David Perrin, Vice President of the Australian Family Association and former Victorian Liberal MP, is disappointed with the Liberal Party’s response to the injecting room plan of ALP Premier Steve Bracks.
The recent decision by Victorian State Liberal MPs to oppose the Bracks Government’s injecting room legislation is very welcome, but does it indicate a real change of heart?
Combating Drugs A Safer Way, the policy released at the time of the Liberals’ injecting room decision, indicates that past unsuccessful drug policies still hold sway with the state politicians.
Acceptance of illicit drug use has been the official policy in Australia since the Hawke government’s Drug Offensive some 15 years ago. This policy has led to an explosion in drug use and the consequent drug deaths.
The Liberals’ new drug policy is built on the Kennett governments Turning The Tide policy which saw heroin drug deaths escalate from 98 in 1992 when Kennett was first elected, to 359 in 1999 when Kennett was defeated.
The new Liberal drug policy, whilst only a draft, is not even in agreement with the Howard Government’s Tough on Drugs policy, that advocates diverting addicts into treatment.
Families want politicians to help them to teach their children to say no to drugs and if their children become addicts, to get them drug free quickly and permanently.
Alternatives to the Liberals new policy are based on the following principles:
ILLICIT DRUG USE IS UNACCEPTABLE
We want a drug free society. Whilst this is difficult to achieve, it sends the message that the Liberals care about people enough to eliminate the harm to those vulnerable to mind altering drugs. It sends the message that the health of its citizens matters. Illicit drugs are illegal because they are dangerous to health, longevity, social functioning and life itself. In Sweden the politicians have put aside their differences and have agreed that they want a drug free society. The Swedish policy states:
“The overriding aim of creating a society free from drugs is to be seen as a vision reflecting society’s attitude to narcotic drugs. The aim conveys the message that drugs will never be permitted to become an integral part of society, and drug abuse must remain an unacceptable behaviour, a marginal phenomenon”.
HELPING PEOPLE TO GET OFF DRUGS
Detoxification and rehabilitation must be for all drug users. The Liberal policy has an “aim” towards zero waiting time for drug treatment by establishing “up to” 500 more detoxification and rehabilitation beds.
The Howard Government’s Tough on Drugs policy claims that up to 4 out of every 5 property crimes are committed by someone who uses drugs. The Victorian Liberals must show they care about the victims of those crimes and coerce addicts off drugs.
The new policy offers “compulsory treatment” only for overdose victims. That is, a heroin addict must first overdose (and survive) before detoxification and rehabilitation is compulsory.
This is reinforced by the Liberal policy to locate intensive care ambulances close to high-risk overdose areas.
Detoxification and rehabilitation may need to be mandatory. Overseas experience shows that many addicts must be helped to kick their addiction sometimes against their wishes.
In Sweden in excess of 70%-80% of addicts who did not want to get off drugs are still drug free after 5 to 10 years after compulsory rehabilitation, and for those who wanted to get off, the success rate is better. By diverting addicts away from prison, the Liberals can show they care for the addict and want them to return to full health and to maximise their quality of life.
The Liberals pride themselves that they can handle taxpayer money better than other political parties. To have an addict complete a program of rehabilitation then lapse back into drug addiction is a waste of time, effort and taxpayers money. Therefore rehabilitation must be effective in getting an addict drug free permanently.
The Liberals should agree to fund agencies based on their performance in getting addicts off drugs and keeping them off drugs.
Detoxification and rehabilitation should be drug free where possible. The new policy calls for an expansion of alternative therapies and a doubling of the methadone program within three years.
Methadone is highly addictive and has serious side affects including the risk of death.
Methadone is being used to maintain addicts on drugs by transferring an addict from an illegal drug (heroin) to a legal drug (methadone). Many existing drug agencies successfully use drug free methods for detoxification and rehabilitation. The Liberals should support agencies that use drug free methods rather than maintain addicts on drugs.
Detoxification and rehabilitation should use new drugs to get addicts’ drug free. The Liberal policy calls for the establishment of a Naltrexone program for “up to” 1000 addicts. Naltrexone should be used as a gateway drug to get addicts off drugs and drug free quickly and permanently. The Liberals must commit themselves to using Naltrexone only to get addicts’ drug free.
