February 28th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Don't torch the sugar industry!

CANBERRA OBSERVED: New tactics needed to handle Latham challenge

TRADE: Where does new free trade pact leave us?

NCC holds successful 2004 National Conference

DRUGS: Sweden turns off teenage drug tap

STRAWS IN THE WIND : Alabama's got the bomb / Swords into ploughshares / Closed minds

Free trade and sugar (letter)

Rethink US-Australia FTA (letter)

A Cuban's view of Fidel Castro (letter)

Political correctness in schools (letter)

Superannuation a tax on families (letter)

FAMILY: Marriage under attack

TAIWAN: Cliffhanger election will affect China relations

MEDIA: Confronting sloppy journalism

HISTORY: The continuing legacy of the 1960s

COMMENT: Getting history wrong - Ross Fitzgerald's 'The Pope's Battalions'

BOOKS: The Electronic Whorehouse, by Paul Sheehan

Books promotion page

Sweden turns off teenage drug tap

by David Perrin

News Weekly, February 28, 2004
Research has established that if young people have not used an illicit drug by age 20, it is highly unlikely that they will do so later in life.

Sweden's anti-drugs policy has been more successful than Australia's because it has targeted young people to keep them from experimenting with drugs.

The Swedes recognised that they must turn off the drug user supply tap for teenagers in order to reduce the number of drug users in later life.

Unfortunately Australia's policy-makers have not learnt this lesson and this is why drug usage here is so high.

According to the 2001 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare survey, 28% of Australian teenagers have used an illicit drug within the last 12 months.

This survey showed that this increased to 36% of people in their 20's who had used an illicit drug in the last 12 months.

A similar survey in Sweden revealed that only 7% of teenagers had used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months.

The Swedes at one point had reduced the teenage drug use rate to 3% but they eased up on the anti-drug message, which caused the usage rate to blow out to 9%.

They learnt their lesson, redoubled their efforts, and have begun to get the usage rate down again.

Teenage focus

Australia's drug policy based on the failed harm minimisation philosophy does not have a teenage focus.

Sweden has set up teenage drug detoxification and rehabilitation centres around various parts of the country.

These centres offer services aimed in getting the teenagers drug free permanently.

They claim a success rate in excess of 90% because they deal with the underlying causes of the use of drugs and actively involve the parents in the program.

The Swedes use the illegality of drugs to direct users into detoxification and rehabilitation programs, something that does not happen in Australia.

One centre in Stockholm, the Marie Ungdoms Centre, offers both inpatient and outpatient services handling over 2,000 teenagers in 2002, mainly users of cannabis.

Truthful information

Sweden unlike Australia has a national anti-drug campaign consistently providing truthful information about the harm of illicit drugs.

Cannabis is the most widely used drug in Australia and is much stronger than cannabis used in the 1960's.

The medical evidence is that cannabis causes cancer, psychosis, depression, schizophrenia and sever mental illnesses.

This contrasts with a recent Melbourne Herald Sun report on a magazine Whack that promoted drug use.

Sweden regularly surveys its teenagers to find out their usage rate because its policy makers want to know and monitor the level.

This is not the case in Australia where surveys are spasmodic, confined to one state or area, and vary on the age groups surveyed.

Setting targets

In 2003 a Federal parliamentary committee reported the very high teenage use of illicit drugs but did not recommend any changes to our drug policy for teenagers.

As 2004 is a Federal election year, the various political parties must address the drug crisis, as we cannot allow our teenagers to be damaged by drugs.

Australian drug policy must change in the following ways:

1. National drug policy must set an international best practice target of no more than 3% of teenagers having used an illicit drug in the last 12 months.

2. Teenagers must be the key focus to reduce the number of new users.

3. Information to teenagers must be truthful, setting out the real dangers of illicit drug use.

4. Specialist detoxification and rehabilitation programs that get teenagers drug free must be available in all population centres throughout Australia.

5. Courts must direct teenage illicit drug users into detoxification and rehabilitation programs.

6. National surveys of teenage drug use in the previous 12 months must be carried out at least annually by the Australian National Audit Office and reported to every parliament in Australia.

7. Teenage drug use trends and strategies for reduction to the 3% target must be included in the annual report to our parliaments.

Only when these changes to our drug policies are in place will Australia turn off the tap of new drug users so that we can save our teenagers from the curse of drug use.

  • David Perrin is the National President of the Australian Family Association and travelled to Sweden in July 2003 to look at its drug program

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