DRUGS: by David PerrinNews Weekly
Beazley's drug policy: more of the same
, April 7, 2001
With current public opinion polls showing Kim Beazley is likely to be Australia's next Prime Minister his new drug policy shows we can expect drug use to continue to increase. David Perrin explains.
Kim Beazley's 10-point plan to tackle Australia's drug problem shows he has not learnt from past mistakes.
The new policy, recently released, continues the disastrous policy of harm minimisation and extends it to include social experiments that will include heroin injecting rooms, prescription heroin and heroin trials.
The policy is full of generalisations and attacks on John Howard's concern about "sending the wrong message", his "personal intervention in rewriting policy" and his "personal prejudice".
Nowhere in the policy does the ALP commit itself to policy objectives of reducing drug use, drug addiction rates, drug deaths or drug-related crime.Keeping people alive
Beazley now acknowledges that there has been an "epidemic of overdose deaths". In fact, since Australia adopted harm minimisation in drug policy under Bob Hawke during The Drug Offensive some 15 years ago, there has been an explosion of drug use, addicts and consequent overdose deaths. This indicates that the harm minimisation policy has been a disaster, as it normalised drug use and illicit drug acceptance in our community.
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre disclosed last year that in the preceding decade, there was a doubling of the number of heroin addicts, with the average age of first-time heroin users dropping from 20 to 16. Teenage girls are now just as likely to become addicted as teenage boys. The reasons for this latter statistic were given as a drop in price, increased availability, increased purity, and the fact that heroin could be smoked as well as injected.
Beazley claims that he will keep drug-users alive by training them in cardio-pulmonary rescuscitation (CPR) techniques. This bizarre proposal suggests the development of a new type of CPR whilst in a drug-intoxicated state. What he is proposing is the acceptance of drug overdose and its potential for drug death, then the resuscitation by other users likely to be in a drug-induced stupor themselves.
This proposal is as bizarre as the Victorian Liberals' proposal last year that ambulances be stationed near where overdoses are likely to occur. Why won't Beazley look at the proven policy of using the courts to direct addicts into detoxification and rehabilitation, which is working overseas?
He commits himself to "significantly increasing the places provided for detoxification" without specifying how many places, what they will cost, over what period they will operate, and where they will be.
Detoxification without rehabilitation is a waste of taxpayers' money. Beazley acknowledges the need for more rehabilitation counsellors but only commits the ALP to put "additional resources into ... rehabilitation" without any enforced commitment on addicts' part.
There is no acknowledgement of what types of rehabilitation will be funded, whether rehabilitation will be monitored to ensure it gets addicts drug-free, whether rehabilitating addicts will receive social security, have free health benefits, be financed for education programs and whether these programs will be funded for family support.
He proposes to teach drug-users about risks and how to use drugs safely. He ignores the fact that any illicit drug use can lead to ill-health, death or a reduced life span.
Parents of dead youngsters can tell him of the instances where a first use of drugs was fatal. The epidemic of Hepatitis C has come about with an explosion of free taxpayer-funded syringes, even though evidence shows that 30 - 40 per cent of intravenous drug-users share their syringes.
Beazley is committed to looking at programs to maintain addicts on an alternative drug to heroin without any clear commitment to get the addicts drug-free. In this part of the policy he commits the ALP to experimenting with injecting rooms, prescription heroin and heroin trials, even though an alternative of court ordered and supervised programs (to divert addicts into detoxification and rehabilitation) is far superior.
The Beazley policy does have a number of useful commitments, such as the acknowlegement of the link between mental illness and drug use. But this dual diagnosis is neglected elsewhere, and whilst there is no commitment for funding, the potential for damage is great.
The link between marijuana use and schizophrenia, psychosis, severe anxiety, paranoia, and other psychological ills should be researched, as there is clear scientific evidence for it. As well, studying links between marijuana use and impaired alertness in driving and machine use, impaired human fertility, impaired foetal development, and other severe problems would be of great use in understanding why marijuana should remain illegal.Protecting families
Beazley's policy for protecting our young from drug use is to build stronger families and communities.
The policy offers families access to community support and counselling during a crisis period (when, no doubt, they have discovered that their children are on drugs). What is difficult to determine is exactly what type of assistance will be available and what effect it would have.
The only suggestion in the policy is the setting up of "Community Safety Zones", where there are high levels of crime and community safety is low. Whilst this is useful as a first focus, there is no indication that other parts of the community affected by drugs will be given any assistance.
Providing community safety liaison officers, community drug action programs, more syringe containers, youth programs, discussion groups: these methods all treat the symptoms rather than the root cause.
This part of the ALP's policy is particularly weak, as it does not consider the success of overseas programs to eliminate the effects of drugs in a community. This is symptomatic of the harm minimisation approach to community safety.
Strangely, the Beazley policy of assisting indigenous Australians away from drug use is much better and includes a diversion program away from prison and into detoxification and rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the policy does not specify whether indigenous Australians with a drug problem will be directed into detoxification and rehabilitation. However, Beazley seems to discriminate between indigenous and other Australians in the assistance they get if they are addicted.Drug-related crime
The revelation in the ALP's policy that an Australian Institute of Criminology study found 86 per cent of adult males arrested for a property offence to have tested positive for an illicit drug should have been the starting point for this section of the policy. Unfortunately, it was not.
There is no acknowledgement that directing drug-users into detoxification and rehabilitation will have a major impact on reducing crime and the victims of drug crime.
The major parts of this section of the policy are primarily a matter for the States. Diversion of children from gaols, drug courts, a trial of drug-free prisons, rehabilitation and support for released prisons are State matters, where the Commonwealth can have very little impact.
The Labor policies of confiscation of profits for drug barons, more effective law enforcement, co-operation between police forces, a co-ordination centre within the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence, more Federal police, and the use of Geographical Information Systems for law enforcement all have merit. They will find some community support, as will the proposal for a new Coast Guard.Marijuana legalisation
Nevertheless, Beazley's policy is fatally flawed in its acceptance of marijuana use. The policy promises a national approach to marijuana to get a common framework.
Given that marijuana is a very dangerous drug, which has been normalised in our society (and in some States legalised), there are grave risks in the approach taken by Beazley in his policy. For example, the medical use of marijuana, as proposed by the policy, has already been rejected overseas. The scientific evidence against the use of marijuana is overwhelming.
The reason marijuana use is five times higher in Australia than Sweden is that Sweden has not normalised or legalised this drug.
There is considerable medical evidence that the use of marijuana causes many cancers, foetal abnormalities, mental illness, respiratory illnesses, brain malfunction, memory loss, infertility, motor accidents, equipment injuries, and other dangers.
Given that the THC levels in marijuana are increasing with new varieties of the drug, the ALP should be looking at reducing the use of it in the community.What's missing
Particularly disappointing in the policy are these factors: the lack of a national campaign to say no to drugs, the lack of a commitment to marginalising and rendering unacceptable all drug use, and the lack of a commitment to the United Nations International Control Board obligations to keep all illicit drugs illegal.