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Decriminalise drug use, families tell govt

Tony Trimingham

Tony Trimingham

Canberra [AAP]

A father who lost his son to a heroin overdose is calling for the decriminalisation of drug use, urging the Turnbull government to focus on policies that keep drug users alive rather than throw them in jail.

Tony Trimingham, founder of Family Drug Support Australia, is calling for a new approach to drug policy that, while not necessarily popular with voters, will save lives.

In recommendations to be handed to Rural Health Minister Fiona Nash on Wednesday, he says government should focus on harm reduction strategies like injecting centres, drug consumption rooms, prescription heroin and pill testing at music festivals.

“I don’t think they’re ready to go there,” Mr Trimingham told AAP.

“But it’s only a matter of time.”

Mr Trimingham’s son Damien died from a heroin overdose in 1997, prompting him to establish a 24-hour advice line, as well as courses and support groups for families of drug users.

Supporting drug use is the last thing families want, but criminalising it just adds further stress to users and their families, he said.

Mr Trimingham says heroin use appears to be on the rise with his advice line receiving a spike in calls.

Calls about ice had doubled in the past two years, but he believes recent focus on the drug has been overblown by government, media and some police.

“We know the drug that causes far more problems, far more stress is alcohol – it’s 10 times the damage caused by ice.”

The federal government in December announced a $300 million plan to tackle ice, backing all 38 recommendations of its National Ice Taskforce.

Mr Trimingham says it’s still unclear where the money is going to go, but he hopes it isn’t wasted on measures that don’t work.

He slammed the government’s Ice Destroys Lives television advertisements as a scare campaign that instilled fear in families by showing extreme examples of ice users.

“They see those adverts and they think that’s what’s going to happen to them.

“It’s not true. It’s not an accurate picture.”

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS:

* Policy focus on reducing drug fatalities (pill testing, injecting centres)

* Directing more money from the drug budget to harm reduction and treatment services

* Decriminalisation of drug use, treating it as a health issue, not a crime issue

* Consultation of families when developing and implementing drug policies and programs

* Recognition and resources for family support in tackling drug and alcohol use


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