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.
Dr Sally Wilkins is a Melbourne-based Consultant Psychiatrist who works in forensic mental health, addiction medicine and homelessness.
Last year a new state-of-the-art men's prison called 'Ravenhall', opened in the western suburbs of Melbourne. A private corporation, GEO, has been contracted by the Victorian Government for 25 years to provide correctional services for up to 1300 men at a total cost of approximately $2.5 billion or $100 million every year, until 2042.
As the median age of adult prisoners is 34 years, this means that the young men who will fill this prison for the last few years of the contract are currently around 8 - 10 years old and at primary school. Some of them are running into trouble right about now.
Is our community really unable to provide interventions for these kids that would block their pathway towards incarceration?
We've just made a $2.5 billion dollar bet that we can't.
It is currently a political winner to be 'tough on crime' rather than 'strong on prevention'. Record numbers of people (currently 6,500) are in our state prisons, for longer periods, with fewer support programs in place. They have minimal if any supervision when they leave. 93% of them are men. Even if they are housed in the most enlightened of facilities, they will inevitably leave with a prison record, and all the negative sequelae of incarceration - both physical and psychological. Many will remain unemployed, marginalised and welfare dependent for months or years.Read more >>
Hepatitis C (HCV) in detainees who inject drugs is rife across Australia and could be prevented, contributing significantly to reducing HCV prevalence in the general population. People in custodial settings are one of the largest cohorts living with HCV; in 2015, there was a 31% antibody prevalence amongst detainees around Australia.
Australia has committed to eliminating HCV by 2030. To achieve this, an expansion of harm reduction in prisons is essential. A combination of three strategies is needed to achieve this, all of which are supported by evidence.
- Treating all detainees with HCV antibodies with direct-acting antivirals
- Introducing needle and syringe programs to prisons
- Expanding access for detainees to pharmacotherapy
Treating all detainees with HCV antibodies with direct-acting antivirals
In recent years a new interferon-free direct-acting antiviral (DAAs) has been made available through the PBS to everyone living with HCV. This represents a huge achievement for Australia with no restrictions to access as there are in other countries. DAAs are 90% successful at clearing the virus (sustained virologic response) and have little to no side effects. Over the last years there has been an increase in awareness campaigns and medical practitioner training and general practitioners received prescription rights. The number of people reached (19% of people living with chronic HCV) and the increase in general practitioners prescribing (22%) as of 2017 is very encouraging. DAAs do not however provide protective immunity and reinfection can occur.
Read more >>
but you'd never know from the headlines
Mainstream media tend to report more stories about illicit drugs than alcohol.
Stories about illicit drugs are also more negative. The media is more likely to frame illicit drugs as dangerous, morally corrosive and associated with violent behaviour, while it frames people who use illicit drugs as irresponsible and deviant.
In particular, the media is more likely to link illegal drugs with violent crimes, sexual assaults and murders than alcohol. This is despite one study finding 47% of homicides in Australia over a six-year period were alcohol-related.
Coverage of the recent Rainbow Serpent Festival in Victoria is one example of how the media have linked illegal drug use with violence. There were reports of alleged sexual and physical assaults at the festival, held over five days including Australia Day. But we'd argue there were no more than any alcohol-related violence and sexual assaults expected at a similarly large gathering on Australia Day.Read more >>
Why cigarettes, chocolate bars, heroin, gambling or a new handbag feels so good?
Header image Rakicevic Nenad/Unsplash
Every day we make a range of choices in the pursuit of pleasure: we do things that make us feel good or work in a specific job because it's rewarding or pays well. These experiences help shape our perspectives on life and define our personality.
Consequently, problems with our ability to manage or maintain our pursuit of pleasure often lie at the root of many neuropsychiatric disorders such as addiction and depression.
What's going on in the brain when we experience pleasure?
Pleasure itself – that good feeling you get in response to food, sex and drugs – is driven by the release of a range of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in many parts of the brain. But dopamine release in the brain's reward system is particularly important. Dopamine release tells the brain when to expect something rewarding, modulates how rewarding it will be and drives us to seek rewarding things.Read more >>
Greens leader Richard Di Natale wants Australia to legalise cannabis for personal use, regulated by a federal agency. This proposal is for legalisation of recreational use for relaxation and pleasure, not to treat a medical condition (which is already legal in Australia for some conditions).
According to the proposal, the government agency would licence, monitor and regulate production and sale, and regularly review the regulations. The agency would be the sole wholesaler, buying from producers and selling to retailers it licences.
The proposed policy includes some safeguards that reflect lessons we've learned from alcohol and tobacco. These include a ban on advertising, age restrictions, requiring plain packaging, and strict licensing controls. Under the proposal, tax revenues would be used to improve funding to the prevention and treatment sector, which is underfunded compared to law enforcement.
Cannabis legislation around the worldRead more >>
Reference: Ritter, A., Lancaster, K. & Diprose, R. (2018). "Improving drug policy: The potential of broader democratic participation." The full academic paper and research is available online at the International Journal of Drug Policy.
We need governments to make better decision about illicit drugs. 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 need to change the way drugs policies are made.
We have decades of research that tells us what works and we are continuously building that evidence base. Smarter drug policy would involve making use of that evidence alongside and integrated with the other drivers of policy such as public opinion, and personal experience.Read more >>