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Australian’s want drug reform not ‘war on drugs’

Pill testing would make events like Music festivals safer. Photo Jeff Dawson

Aslan Shand

Australian’s no longer support a ‘war on drugs’. The latest national study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has revealed that Australians want to see a health and safety approach to tackling drug problems instead of locking people up.

This approach is inline with the recommendations from the NSW special commission of inquiry into crystal methamphetamine and other amphetamine-type stimulants, or ice released in February this year. Following a 14-month enquiry chaired by Special Commissioner Dan Howard, SC, they recommended ‘that the government needs to introduce a system of decriminalisation if it is going to stop drug deaths in New South Wales’.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann is running a campaign for drug law reform in NSW.

Take control campaign

The recent National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that ‘a majority of respondents want to see treatment and education for those who have problems with drugs like ice, heroin and ecstasy, as opposed to locking them up. Referral to specialist programs for people found in possession of a range of illicit drugs, including methamphetamine (49 per cent), ecstasy (40 per cent) and heroin (51 per cent), had the highest support among Australians, while the number of advocates for imprisonment had fallen.

‘No one should end up with a criminal record just for smoking a joint or taking a pill at a music festival, and this survey shows that most people agree. Too many lives are being seriously impacted by our stupid and, frankly, dangerous drug laws,’ NSW Greens MP and Drug Law Reform spokesperson Cate Faehrmann told Echonetdaliy.

Reform inevitable

Matt Noffs, CEO of the Ted Noffs Foundation, the largest provider of drug treatment services for young people, and also a spokesperson for the Take Control campaign for safer, saner drug laws, said:

‘Health and safety reform is now inevitable. Australians increasingly want governments to take control of the drug problem through such measures. While our laws and government policies prioritise a criminal response, most Australians don’t.

‘The trend shows increasing support for health and safety measures as a first response to drug problems. But I want to be clear: this is not Australians saying “I don’t want law enforcement.” Instead, Australians want police to deal with those who commit assault and robbery, not as an overbearing and risky response to youthful experimentation at music festivals.

‘Law enforcement and health worked together in the 90s to combat the heroin crisis and they did so effectively. That’s the balance we need and the desire for this is reflected in the national survey results.’

The Greens want the government to rethink its opposition to pill testing at festivals. (file pic)

Majority favour pill testing

The survey also found that popular support for harm-minimisation through pill testing was at 57 per cent, while more Australians prioritised funding for education over law enforcement for the first time.

‘Governments have no excuse anymore. You’d have to be living under a rock to not see that prohibition is a complete failure. All the war on drugs has given us is rich criminals profiting off lost lives,’ said Ms Faehrmann.

‘It’s time our drug laws reflected the evidence and prioritised reducing harm over last century’s failed ideology. That’s why I have two bills before the NSW Parliament to legalise cannabis and allow pill testing. And another one in development to decriminalise all drugs.

‘Imagine the money we could raise for health services if we taxed and regulated cannabis. We could also free up emergency services so they can be targeted where they’re most useful instead of harassing innocent people.’

Save lives

Mr Noffs highlighted that treatment and safety needed to be prioritised.

‘If we want to offset the negative consequences of drug use, we have to provide treatment and an approach that prioritises safety over punishment. Medical experts, and now most Australians, know this is the answer. Now our governments need to catch up,’ he said.

‘What does it mean in the context of a pandemic? Those who were poor and suffering before COVID-19 hit will struggle with the economic decline over the next few years. We see it every day in our treatment facilities – young people without hope have turned to drugs and are in desperate need of support.

‘As people’s economic prospects and mental health deteriorate, I fully expect to see increased self-medication at the very least.

‘Overall, drug use has been declining for years. If we want to continue that trend, we need to respond quickly to support those who are most at risk – not by locking them away, but by providing the treatment they need.’


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3 responses to “Australian’s want drug reform not ‘war on drugs’”

  1. Emily Stewart says:

    Australian’s no longer support a ‘war on drugs’.
    And why would that be? Because Australia has lost the war on drugs.
    Illegal drugs are not going away and the legal drug alcohol has decreased.
    There is a blurring between the two, of illegal and legal drugs.
    And that should have always been the case as they are all bad for you.
    Just because alcohol is legal does not mean it is good for you.
    One drug has decreased consistently, and that is nicotine in cigarette smoking.
    Authorities really went down hard on cigarette smoking because of lung cancer.
    They had a win there because it was treated as a health problem.

