HEALTH: by David PerrinNews Weekly
No answer to party drugs: AMA
, June 1, 2002
A recent national summit on party drugs conducted by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) was unable to come up with solutions to the increasing use of party drugs.
Party drugs are those that are usually found at nightclubs, rave parties, dance parties, bars and functions frequented by young people. They include cannabis, ecstasy, amphetamines and hallucinogens, all of which are illegal.Drug abuse increasing
At a media conference after the AMA Drug Summit admissions were made that ecstasy use by children under 14 had doubled over the 7-year period to 1998 so that now five per cent of those youngsters had used ecstasy. They guessed the situation had got worse in the four years since 1998.
The summit admitted there was an emerging health problem but were unable to quantify it. The delegates puzzled over questions: "Is there a safe level for recreational drug use?" and "How can we effectively prevent people from using drugs harmfully?".
It did not seem to occur to the delegates to the summit that the reason more young people are using recreational drugs is because the harm minimisation approach they were in love with is an abject failure.
AMA President, Dr Kerryn Phelps, when asked by a journalist: "Is there a safe level of recreational drug use?", replied that she simply did not know, but they were probably safe in the short-term but may have long-term effects.
That the AMA is unaware of the medical research - clearly showing that all current illegal drugs have short-term and long-term effects on health - is beyond comprehension.
Leaving aside the questions about an increasing number of drug-affected children and young adults on our streets and the social, legal and criminal problems that will come, the personal consequences are clear.Heroin abuse
The delegates backed a heroin trial, decriminalisation of existing illegal drugs and looking at cannabis as a medicine, in fact the whole liberal agenda on drugs.
Delegates representing drug addicts and nightclub owners were supportive of the harm minimisation approach that had caused the illegal drug explosion in the first place.
What is most disappointing about the AMA drug summit was the narrow libertarian perspective of the delegates.
There was no acknowledgement that the harm minimisation approach to drug policy had failed. It was more of the same.
The number of drug users is increasing, yet there are no policy objectives to reduce the numbers of users. Calling for more research on illegal drug use is a waste of time; the reason so-called "party drugs" are illegal is that every one of them is harmful to human health in both the short and long-term.Harm elimination works
The research from overseas is clear: drug policies that divert users into detoxification and rehabilitation, such as those in Sweden and other countries, have reduced the numbers of party drug users and the health and community consequences.
Delegates at the summit dismissed education campaigns that included shock tactics, but there has never been a coordinated "Say No to Drugs" based on eliminating the harm to young people in Australia.
Why drug summits like the one conducted by the AMA will never come up with solutions is that this country has never had a policy objective of a drug-free society.
Sweden has a drug-free society as a key objective of its drug policy and this has support across all political opinions. They do not delude themselves because they know that any use of recreational drugs causes harm.
They understand that some users of illegal drugs do not wish to stop using them, so they use the judicial system to divert users into detoxification and rehabilitation. This has never happened in Australia.
Europe's drug problems are getting worse.
In the last few months the Netherlands and Germany have moved to give free heroin to their "hard core" addicts because their harm minimisation policies have failed.
Australia must not follow them.
- David Perrin is National President of the Australian Family Association