Psychopaths are perfect for corporate life


RADIO REVIEW: RTÉ got British broadcaster Richard Hannaford in last year to make documentaries that stated the bleedin' obvious about the Irish healthcare system. Now he is injecting more of the same gear in a new series, Drugs of Choice (RTÉ Radio 1, Tuesday), talking us through Ireland's six favourite substances. Shouldn't programmes like this abandon all pretence of currency and just go straight into the archives? Well, no, not in this case.

Big H himself enjoys the jargon - like the doctors he spoke with about "goofing off" and "chasing the dragon" but unlike the matter-of-fact ex-addict he interviewed. He also likes pregnant pauses punctuating sentences: "In Ireland, 15,000 people have a problem with heroin, and for many years, one of them, was Paula." Did you know heroin, a "narcotic analgesic", was discovered by Bayer? That withdrawal symptoms are generally the opposite of the effects of a given drug? (Thus "cold turkey" from heroin involves intense pain and diarrhoea.) That the "tolerance" effect means that users can take amounts of heroin that would kill five or 10 "normal" people? (Thus US soldiers in Vietnam are known to have routinely injected two grammes a day, when the usual medical dose would be 0.5 per cent of that.) Hannaford tracked heroin's Irish revival and spread in the 1990s, when it was more often smoked than injected, and pushers promoted it as a comedown from ecstasy - and a quarter of those who use it are alleged to become addicted.

So what is to be done with addicts? Hannaford visited - and asked intelligent questions about - a local authority "shooting gallery" in Utrecht, Holland. You mightn't see residents tolerating such a facility in drug-affected communities here, such as Crumlin, Dublin - which was, ironically, the subject of Micheal Holmes's typically nostalgic Up Your Street (RTÉ Radio 1, Tuesday), immediately after Drugs of Choice.

In Holmes's Crumlin, young men on the street corner weren't waiting for a fix, they were waiting for farmers to hire them for a day's work. Up Your Street is the sort of programme where an interviewee (usually of a ripe old age) will say, in all seriousness, "we'd a happy little childhood". No doubt they did, but they lost me by insisting that Crumlin is the crooked glen "where Oisín, son of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, lived out his years". Oisín did what with his years? I'm sure there are mythic variations on Oisín's final ending; you'd want to be on some good stuff to mistake Crumlin for Tír na nÓg.

Crumlin wasn't talking about the drug trade on the radio this week, but Ronan Tynan and Anne Daly were. Wealth, Power and Protest: The Story of Globalisation (RTÉ Radio 1, Monday) wasn't about the global flow of heroin but about perfectly legal big corporations (including the big pharmaceuticals such as Bayer, which abandoned heroin early on).

This series isn't afraid to take on the big acronyms, and the TRIPS (trade related intellectual property rights) agreement was under the microscope this week. Médecins Sans Frontières is campaigning against the agreement because of its effects on poor people's health. According to its spokesman: "98 per cent of the world's medicines are made by the western-based pharmaceutical companies, the majority of whom are based on a 100 kilometre strip on the east coast of the US. The entire world is dependent on a handful of the most profitable companies in the world to produce their medicines." And of course these companies aren't interested in Africa's AIDS or malaria patients. Why would they be? Prof Niamh Brennan from UCD's Quinn Business School said corporate life attracts merciless "psychopaths". Really, she did actually say that.

"Psychopaths are ruthless, they are interested in themselves, they are not particularly interested in other people. And those are the characteristics that are valued in companies. To expect them to be concerned about the well-being of people in a country far distant from them is naïve, and you have to put in place very strong mechanisms, strong laws, to prevent them from behaving unethically, because otherwise they won't behave ethically." Shareholder value, I think they call it.

Our own Peter Sutherland, now chairman of BP Worldwide and Goldman Sachs, was (surprise!) behind the drug companies. Without intellectual property rights, the motivation for drug development would be gone, he said - confidently discarding any notion that researchers might then be motivated to help humanity rather than maximise profit. And so, with the likes of Suds running the shop, company labs toil to produce improved anti-depressants for American pets, and neglect the medical needs of the majority of the world's people.