  2. lindy stacker says:

    GOOD ON YOU Kate Faerhmann, as usual sensible/intelligent and compassionate words from you. You always do your research, just wish other less progressive pollies would do the same. DRUG USE IS A HEALTH ISSUE and we should be approaching this with an intention to reduce harm, this then protects everyone in the community. HOWEVER, THE LNP IS NOT GONNA GET OFF THEIR OLD FASHIONED & DRACONIAN BAND WAGON AS THEY BELIEVE IT WILL LOSE THEM VOTES WITH THE CONSERVATIVES. Due to this we are losing lives……WHAT A CRUEL & HEARTLESS STRATEGY.

  3. Shane Varcoe says:

    Let’s be very clear and wipe away some of the ‘grime’ of pro-drug propaganda.
    There has been NO ‘war on Illicit drugs’ in Australia, since Harm Reduction ONLY ideologies hijacked the Harm Minimisation platform. Rather, and the evidence is clear, we are seeing a war FOR drugs 1 that has emerged specifically in the last 10 years.
    Permission models abound in the marketplace, unless you’re a Tobacco user – Then ALL stops are out on prohibition messages.
    However, when it comes to the use of illicit drugs, no such prohibition campaign is permitted. Smoking is clearly a health disaster, and the long WAR against tobacco has been ostensibly won – with Australia having, arguably, the lowest daily tobacco use in the world. The removal of ALL permission message, focus and voices in the marketplace have been a key to that success. No government, healthcare, education or community is promoting, permitting and protecting tobacco use.
    Ah, but not so with illicit drugs! Quick quiz for the uninitiated. When was the last time a cigarette caused a man to beat his wife to death? When was the last time a cigarette facilitated car accidents, domestic and familial violence and the litany of disease as the consequence of ‘Chemsex’? 2 Essentially NEVER – but these utterly disturbing realities are the consequence of illicit drug and alcohol use, all too often.
    It is interesting that we can ‘wage war’ (and rightly so) against road toll, rape, violence, but we are not permitted to have a ‘war’ on one of the greatest facilitators of these egregious harms?
    However, the ‘War FOR Drugs’ is equipped and empowered by mechanisms that enable citizens to not only take illicit drugs, but at the hands of public funded vehicles, and with impunity.
    Not only are the other two pillars of the National Drug Strategy – Demand Reduction and Supply Reduction – ignored, but they are actively undermined, by a vehicle that tacitly promotes… ‘seek out your drug of dependence (generating supply) and purchase this illegal substance (increasing demand) and then consume it with government supplied equipment or at the hands of tax-payer funded agents in facilities.
    Don’t’ get us wrong these mechanisms COULD be useful if drug use EXITING for the drug dependent individual was the goal – but it is barely even a priority.
    Genuine Harm Reduction supporters, of which we are (as part of the three pillars of the NDS), see the value of an intervention that can be used to intentionally facilitate the exit from drug use, but the policy is poorly managed. Consequently, these mechanisms just add to the perception of permission – however, that suits the nefarious pro-drug actors who want to see all drug use normalized and thus sanitized.

    The more drug use in play, the greater the harms for the user and, more tragically, for all those around them. There is neither social justice nor social responsibility in any of these ‘permission narratives’. Children and families are always the ones who pay the highest price for these ‘grown-ups faux rights’ claims.
    We didn’t want it with Tobacco – we are tired of it with alcohol – so why are we allowing this with illicit drugs?

    As for Pill Testing. It is only ‘supported’ in the survey, because of the unsubstantiated mantras of ‘saving lives’ that are not only parroted unchallenged in the media, but are not accurate at all, and in fact, if people knew that Pill Testing/Checking actually added to the harms 3 they would vote differently in the survey. But hey, let’s not let facts get in the way of a ‘emotional mantra’.
    1. https://drugpolicyfutures.org/about-us/
    2. https://www.dalgarnoinstitute.org.au/resources/media-releases/1020-ripple-effect-chem-sex-violence-road-toll-and-the-growing-failure-of-misused-drug-policy-reducing-or-increasing-harms.html
    3. https://www.dalgarnoinstitute.org.au/images/resources/pdf/pilltesting/Ecstasy_Deaths-INFOSheet31-01-20.pdf

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