HEALTH: by David PerrinNews Weekly
Legalising illicit drugs will inflict greater harm
, September 29, 2012
The same siren voices calling for the legalising of illicit drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy have started again.
This time they have used a front organisation calling itself Australia 21 and are even promoting their views in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Their tired arguments revolve around the myth that the war on drugs is lost.
Australia has one of the highest drug-using cultures in the world, and cannabis is the most commonly used drug in our country.
Our current permissive drug policy of harm minimisation is leading to even more drug use in Australia, particularly among our youth.
The magnitude of the problem has been highlighted by the latest annual report on illicit drugs produce by the Australian government’s national criminal intelligence and investigation agency, the Australian Crime Commission (ACC).
Its report highlights the involvement of organised criminals in smuggling drugs into Australia for distribution here.
The drug trade is a multi-billion-dollar industry with powerful criminals having ready access to the latest technology and benefiting from advice from high-priced lawyers and financiers.
The report highlights that most illicit drugs are easy to get and that demand for them is high. Illicit drug use is five times higher in Australia than in most other countries of the world.
As a result of this huge trade in drugs, Australia is an obvious target for international criminals.
Those people pushing for the legalisation of drugs incorrectly claim that other countries, notably Portugal, are doing better than Australia.
However, medical professionals in Portugal dispute the inaccurate figures that are often quoted to support this argument. They point out that, ever since Portugal liberalised its drug laws in 2001:
• the number of people who have used illicit drugs has gone up by 50 per cent;
• drug-related homicides have gone up by 40 per cent; and
• drug deaths are among the highest in the world.
Both the United States President’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the United Nations have highlighted the worsening trend in Portugal.
Clearly, when countries relax their drug laws, the proportion of the population using drugs goes up, and we in Australia already have a disturbingly high level of drug use.
We must beware of adopting policies that will lead to even greater drug use.
1) Australia needs to scrap its current permissive drugs policy, misleadingly called “harm minimisation”, and follow the example of other countries that have succeeded in reducing drug use in their populations.
2) We must cut off the flow of money to the international and local criminals who are behind the drug industry. This can most effectively be done by reducing the number of Australian drug-users. Sweden has shown how this can be done through court-ordered and supervised drug rehabilitation.
3) The scientific research on the many harmful consequences of illicit drug use must be widely publicised in order to dissuade young Australians from ever using or experimenting with illicit drugs.
4) We must close the drug-injecting centre in Sydney’s Kings Cross as it is only simulating demand for drugs and helping fund these criminal gangs. No Australian state or territory, apart from New South Wales, has ever set up injecting centres like this because it has been well established that they do not work.
5) Once drug-users are identified by local police using drug-driving campaigns, they should be diverted into drug rehabilitation to get them off drugs. Governments should fund effective drug rehabilitation in order to reduce massively the number of users. Such rehabilitation is far more effective than trying to intercept shipments into Australia or picking up the pieces of shattered lives at our hospitals and mental health institutions.
6) Australia should set national annual targets for progressively reducing illicit drug use until it is the lowest in the world. We need to undertake national surveys of young Australians every year to compare our drug use with that of countries such as Sweden which exemplify world’s best practice in reducing drug use. Politicians should take a far greater interest in monitoring how we are progressing.
7) Current drug advisory bodies, almost all of which subscribe to the failed harm minimisation model, should be abolished and replaced with agencies committed to pursuing world’s best practice in meeting drug-reduction targets.
8) We must have a federal minister with responsibility for reduction of drug use in Australia and for informing parliament of the heavy costs to the community of the mental health consequences resulting from drug use.
9) Australia must recommit itself to the United Nations international agreements for reducing the demand for illicit drugs and for the protection of children.
Until these initiatives are undertaken, Australia will continue to have a high drug-use culture, and we will all end up paying for the costs of border protection, drug-related crimes, road carnage, mental health problems and family breakdown — all of which are caused by drugs.
David Perrin, a former Victorian state MP, is executive officer of the Drug Advisory Council of Australia (DACA).