The announcement this week of the largest seizure of methamphetamine in Australian history has been accompanied by a familiar chorus of uncritical and often sensationalised media reporting.
The "street value" of the 903 kilograms of the seized drug was estimated at nearly A$900 million.
But are the claims government authorities make about drug seizures accurate? And what broader implications do large-scale seizures have for Australia's drug-control policies?Read more
This week the federal government granted its first license for an Australian company to grow and harvest medical marijuana.
This follows Australia's amending of the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 to legalise the production and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The amendment came in February 2016, a year after the death of campaigner Daniel Haslam.
Daniel suffered distressing side effects of chemotherapy, some of which were ameliorated by cannabis. While these changes sound promising for sufferers like Daniel, if he were alive today, he would still not be able to lawfully obtain medicinal cannabis.
Despite the media attention, extensive political and medical commentary on the subject, and the fact that more than two thirds of Australians have supported medicinal cannabis for many years, a patient with a clear cut and widely accepted case for being able to use lawful medicinal cannabis would still be unable to.
Without doubt, crystal methamphetamine, or ice, is capable of causing immense harm. That's true for many drugs, including alcohol. But when facts are distorted to create fear and stigma it helps no one. Not the people who use ice. Not their families. Not the health professionals supporting them. Not the police who enforce drug law.
Ice Wars, airing over the next few weeks on ABC, shows the dark side of crystal methamphetamine use. It shows the great, but difficult work that police, mental health and substance use treatment professionals do every day.
It carefully explains some of the commonly misunderstood effects of the drug. It shows the breadth of the ice problem across police, treatment services and individuals. And it shows how people are suffering and the compassionate response that is possible from health workers and police.Read more
As senior law enforcement officials line up to say Australia cannot arrest its way out of our illicit drug problems, some politicians have expressed opposing views about drug consumption rooms. This debate is now raging in Melbourne.
Drug consumption rooms enable people to use drugs under the supervision of trained staff. Generally established close to large drug markets, they have been shown to reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, reduce deaths and injuries due to drug overdose, reduce ambulance call-outs, increase referral to health and social services including detoxification and drug addiction treatment and reduce public drug injecting and numbers of discarded needles.Read more
Last weekend saw another series of overdoses, this time in Melbourne.
According to the United Nation's 2014 World Drug Report, Australia has the highest proportion of recreational drug users in the world. This suggests that this country's drug policy has been ineffective in reducing use or curbing demand, let alone protecting people from the harm that illicit drugs can cause.
For example, we are number one in the world when it comes to per capita use of ecstasy. While the government has paid lip service to "harm minimisation", it has actively opposed the use of pill testing at concerts and festivals. Not only does pill testing help people to avoid consuming ecstasy laced with dangerous chemicals, it additionally appears to have an impact in shaping the black market. According to a report made by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, "Products identified as particularly dangerous that subsequently became the subject of warning campaigns were found to leave the market."
Despite the evidence of pill testing providing safer outcomes for users, all Australian Governments have taken a more puritanical approach. The safety advice given to punters, is simple. "Don"t do it. Don't take the pills and you'll be fine."Read more
Drug prohibition is not protecting young Australians; it is killing them.
Last weekend, an apparently tainted batch of illegal drugs caused the needless deaths of three Melbournians and left another 20 hospitalised. In 2015, six ecstasy-related deaths were reported at Australian music festivals, and the latest statistics show that, on average, four Australians die every day from drug overdose. That's 1400 people per year.
As the United States experiences an overwhelming opioid crisis; as the world's press is flooded with extra-judicial killings targeting drug "offenders" in the Philippines; as young Australians overdose on novel psychoactive substances and teenagers in the UK on ecstasy, there can be only one certainty: drugs are here to stay. Despite some countries reaffirming farcical commitments to a drug-free world, with over $100bn spent annually on the War on Drugs, and 20% of the world's prison population incarcerated on drug offences, drugs have never been cheaper or purer.
Providing regulated drug markets remain a pipe-dream (excluding cannabis) and transnational drug supply the remit of the criminal underworld; profit will always reign supreme. To maximise profit, drugs are frequently diluted with adulterants to make two kilos into three, or simply mimicked by cheaper, possibly harmful, replacements. Whilst some adulterants are benign (caffeine in cocaine), many are not (PMA/PMMA in ecstasy, fentanyl in heroin). Consequently, in addition to the known potential harms intrinsic to any given drug, users expose themselves to an array of truly unknown harms.Read more
Most people who use alcohol and other drugs do so infrequently and never become dependent (or "addicted" as it's sometimes called). On average about 10% of people who use alcohol or other drugs are dependent. The rate is around 6% for alcohol, around 10% for cannabis and around 15% for methamphetamine.
But for those who do become dependent, reducing their use, getting off or staying off can be difficult.
What happens to the brain on drugs?
Regardless of how it is consumed, alcohol and other drugs eventually make their way into the brain via the bloodstream. Once there, they affect how messages are sent through the brain.Read more
It's time to reinvent them based on what actually works
There is only one way to make better decisions about illicit drugs and so save lives and money: we need to change the way drugs policies are made.
The alternative is to remain stuck in the same futile cycle. Every time a young person dies tragically and needlessly at a music festival or dance party, our commentators clamour for our politicians to respond immediately.
We make drugs policies on the run. But policy quick-fixes are mostly ineffective and we find ourselves no better prepared to avert future tragedies or drug-related harm.
We can do much better. We have decades of research that tells us what works and why, and we are continuously building that evidence base. Smarter drugs policy-making would use that evidence, in conjunction with other policy drivers such as public opinion and personal experience.Read more
Explainer: what is NBOMe?
NBOMe is an abbreviation for N-methoxybenzyl. While NBOMe is often referred to as a drug, it's not a singular drug but a series of drugs that contain an N-methoxybenzyl group.
The most common NBOMes that are used recreationally are extensions of the 2C family of phenethylamine psychedelics that were discovered by Dr Alexander Shulgin. Some, such as 2C-B, became popular in the 1990s as a substitute for MDMA (commonly referred to as ecstasy). The 2C-B NBOMe derivative is 25B-NBOMe. Other common NBOMes include 25I-NBOMe and 25C-NBOMe.
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