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01 May 2017

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That's perfectly true Bernard but the real problem is that those who turn to these temporary avenues of distraction are really only ensuring a worse distribution of their own wealth.

The problem is the inequitable distribution of wealth and alcohol, drugs and process addictions are merely used to anaesthetise the angst and existentialism.

Substance abuse is nothing new as Chris has stated. The reasons are initially fairly easy to understand. If it gives you pleasure and you try it and are able to continue using or doing it, why stop?

It’s a bit like the personal lament: ‘Why is it that whatever I like is either fattening, expensive, taxed or illegal?’

The essence of the problem is one of understanding the issues and finding effective answers rather than not getting bogged down in the symptoms.

Easier to say, but not easy to do.

That’s why governments are totally ill equipped or designed to cope with this problem. Governments would however like us believe that they are able to cope but demonstrably have never been able to. Just look at the United States attempt at Prohibition in the early 20th Century. It was always doomed to failure since the issue was one part of society trying to impose its will (in this case ‘temperance’) on the majority.

All that happened is the consumption of alcohol went underground and created a vast illegal network that catered for those who had suddenly become lawbreakers.

The modern view seems to be limited to moderate initiatives that are designed to gradually reduce consumption through excessive taxation.

Smoking tobacco creates huge health problems and public health expenditure far greater than the revenue it brings in. Australian society is gradually being weaned off tobacco. That is except for those who can’t or won’t give it up and are now paying huge taxes on the product. They have also been reduced to ‘fringe dwellers’ who are barred from smoking almost everywhere in public. That’s a far cry from years ago when we used to visit the cinema in PNG and have trouble seeing the film through the tobacco smoke inside the theatre.

So is taxation the panacea? Not when people can produce their own.

Education is another questionable case. Everyone knows that excessive drinking and smoking is bad for your health yet people still do it. Younger people seemingly have a subliminal belief that it won’t affect them. It’s a bit like going off to war and believing you won’t get killed isn’t it?

The answer can only be ‘limitation’. When you go to an International airport these days the only place one can smoke is in a special sealed room that has its own ventilation system.

Aside from that aspect, if people had to pay a health insurance premium to help cover the cost of their diminishing health so as those who didn’t imbibe wouldn’t have to support them, maybe that might help? How to ensure those who imbibe will not hide their habits? Well that gets back to the old ‘Chicken and the egg question’ doesn't?

The history of alcohol consumption and of other psycho-active drugs amongst humans goes back at least 10,000 years, probably longer. So too do the problems associated with the abuse of these substances.

In the case of PNG, until recently, the substance most abused was buai but its effects were, so far as I could tell, fairly muted. Now, exposure to the wider world has brought with it a wider range of much more potent and dangerous choices.

The colonial regime in PNG for a long time worked hard to prevent Papua New Guineans having access to alcohol. Eventually, this prohibition was attacked and over turned on the basis that it was a denial of their human rights.

It also denied alcohol suppliers and vendors the chance to make a lot of money, not to mention the huge tax revenues that flowed to the government as well. So, human rights were once again put to the service of capitalism.

As is usual amongst humans, this new right has turned out to be a two edged sword.

For most, it has merely been a means by which to indulge in the use of a social lubricant, with little harm done beyond the odd hang over now and then. For others, it has induced a downward spiral into addiction and dysfunction.

It is estimated that around 5% of Australians are alcoholics. Many, perhaps most, of these are "high functioning" alcoholics, meaning that they can cope with ordinary life without betraying the true extent of their addiction, either to themselves or others.

As a former hospital CEO, I have seen plenty of evidence of what alcohol and tobacco use and abuse does to people over a lifetime.

In Australia, it is estimated that around 20% of hospital admissions are directly or indirectly related to alcohol abuse, with another 20% related to tobacco abuse.

Despite the political and media obsession with drugs like marijuana, methamphetamines and heroin, these are a comparatively trivial source of health problems although their physical and psychological effects can be profound and enduring for those foolish enough to use them.

So, PNG is plodding down a well trodden path as it grapples with how to deal with its alcohol and drug use and abuse problems.

Sadly, I am not aware of any workable strategy to prevent people from ruining their lives, and those of others, through alcohol and drug abuse.

Freedom comes with a price, which is need to exercise self discipline and restraint. This seems to be not commonly understood or, if it is, is simply ignored in the reckless pursuit of hedonistic pleasures.

Even the current strategy of the President of the Philippines, which is to allow the police to summarily execute drug suppliers and offenders, doesn't appear to entirely stamp out the problem.

So, it seems best for PNG to pursue a home grown solution, to which I say: Good luck with that!

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