Drug Policy Australia is a public health NGO primarily concerned with promoting new approaches to minimise the health risks and other harms caused by the use of both licit and illicit Drugs which affects the well-being of all Australians.
"We believe that legally enforced abstinence is unrealistic and counter-productive in modern Australia which has one of the highest per capita consumption rates of illicit drugs in the western world."
Johann Hari is a patron of Drug Policy Australia. Please support our work.
According to the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey published by the Australian Government's Institute of Health and Welfare, 3 million Australians aged over 14 used illicit drugs within the preceding 12-months. It is estimated by Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission that in 2016 Australians spent over $9.3 billion a year on illicit recreational drugs.
Between 2017 and 2018, 62% of the 130,000 individuals presenting to drug and alcohol treatment were there because of problems relating to either alcohol or methamphetamine (‘ice’) use. Unfortunately, relapse after treatment remains the norm, with a national study showing that only 52% of treatment-seekers substantially reducing or quitting their substance use a year later.
The Need for Neurocognitive Training Interventions
Unlike heroin, where we have effective medications like methadone and suboxone, there are no established or TGA-approved medications to treat methamphetamine problems, highlighting the need to invest in alternative treatment approaches.
Psychological counselling approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy remain the predominant treatment, but they only focus on half of the picture. These address conscious cognitive processes generated in the brain’s frontal lobe (responsible for long-term planning and decision-making), which helps us to “put the brakes on” and inhibit impulsive behaviours when faced with opportunities to use alcohol or other drugs. However, they don’t address the subconscious processes that reinforce the cycle of addiction.
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Antony Loewenstein will be appearing at the Melbourne Town Hall on the 9th September to launch his new book, 'Pills, Powder and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs'. The evening will also feature a panel discussion with community leaders including Fiona Patten, Julian Burnside, Laura Turner, Mick Palmer, Greg Barns and hosted by ABC Radio journalist, Jon Faine. Antony Loewenstein will speak about the issues raised in his book and be available afterwards for a book signing.
When I started writing about the war on drugs many years ago, I soon realised its connection to the other bogus war in the last decades, the war on terror. Both conflicts are unwinnable and yet countless governments around the world invest billions of dollars annually into a militarised battle that’s done nothing to address the reasons so many people consume drugs.
Instead, drug use and abuse are soaring around the world, including in Australia, and the results are clear to see; overdoses, dirty and untested pills consumed at music festivals and ever-present stigmatisation around anybody who uses illicit substances.
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While some people become heavy users of alcohol or other drugs as a way of coping with past trauma or mental illness, this is not the story for millions of others. Young (and older) people use drugs and alcohol for fun, enjoyment and socialisation.
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In describing in her findings arising from a wide ranging inquest into six fatal opioid overdose events, current illicit drug policy as “futile” and likely to exacerbate drug related harm, the NSW Deputy State Coroner, Harriet Grahame, urged the NSW Government to have the courage to commit to conducting a summit on drug decriminalisation.
On any reading of her findings, it seems clear that these are opinions directly driven by the facts as presented at the inquests and the coroner’s frustration, in the face of this evidence, at the continuing refusal or inability of the government to do more to stem the frequency of overdoses across the State.
I share her frustration.
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It's 110 years since international cooperation on drug control began. In February 1909 the International Opium Commission in Shanghai saw governments from around the world come together to address what was dubbed “the opium question”, by proposing a global plan to suppress illicit opium use and markets. The meeting kicked off a century-long project of ever increasing international collaboration to eradicate illicit drug use and markets, culminating in the three United Nations drug treaties adopted in 1961, 1971 and 1988.
Since the 1970s, and the start of the “war on drugs”, these efforts have been marked by the increasing use of laws focused on punishment, policing, prisons and even the military as core tools of drug enforcement. Alongside this there has also been an escalation of human rights violations linked to drug control.
While ignored for many decades, the human rights consequences of drug enforcement are an increasing concern within UN bodies. In some cases, this is the result of years of patient campaigning by civil society organisations and affected communities. In others, it has been triggered by gross human rights violations linked to drugs, such as state killings, the death penalty for drug offenders and HIV epidemics driven by unsafe injecting drug use.
While this attention is welcome, it has rarely resulted in systematic or operational change within UN mechanisms to ensure the protection of human rights. But this is now beginning to change.
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The United Nations Chief Executives Board (CEB), comprising 31 heads of UN agencies and associated programs, has released a policy statement endorsing the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use. The same document also outlines a broader intent to shape international drug policy in terms of public health, human rights and sustainable development.
The 'directions for action' provided in the statement include a pledge 'to promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use'. This represents a significant advance from the UN's previous position.
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