November 10th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Farmers' protest in Canberra over national water plan

EDITORIAL: Howard and Rudd - the Coke vs. Pepsi election?

RURAL CRISIS: Crocodile tears and hand-wringing over drought

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Why voters have turned on John Howard

INTERNATIONAL TRADE: China's aggressive trade strategy pays off

FOREIGN INVESTMENT: Risk for Australia in dependence on China

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Overdue steps to ensure open government

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Victoria's hospital fiasco / Shooting fish in a barrel / Misreading America

POLITICAL IDEOLOGIES: How family-friendly is the free market?

DRUGS POLICY: Illicit drugs and the federal election

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Exposing the abortion-breast cancer link

OPINION: A Rudd election win will be a disaster

OBITUARY: A Labor Party statesman remembered - Hon. Kim Edward Beazley Snr. AO (1917-2007)

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Christian foster-parents face deregistration / Marital status and poverty - study

BOOKS: CREATORS: From Chaucer to Walt Disney, by Paul Johnson

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Illicit drugs and the federal election

by David Perrin

News Weekly, November 10, 2007
Australia's high illicit drug use must become a federal election issue, writes David Perrin.

With the recent illicit-drug use by high-profile sporting personalities in the spotlight, and a recent report by a House of Representatives committee on the effect of illicit drugs on families, drugs are a major community issue.

Medical research has now conclusively proven the link between illicit drug use and mental illness, including psychosis.

Australia currently exhibits high cannabis use. As for new drugs, particularly Ice, Australia boasts a world record in illicit use. High drug use is causing many Australian illicit-drug users to become an underclass and is feeding drug-pushers, international drug criminals and terrorist groups that use drug money to bankroll their evil purposes.

The fashionable, permissive approach to illicit drugs, known as "harm minimisation", has been an abject failure in Australia and has fuelled the massive drug demand.

This demand for illicit drugs must now be substantially reduced.

Fortunately, there are alternatives which have not been tried in Australia but which have been used successfully overseas to reduce the demand for illicit drugs.

Australia must pursue world's best practice by adopting drug policies that are working overseas:

1) Politicians must abandon the failed and discredited policy of "harm minimisation", and replace it with the tougher approach of harm-elimination.

2) The federal advisory body, the Australian National Council on Drugs, should be scrapped and replaced by a new body that will recommend drug policies that have proved successful overseas.

3) Policies relating to illicit drugs must be kept separate from policies relating to legal drugs such as alcohol. For illicit drugs, any use must be acted upon. For alcohol, wherever there is widespread use, incidents of its abuse must be acted upon.

4) Illicit drug use must be treated as a community-wide issue, not as a mere health problem.

5) The Federal Government must set a clear objective of substantially reducing the number of illicit drug users and drug demand. To achieve this, anti-drug programs must be aimed at teenagers on the experience of countries that have learnt that stopping teenagers from using illicit drugs works best. Government must set a clear target of no more than four per cent of teenagers having used an illicit drug in the past 12 months, as has been successfully done overseas, notably in Sweden. National, annual, consistent and publicly-reported polling of drug use by Australian teenagers should be compared with drug-use figures for similarly-aged youngsters in Sweden, which has the most successful anti-drug policies in Europe.

6) All areas impacted upon by illicit drug use, such as health, border protection, law enforcement, social security, education, correctional services and the judicial system, must be involved in the drug demand reduction strategy.

7) The Federal Government must use its commonwealth powers to close the failed and costly injecting rooms in Sydney's Kings Cross so that taxpayers' money is more productively directed into detoxification and rehabilitation programs. Likewise, all syringe-distribution programs should be scrapped and the funds diverted into detoxification and rehabilitation programs that get drug-users free of drugs.

8) Federal funds allocated to states and territories should be paid only on the clear proviso that rehabilitation programs are audited to ensure at least an 80 per cent of illicit drug-users are permanently drug-free. The definition of a successful rehabilitation is that a former user remains drug-free for at least five years after rehabilitation ceases.

9) Illicit drug users apprehended must be brought to court. The courts must order a user into detoxification and then rehabilitation, and supervise them so that they cannot walk out of the program whenever they wish. Federal funds allocated for rehabilitation can stipulate these court orders and supervision.

10) Given the large number of deaths, health problems and babies born with a methadone addiction, the current take-away methadone program should be scrapped and the funds diverted into detoxification and rehabilitation.

Harm elimination

If government wishes to stem the escalation of future community costs, it must pursue the proven harm-elimination strategies listed above.

As the Commonwealth Government is a major provider of federal funds for health services, it has a major responsibility for reducing future health costs by reducing as far as possible illicit drug use in Australia's population.

- David Perrin is executive officer of the Drug Advisory Council of Australia and national president of the Australian Family Association. He was a panellist on ABC television's Difference of Opinion (October 25, 2007) on "Sportsmen behaving badly".

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