May 21st 2005

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: CANBERRA OBSERVED: Costello's latest budget - do the figures add up?

EDITORIAL: Australia's economy after the Budget

SCHOOLS: Our failure to provide good books for boys

DRUGS: How to crack down on illicit drugs

ABORTION: Public turning against late-term abortions

IN VITRO FERTILISATION: Why Abbott is right about IVF funding

TRADE: New Trade Theory challenges free trade

SUPERMARKETS: Big retailers set to hit farmers even harder

COMMUNISM: Remembering the Vietnamese exodus

ENVIRONMENT: Kyoto Protocol unleashes the friendly atom

Support, don't abort (letter)

Cheaper insurance for pro-lifers? (letter)

Australia's trade woes (letter)

Public inaction over illicit drugs (letter)

OBITUARY: Vale Hugh Slattery: tireless fighter

OBITUARY: Tribute to Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen

THE SUPREMACISTS: The Tyranny of Judges and How To Stop It, by Phyllis Schlafly

THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR: Athens, Sparta and the Struggle for Greece, by Nigel Bagnall

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How to crack down on illicit drugs

by David Perrin

News Weekly, May 21, 2005
Australians are, per head of population, some of the highest users of illicit drugs in the world. But a 10-point strategy, based on programs which have succeeded overseas, could cut illicit drug use drastically, argues David Perrin, executive officer of the Drug Advisory Council of Australia.

Australians are, per head of population, some of the highest users of illicit drugs in the world. Latest surveys show that more than one in three 20-year-olds have used an illicit drug in the last 12 months.

The most commonly used illicit drug is cannabis and recent research is showing that cannabis is getting more toxic and being used by younger children.

An ABC television Four Corners report, shown on March 7, 2005, disclosed that cannabis is a major cause of the increasing incidence of mental illness, including irreversible brain damage, in young people. Moreover, new party-drugs are available which have major health and community consequences for users.

A recent execution of a Victorian police officer by a man with a history of mental illness and an addiction to cannabis that could have been the cause of his psychiatric problems, highlights the dangers of cannabis and should bring the drug issue to a head.

So where to now?

Generally the Federal Government has responsibility to limit the supply of drugs coming into Australia by its border protection and customs responsibilities. It has considerable funds available to it, which it distributes to the states to try to limit the demand for drugs.

But states and territories have failed to enact effective programs to get users off drugs. Their current combination of weak cannabis laws, injecting rooms, giving out syringes to drug-users and distributing drug substitutes are allowing drug use to increase.

The Federal Government must now get tough with the states and territories and implement new strategies:

1. Abandon the failed policies of so-called "harm minimisation" that have led to the current explosion in illicit drug use.

2. Adopt the successful harm-elimination illicit drug policies that are working in other countries and reducing the numbers of illicit drug-users.

3. Reform the Federal Government's Australian National Council on Drugs that gives advice to it, so as to remove those council members who support the current failed harm-minimisation policies.

4. Pursue as a priority the goal of preventing teenagers from using illicit drugs, as overseas research has demonstrated that teenagers who do not use illicit drugs are unlikely to do so later in life. Set clear targets of no more that four per cent of teenagers having used an illicit drug during the past 12 months - which is the world's best practice. Adopt the criteria of former users being drug-free for at least five years as evidence of successful rehabilitation.

5. Fund only those agencies that help former illicit drug-users to remain drug free. Implement extensive detoxification and rehabilitation for Australia's indigenous community that is badly affected by illicit drugs and cannabis in particular. Implement a comprehensive national campaign to highlight the lack of detoxification and rehabilitation programs in prisons so that those prisoners are released free of addiction. Audit federal funds given to drug treatment centres so as to ensure that at least 80 per cent of users treated at the centres are off illicit drugs permanently. World's best practice is better than 80 per cent effective in getting users off drugs.

6. Undertake annual opinion surveys on illicit drug use by state and type of drug that will highlight incompetent state performance on tackling demand for drugs.

7. Publicise the extensive medical research on illicit drugs, particularly cannabis, that shows the bad health and community consequences of drug use. The US Government has extensive research on the adverse affects of illicit drugs and would gladly share these with us. Implement a comprehensive national campaign to highlight violence, particularly domestic violence and road carnage, which are directly caused by illicit drug use and the associated increase in the incidence of mental illness. Ensure that cannabis is not promoted as a medicine (which is tantamount to legalising cannabis). Illicit drug use is not a health issue but a community issue. The tragic consequences of illicit drug use are borne not by users alone, but by the whole community, in the form of escalating crime, ever more costly law-enforcement and justice, and higher taxes to pay welfare to an ever-growing underclass of unemployable drug-addicts.

8. Attack the programs of injecting rooms, syringe distribution, cannabis availability and ineffective "treatment" facilities in the states and territories.

9. Adopt illicit drug "use", not abuse, as the policy criteria for its decisions.

10. Adopt the key principle of the dignity of each person in determining illicit drug policy so that users are diverted into effective detoxification and rehabilitation that get them drug-free.

Concerned voters can do something about this by writing to their federal members of parliament, providing them with a copy of this article, and asking them to give a commitment to reduce the demand for drugs by implementing this program.

  • David Perrin is the executive officer of the Drug Advisory Council of Australia.

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