Health groups support new report urging drug law reform in Australia
Two of Australia’s leading public health advocacy groups have expressed their unwavering support for the latest Australia 21 report, Alternatives to Prohibition.
The report follows the release in April of the inaugural report The Prohibition of Illicit Drugs is Killing and Criminalising our Children and we are all letting it happen and its finding that the “war on drugs” had failed. Today’s considers the experience in several European countries where emphasis has shifted from drug law enforcement to health and social intervention.
The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA), the peak AOD body representing Australia’s non-government sector, unreservedly back the intent of the new report. They say the exploration of alternatives to enforcement in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal and Sweden had resulted in many positives.
The overseas experience is that drug policy reform which increases the emphasis on health and social intervention can reduce deaths, disease and crime.
PHAA Acting CEO Melanie Walker said, “Former Prime Minister Rudd hit the nail on the head when he observed that Australia spends only around one percent of the health budget on prevention but 70 times that amount treating people when they get sick. There are similar comparisons with the amount spent on public health drug programs which is hugely outweighed by funds poured into law enforcement.
ADCA patron Professor Ian Webster says that Australia needs to take a far more enlightened view. “Our Government must look at what is happening with drug policy developments overseas and be prepared to confront the issues at home.”
“This new report focuses on growing expert opinion, evidence and experience, presenting a compelling case for drug law reform. The fact is that some of these drugs are important to the provision of good medical care in Australia, notably in the management of acute and chronic pain.
“The contribution that many eminent Australians have made to the Alternatives to Prohibition report is based on this understanding, opinions that can no longer be ignored.”
Melanie Walker says that all levels of the community must be aware that decriminalisation doesn’t mean legalisation. “No public health advocate condones drug use but when experts in the field – many of whom contributed to the Australia 21 report – say decriminalisation should be part of a regime to address the illicit drug problem, it’s time governments listened.
“We can’t go on ignoring the cost to society of drugs, not just illicit drugs but also alcohol and tobacco. And no one of these should be considered in isolation from the others.”
ADCA CEO David Templeman says the new report heightens the need for debate at all levels on the decriminalisation of drugs.
“Advocacy groups were disappointed by the Prime Minister’s and Attorney General’s earlier response to the original Australia 21 report in April. The weight of broader community opinion and evidence warrants far more reasoned consideration by decision-makers on all sides of politics.
“The Commonwealth needs to show leadership on this issue. The new report cites the European experience that reducing the emphasis on drug law enforcement doesn’t appear to increase drug use. The past in Europe – and here in Australia – highlights the failure of drug law enforcement efforts alone to reduce drug use.
“Senior law enforcement figures, including former AFP Commissioner Mick Palmer and politicians from across the spectrum have observed that the war on drugs is an unmitigated failure. Thirty years and countless billions have been devoted to it … to what avail?”
The advocacy groups say over-reliance on drug law enforcement doesn’t align with the intent of Australia’s National Drug Strategy (NDS).
Of the three pillars of the NDS – demand, supply and harm reduction – it is reasonable to say the funding emphasis is currently on law enforcement and reduction of supply. Such emphasis leads to an imbalance and over-reliance on policing effort that has typified the “war on drugs” for the past three decades, an imbalance that has seen public health programs poorly funded in comparison.
It’s time for a new approach.