DRUGS: by David PerrinNews Weekly
Howard Government's drugs campaign falters
, May 7, 2005
The Federal Government's Tough on Drugs advertising campaign is not being matched by the necessary tough policies.The Federal Government has recently launched an advertising campaign as part of its Tough on Drugs policy that is aimed at opening communication between parents and children.
While the campaign is good as far as its goes in improving parent/child discussions, it does not deal with the real issues of illicit drug use.
It is the ABC television's Four Corners
program that has been at the forefront of the drug awareness campaign with its recent Messing With Heads
documentary (News Weekly
, April 9, 2005).
What parents need is truthful information about what illicit drugs actually do to the brain and health of users.Four Corners
showed that cannabis - the most widely used illicit drug in Australia - is causing enormous mental health concerns for the medical profession, with clear links to psychosis, schizophrenia and mental problems. These effects are likely to be long-term and in some cases permanent.Youth at risk
The evidence is that cannabis use is starting earlier, and in some cases children as young as 10 are using cannabis and starting to show the symptoms of future health problems in their twenties.
Recent surveys show that Australia is one of the highest illicit drug-using countries in the Western world. These surveys show that 28 per cent of teenagers and 35 per cent of young people in their twenties have used an illicit drug in the past year.
Adolescent brains are still developing and are more damaged by the use of illicit drugs. A recent study from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, published in the British Medical Journal
, indicates that illicit drugs such as cannabis are linked to psychosis and increase the risk of mental illness later in life. The study of 2,400 young Germans is only one of many studies since 1987 that establish this link.
The Mental Health Research Institute in Melbourne has confirmed the link between cannabis and later mental illness, warning that stopping use is an essential part of managing the mental illness.
What is the use of having an advertising campaign when there are no detoxification and rehabilitation programs to get the illicit drug-users off the drug permanently? In Australia, most of the treatments for illicit drug use are not focused on getting users off drugs, but on maintaining them on drugs - such as the injecting centre in Kings Cross, Sydney.• Advertising campaigns run without comprehensive detoxification and rehabilitation programs to get drug-users off drugs are bound to fail.
No federal or state government has ever articulated a specific objective in their drug policies to bring about a reduction in the number of Australian drug-users.
Australia's key policy goal should be to adopt world best practice of no more than four per cent of the youth population having used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months.
Contrast this with the current reality of ever-increasing illicit drug use and the fact that one in three 20-year-olds have used an illicit drug in the past 12 months.• Advertising campaigns run without a clear policy objective of reducing illicit drug use are bound to fail.
Another of the images portrayed in the Federal Government advertising campaign is the dead drug-user being zipped up in a body bag. Sadly many drug-users and former users tell you that the consequences of using illicit drugs can make death seem not so bad.
Long-term drug damage creates enormous problems for Australia's mental health, medical, social welfare and criminal justice systems. Australia will never reduce its drug-using population while it treats illicit drug use as a health issue and not as a comprehensive multifaceted comm-unity issue.• Advertising campaigns run with a narrow health focus are bound to fail.
The Federal Government's current advertising campaign is being completely undermined by the lack of a comprehensive program to combat illicit drug use, coordinated by federal and state governments with a clear focus of harm elimination.State policy
The present drug policies of the state governments - based on the failed harm minimisation philosophy - are undermining the Federal Govern-ment's efforts.
In recent times, most state governments in Australia have weakened their cannabis laws in direct contradiction to the medical research showing the harm caused by cannabis.
Unlike overseas, courts in Australia are not being used to divert illicit drug-users into detoxification and rehabilitation programs aimed at getting them off drugs quickly and permanently.• Advertising campaigns without court-ordered detoxification and rehabilitation programs are bound to fail.
Unless these concerns are addressed, the Federal Government's drug campaign will remain stalled.
- David Perrin is the executive officer of the Drug Advisory Council of Australia.