Drug agencies should only be funded on performance in getting addicts’ drug free. During the Kennett era, drug agencies that provided drug free programs but did not support the acceptance of illicit drug use were not funded by the government. These agencies have a good track record in getting addicts’ drug free quickly and permanently yet they were refused funding.
The Liberals should fight for these agencies to ensure they get public funding.
BETTER LAW ENFORCEMENT
Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in Victoria. It is highly dangerous and addictive and is a known gateway drug to heroin use.
The Liberal policy proposes “reassessing” the present definition of a commercial quantity of illicit drugs. The existing law allows the possession of 50 grams of marijuana for personal use. The Liberals should cut this back to two grams to stop drug dealing.
The police cautioning program for illicit drugs should divert users into education and rehabilitation. This program should be closely monitored to ensure it is effective.
The Liberals should ensure that any police program achieves the objective of getting users off illicit drugs permanently with appropriate follow up to ensure success.
The Liberals should promise a community education program to alert parents, young people and the community about the proven short term dangers of using mind altering marijuana and the proven medical dangers of long term marijuana use.
Support the police. The Liberal policy promises an extra 250 detectives and police focusing only on drug pushers and hot spots. The Kennett Government saw police numbers reduced so that they had fewer officers to tackle the pushers. By focusing only on street drug hot spots instead of the whole criminal drug network lets the Mr. Bigs off the hook. The Liberals should back the community, which wants to see the whole drug network closed down.
All prisons and youth centres must be drug free. Only one prison or justice facility will be dedicated to drug rehabilitation according to the new Liberal policy.
The simple fact is our justice facilities are awash with illicit drugs. Facilities are segregated into adult and youth, male and female, low security and high security, so every facility must have drug rehabilitation.
As most crimes are drug related, the best opportunity to get addicts off drugs should be whilst they are in justice facilities.
• Mandatory minimum sentences for convicted drug pushers should be legislated. Judges and magistrates must give prison sentences to convicted drug pushers. Police are frustrated; they get a conviction but the criminal walks out the door.
When the police got tough on pushers in Footscray, drug deaths dropped and so did crime. The Liberals must demonstrate they care about victims of criminal activity and punish those who harm others in our society.
The Liberal policy proposes that only Supreme Court judges would be able to grant bail to those charged with drug trafficking. The Liberals must provide extra punishment to pushers when on bail, that go back on the street dealing in drugs.
• Syringe distribution should be scrapped. The new policy proposes syringe for syringe exchange to reduce the number of discarded syringes in the community. Clean syringes, clean injecting rooms and clean drugs say the same thing – it’s OK to inject mind-altering drugs.
STOPPING NEW USERS
We need a “say no to drugs” education program. Parents are the primary educators of their children. The new policy calls for drug “awareness” seminars for students and parents in all schools. The Liberal Turning the Tide policy taught vulnerable young people “how” to use drugs “safely”.
In Sweden, drug education programs start with the parents and are reinforced by the school through all levels of the curriculum. They are designed to teach young people to resist peer group pressure. The Liberals should copy the education programs of Sweden that has drug prevalence rates five times lower than Victoria.
Legislation is needed to teach students that the possession and use of illicit drugs is wrong and harmful. In the US, a federal law was passed requiring schools to teach students that illicit drug use is wrong.
A school violates this law if its curriculum implies that there can be responsible use of illicit drugs.
The Liberals should show that they will use the law to educate the community against illicit drug use.
We need a “Minister Against Drugs”. The new policy proposes a new Commission for Drug Education and Enforcement to coordinate government efforts on drugs and a new study of drugs by Vic Health.
In Western Australia the Government has a separate Minister to coordinate the drug effort.
Victoria has spent millions of dollars on studies, committees and experts that have all accepted illicit drug use. It is this approach which has failed. The Liberals should coordinate drug policy in a cost effective and comprehensive way rather than a narrow health based approach.
The “new” Liberal drug policy is fragmented because it is based on past failed policies. Liberal politicians can show leadership by adopting a new caring approach; otherwise the Nationals and Independents will show they care about people and their families.