History not Harm, Dictates why some Drugs are Illegal

When considering harm to the user and to wider society, alcohol is much more of a problem than MDMA. Krists Luhaers

Nicole Lee, Curtin University and Jarryd Bartle, RMIT University

Drug-related offences take up a lot of the resources within Australia's criminal justice system. In 2016–17 law enforcement made 113,533 illicit drug seizures and 154,650 drug-related arrests.

Harm-reduction advocates are calling for the legalisation of some drugs, and the removal of criminal penalties on others. And there's public support for both.

But how did some drugs become illegal in the first place? And what drives our current drug laws?

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New Year 2018 Message

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As another year ends, the Directors and I would like to thank you for your support in 2018 and wish you a happy Christmas.

It's been a huge year for drug policy reform in Australia and around the world.

Here are a few of the incremental but significant developments.

  • Australia's second Safe Injecting facility opened in Melbourne;
  • Australia's first pill testing trial went ahead in Canberra;
  • 3 Australian Parliamentary Political parties now support Cannabis legalisation;
  • Canada became the second country and first Commonwealth member to legalise adult use of Cannabis;
  • NZ legalised the use of Medical Cannabis by creating a "Legal Defence" for using Herbal Cannabis for medical purposes. (compared to Australia where herbal medical cannabis users and suppliers are still prosecuted);
  • Dr Andrew Katelaris was acquitted of drug supply charges for providing Cannabis oil on the grounds of "medical necessity";
  • NZ government has agreed to a referendum on legalising Cannabis by 2020;
  • Mexican and South African High courts have ruled that Cannabis prohibition is unconstitutional.

These are positive developments, but there is a lot of work to be done to reform Australia's counterproductive drug laws which is why we need your help.

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It's Time to Call a Truce on Drug War

Is it time to call a truce in the war on drugs? Dr James Freeman looks at the evidence; and the evidence shows prohibition has failed, and decriminalising drugs ought to save lives and deliver both social and economic benefit.

Time to Call a Truce on Drug War

The recent tragic drug related deaths of two young festival goers has seen calls for drug testing to be made available at these events. In a conversation on Facebook, I expressed my doubts that festival drug testing would have any meaningful impact for a number of reasons, but essentially because of this single statistic from the ABS:

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Support Don't Punish Melbourne 2018

Portugal Decriminalised Drugs in 2001 - Should Australia do the same?

Our police and politicians say we cannot "arrest our way" out of Australia's drug problem. Then why not decriminalise personal drug use so people can get help if and when they need it?

On the 26th June Drug Policy Australia with 15 Supporting AOD organisations held the inaugural Melbourne Town Hall forum to celebrate 'Support. Don't Punish' day - a global initiative calling for drug policies that prioritise public health and the human rights.

The forum featured health professionals, politicians, journalists and community leaders, including Tony Trimingham OAM, CEO of Family Drug Support, Sam Biondo, Head of VAADA and Dr Stefan Gruenert, CEO of Odyssey House Victoria as well drug policy opinion leaders like state MP Fiona Patten who will talk about the recently released Victorian Drug Inquiry and Michael Short, Chief Editorial Writer for The Age

FULL SPEAKER LIST in order of appearance:

  • Greg Denham, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
  • Stephanie Tzanetis, Head of HRVic's Dancewize Program
  • Nick Kent, President of Students for Sensible Drug Policy
  • Sam Biondo, Head of Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association (VAADA)
  • Dr Stefan Gruenert, CEO of Odyssey House Victoria
  • Michael Short, Chief Editorial Writer for The Age
  • Fiona Patten, Member of the Victorian Drug Inquiry
  • Tony Trimingham OAM, CEO of Family Drug Support

Melbourne Support Don't Punish - Supporting Organisations

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Australians Support Decriminalising Cannabis, but Laws Lag Behind

By Jarryd Bartle

Australians have a more progressive stance to cannabis reform than current laws reflect.

A poll conducted by the Greens this week found that the majority of Tasmanians support the decriminalisation of recreational use of cannabis in the state.

This is in line with the findings of the latest 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSH Survey) showing Australians largely support the decriminalisation of cannabis and the use of medicinal cannabis, and a growing number support full legislation of cannabis.

A recent study also found more than half of surveyed Australian GPs are in favour of prescribing medicinal cannabis.

Despite opinion polls, Australian state laws flip-flop on their approach to cannabis decriminalisation. For example, South Australian Attorney Attorney-General Vickie Chapman recently announced plans to quadruple fines for people found in possession of more than a small quantity.

Support for Decriminalisation

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Our Young Men Need Help Now to Avoid Prison Later

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.

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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.

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Hepatitis C won’t be Eliminated in Australia without Harm Reduction in Prisons

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.

  1. Treating all detainees with HCV antibodies with direct-acting antivirals
  2. Introducing needle and syringe programs to prisons
  3. 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.

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Alcohol leads to more violence than other drugs

but you'd never know from the headlines

Stephen Bright, Edith Cowan University and Martin Williams, Monash University

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.

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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.

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Addiction - how pleasure affects our brain

Why cigarettes, chocolate bars, heroin, gambling or a new handbag feels so good?

Header image Rakicevic Nenad/Unsplash

James Kesby, The University of Queensland

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.

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Poker machines are designed to tap into our reward centres. krissia cruz unsplash

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.

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Legal highs: arguments for and against legalising cannabis in Australia

Nicole Lee, Curtin University and Jarryd Bartle, RMIT University

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 world

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