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’.
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.
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.’
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.’
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.’