives, there’s no such hesitation at setting up such testing points at pubs and clubs. Thanks to the power of Closure Orders, a person can be evicted from a house associated with nuisance and Class A drug activity although they have not personally used any drugs or convicted of any offences.

In a world where “Rat on a Rat” is an acceptable police campaign to encourage reporting drug suppliers, it can come as little surprise that some Police officers will reduce the rights of suppliers to a similar level.

There may also be another parallel here with the way that torture crept in to the war on terror. Commentators have highlighted how fictional torture (in, for example 24) may have inspired, legitimised and promoted the use of torture in extreme situations, justifying the ends against the means. Perhaps, in a similar way, fiction such as the Shield and, closer to home, Ashes to Ashes has inspired (or created nostalgia) for the torturing of suspects and profiting from the seizure of goods.

But in practice this is neither a nostalgic throwback to smoke-filled basements and giving the suspect a good going over, nor is it turning over the Armenian money-train. This what happens when the Government and successive mayors in London sanction brutality against protestors, strikers, demonstrators and suspected terrorists, and the media and politicians create a folk devil out of drugs and those who use them. You reap a whirlwind.

11 June 2009

You wait for ages for a Drugs News service and then three come along at once!

The strange saga of Daily Dose and DS Daily...

It’s been a funny few months for drug news services. For a long time the Daily Dose, established by David Clark, was the first daily Drugs News bulletin. Compiled by the industrious and diligent Jim Young, it built up a significant number of subscribers.

But, in April 2009, Jim Young left the Daily Dose. Editorials on the Daily Dose website suggested that attempts by the NTA to interfere with editorial content was the cause of this, a claim refuted by the NTA. The Daily Dose was briefly suspended, before reappearing with a new format at the end of April.All this must have been manna to Drink and Drug News who launched their own email Drug News service at the end of March. This subscription service (at
http://www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/Register.aspx) is a relatively slim affair compared to Daily Dose, focussing as it does mainly on UK news services.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Drugscope then launched their own news service DS Daily – (
http://www.dsdaily.org.uk/) in May 2009. Previously, their news had come from their regular Members Briefings but the DS Daily represented a new development, currently not dependent on Drugscope membership. But the biggest surprise of the launch was that Jim Young had moved across to Drugscope and was editing/running the DS Daily. First impressions of DS Daily is that it looks to be an excellent service, well-edited, and covering important stories. It is also much tidier and not overly cluttered either by advertising or by op-ed pieces.The launch of DS Daily, and the re-emergence of Mr Young within the Drugscope team, suggests an interesting back-story. The website name was only registered on the 7th May 2009, and the website was up and running a couple of weeks later. This all suggests some nimble footwork on the part of Harry S at Drugscope and some fast work by Jim. As an aside, site admin appears to have been done by Ash Whitney of Wired Up Wales, who had previously been the webmaster for Daily Dose!

However, three similar news aggregators would seem to be too many to be sustained. Few people are going to want to receive all bulletins as they will contain much duplication. Some will lose subscribers. This probably won’t be fatal. The bigger challenge will be funding, and which provider can garner sufficient funds and clout to survive.At present, Daily Dose has a far higher profile than DS Daily. But then it has been around since 2001, and so has a major headstart over the Drugscope upstart. And even if there is a drop off in subscriptions, the number of organisations linked to Daily Dose assures it a high search-engine rating for the foreseeable future. But it isn’t all about traffic. The funding is crucial and here, Daily Dose has probably shot itself in the foot.

Following their contre-temps with the NTA, Daily Dose decided to decline further funding from the NTA. We don’t know how much this was scheduled to be; in the year 07/08 it appears to be £50,000. For a charity that reported sponsorship of only £80,000 in financial year ending May ’08, such a drop off in funding could be catastrophic. Ominously, the NTA email hinted at the role that other could play, saying “However, the shut-down provoked some people to start asking questions, and others to suggest that they could step into the breach to provide an alternative”

Drugscope’s sponsorship of Daily Dose was scheduled to end anyway; the NTA’s has now gone, and it will be interesting to see how long sponsorship from the Home Office (which results in the FRANK logo and Tackling Drugs Changing Lives) remains.

It may well be that we end up with three distinct ‘products:’ the Wired-In community site which ends up primarily promoting a recovery model, Drink and Drug News bulletins, which includes some news stories and importantly recruitment opportunities and field-specific developments, and DS Daily, which will concentrate on the dissemination of news and bulletins. We will have to wait and see.The only thing that also remains unclear is what really went on behind the scenes in late April at Wired-In resulting in Jim’s departure and rapid reappearance at Drugscope. While the NTA’s email may have been significant, the developments point strongly to internal issues at Wired-In and the direction in which Daily Dose was going. But, as with which of the drug news services will survive this year, only time will tell.