DRUGS: by Ross SmithNews Weekly
Guarded optimism after Melbourne summit
, April 21, 2001
Ross Smith discusses the Drugs Summit held in Victoria's Parliament House during March, and deplores the Bracks Government's reluctance to take seriously the advice which the summit offered.
The State Government is sidestepping the two main recommendations of Victoria's former Police Chief Neil Comrie, following its recent drugs summit.
Mr Comrie told the Joint Sitting of Victoria's Parliament that politics should be eliminated from the drugs debate. He then called for the establishment of an independent authority that reported directly to Parliament.
This would include appointing a highly competent professional, who would be responsible for co-ordinating all of the present conglomeration of agencies and government departments (including police), and would have a budget assigned specifically to it by the State Government.
Unfortunately Premier Bracks responded by merely renaming existing drug councils, which will continue to report to him rather than to Parliament. Mr Comrie's other recommendation - to control the independent authority's exclusive financial priorities - was also ignored.
However, the Joint Sitting did hear many constructive proposals which, I believe, can help alleviate the spread of drugs among our young people.
We heard that there should be a greater emphasis on rehabilitation, the third phase of action to clamp down on drug-taking.
The first two phases, which cover drug prevention education and treatment, are being addressed to some extent already: including the vital area of detoxification. I would add here that I would argue for mandatory detoxification of heroin addicts who have been saved by the Metropolitan Ambulance with the narcotic antagonist Narcan after a near-death experience.
Rehabilitation, however, is the real key to ensuring full recovery from drug addition. It entails the vitally important aspect of continuing treatment after the immediate detoxification.
I have personally witnessed a successful private Naltrexone treatment program, where more than 1,000 addicts have been treated, with almost 70 per cent of them staying off heroin permanently.
This success has not only included the dramatic process itself, but also the requirements of solid family support, to ensure that the addict takes Naltrexone daily after the original treatment finishes, and has tender loving care throughout.
The big problem in rehabilitation, as I see it, is for those who are detoxified but do not have family or other solid support. This is where the charitable organisations come in. And this is the reason I asked Archbishop Pell (not yet appointed to his Sydney post) about the Catholic Church's attitude. His response was encouraging:
"There appear to be two stages of rehabilitation. One is the primary and initial detoxification. The Catholic agencies looked at whether we could be involved, but the recurrent costs seem to be clearly beyond our capacity. The second stage that has been mentioned involves trying to provide communities for people who have gone through detoxification - that is, halfway houses - to go back into the community. Many Christian communities are working in that way in parts of Europe, for example, in Italy. We will be looking at that within the Catholic community."
However, this rehabilitation phase needs tremendous government support, even if the facilities of the charities are already being utilised. Significant taxpayer input in this area would be very cost-effective, because successful rehabilitation would assist addicts to return to the workforce. It would also reduce the hidden costs of drug-related crime in our society.
Rehabilitation is where, I believe, the debate and appropriate action should now be focussed.
I should note that the drug Buprenophine, to aid rehabilitation, became available in early April with Federal Government subsidies. This drug is already being acclaimed as being highly successful in the treatment of many types of heroin user, and is considered to be a better alternative to Methadone.
The spirit of bipartisanship evident in Parliament during the summit showed a strong determination to take the urgent action so desperately needed to save the lives of all too many people - particularly among the young - from being ruined by addiction to dangerous and illicit drugs. Let's hope Mr Comrie's recommendations are not permanently ignored by the State Government.