T.J. Martin AO FAA FRS
Emeritus Professor of Medicine
University of Melbourne
Be Alert and Alarmed by Elaine Walters draws on decade of the author’s life dealing with and studying the consequences for individuals and families of addiction of illicit drugs.
The press every day leaves us with little doubt that drug use if a proximal cause of destructive behaviour that is often tragic and that has increased in Western societies to an extraordinary extent in the last two decades. It is a major cause of crime, it destroys lives and families.
As a problem to be addressed and answered, it generates opinions and suggested approaches that can be so divergent and strongly held that they often seem to be irreconcilable. This is a very evident in the account given by the author of her experience. The author is well equipped to give an account of the arguments that accompany such diversity, which she does in a transparent manner. While making the reasons for her own view clear, she describes with care the arguments of others while offering critical analysis.
With such a major social problem and with so many strongly held views, the battle for supremacy of ideas inevitable becomes fraught, and as the book illustrates how difficult debate can be under such circumstances. The author’s position is made clear, that legislation should ban the use of drugs for “recreational” purposes. This ban would not be applied to the possible use for medical purposes of marijuana, under direct and strict medical supervision. The main arguments against the idea of prohibition arise from the civil liberties point of view – that prohibition denies individuals their free choice.
The authors method in writing the book has been to present it as answers to questions that cover the subject very broadly, allowing all the arguments to be presented. She constantly comes back to concerns for young people and their futures, and how these can be imperilled by the ready availability in society of mind-changing drugs, including those regarded as “soft” by some.
Her view have been developed and presented courageously in the face of critical analysis of many people of influence and the often irrational prejudice of others, all of which is canvased in the book. Sufficient technical information is provided, but the writing is very accessible to the layperson, and as such, this is a book that would make valuable reading for those responsible for the care of children in the family or in the school, as well as for policy –makers. It could help in any reflection on social priorities – which is more important, the right to choose the use of mind-changing drugs or the responsibility to protect those vulnerable to them?