May 26th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd still in front

EDITORIAL: East Timor: end of the Fretilin era?

HOUSING: Soaring house prices give illusion of wealth

LABOR PARTY: Sir Rod Eddington, Labor's business guru

PRIMARY INDUSTRY: Vital issues in wheat single-desk decision

OPINION: Family First takes on Howard's workplace laws

DRUGS CONFERENCE: Reality check needed on illicit drugs

SCHOOLS: Choice would be eroded by centralisation

INTELLIGENCE CORNER: Shssh - don't mention the war!

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Politics could worsen global health pandemic

QUARANTINE: Drought used as excuse to relax quarantine standards

STRAWS IN THE WIND: No kangaroo meat - thank you very much / Tony Blair - a class act / Vladimir the Cruel / Turkey - between a rock and a hard place

UNITED STATES: US Supreme Court bans partial-birth abortion

WORLD AFFAIRS: Islam: the questions which must be answered

States more accountable than Canberra (letter)

Problems facing Brisbane-to-Melbourne rail-link (letter)

News Weekly informative, timely (letter)

The media and freedom of speech (letter)

CINEMA: A luminous film of great beauty

BOOKS: WHAT'S LEFT? How Liberals Lost Their Way, by Nick Cohen

Books promotion page

Reality check needed on illicit drugs

by Graeme Rule

News Weekly, May 26, 2007
Illicit drugs are a menace to society, and there are plenty of ways society can combat them, an anti-drugs conference in Adelaide was told recently. Graeme Rule, who was at the conference, reports.

High-powered anti-drug experts and campaigners from around the world were flown in to Adelaide to address a three-day conference, attended by 170 people, from April 27 to 29.

Speakers came from the United States, Britain, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and New Zealand, as well as from Australia. Five young Australians spoke about their experiences battling drug addiction.

The conference, entitled “Exposing the reality: a national and international perspective on illicit drug use”, was opened by Drug-Free Australia patron and former world champion tennis-player, Dr Margaret Court AO.

Dr Ivan Van Damme, a Belgian scientist, warned that “drugs hijack the brains survival system”, but also quoted the director of the US Government's National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr Nora Volkow, who has said that “drug addiction is a brain disease that can be treated”.

Needle exchange

Kerstin Käll MD, PhD, from Sweden, exposed the shortcomings in needle-exchange programs. She demonstrated from numerous studies that such programs have failed to prevent the spread of HIV infection among injecting drug-users. Her research shows up to 60 per cent of drug-users still share needles.

Dr Joe Santamaria - former director of the Drug and Alcohol Services at St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne - cited further evidence confirming that needle exchanges have no impact on Hepatitis C infection rates, a continuing problem in Australia.

Dr Stuart Reece, a Brisbane physician who specialises in drug intoxication and is arguably the world's leading authority on the effects of illicit drugs on teeth and on ageing, said, “Scientists are missing the obvious, that addiction destroys.”

Ann Bressington, the South Australian anti-drugs crusader, now an MP, who founded SA's highly successful DrugBeat detoxification and rehabilitation program, said, “It is disturbing that our children believe that illicit drugs are less harmful than tobacco and alcohol.”

David Evans, a US lawyer, and Peter Walker, a former headmaster of the Abbey School in Faversham, Kent, England, both spoke of the benefits of introducing drug-testing in schools.

Mr Walker demonstrated how, even when testing was voluntary and random, petty crime declined, school academic standards rose, and 86 per cent of parents and students were satisfied with the result.

Five young Australians told the conference of their personal experiences battling drug addiction.

Bronwen Healy from Brisbane spoke of her fall into addiction and street prostitution after being offered marijuana in art school. She was saved through entering a naltrexone program run by Dr Reece.

“Now I am eight years drug-free, married with beautiful children and running the Hope Foundation,” she said. “Every choice has a consequence and now my story is a story of hope.”

Jade Lewis of Perth told how, as an elite young athlete, she was picked to run overseas. She said her problems started with going to rave parties, where drugs were freely available. She ended up in Teen Challenge, a rehabilitation program near Esperance.

Jade said that, if she had her way, she “would ban methadone”, a substance often prescribed for drug addicts. “I (would leave) a clinic feeling so defeated. … The pattern is: methadone in the morning, then stealing, then a hit at night.”

She reminded her listeners that “drugs are illegal because they are bad”. Jade now works in programs in which young Christians help students say no to drugs by offering them one-on-one mentoring.

Darren Marton stood out amongst all the suits and jackets as he moved around the conference in shorts, sneakers and a National Rugby League top. Powerfully built, he had once had great success in under-age rugby league and was aiming for the top.

However, he spiralled downwards as he got caught up in serious drug use.

Since his rehabilitation, he has founded the No-Way Campaign which has been actively supported by federal NSW Liberal MP Mrs Danna Vale and Sydney radio personality Alan Jones.

A fifth reformed drug addict was Ryan, a young South Australian who, at the age of 13, was offered marijuana. He described how he began using amphetamines, was kicked out of home and turned to crime.

Dr John Herron, a former federal minister - now chairman of the Australian National Council on Drugs - defended aspects of “harm minimisation”.

- Graeme Rule runs the Coalition on Alcohol and Drug Education Inc., and is a director of Drug-Free Australia Ltd.

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