Category Archives: AOD in the news

One year on from key health report and still no action in Australia


MEDIA RELEASE: Social Determinants of Health Alliance


One year on from key health report and still no action in Australia


On 20 March 2013, the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs tabled its inquiry report into Australia’s domestic response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Commission on Social Determinants of Health report Closing the gap within a generation.  A year on from the release of the inquiry report, no action has been taken to address the recommendations.


“The one-year anniversary of the Senate report coincides with National Close the Gap Day today.  Last month, the Prime Minister, Opposition leader and Australian Greens leader reiterated their support for closing the unacceptable health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians by 2030.  The evidence-based recommendations from the WHO’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health Report have reaped benefits around the world, but we have yet to see Australian governments commit to their implementation.  If we are to Close the Gap, then implementing the WHO’s recommendations would be a great place to start,” explained Martin Laverty, Chair of the Social Determinants of Health Alliance (SDOHA).


The Coalition/Labor/Greens Senators made five recommendations that the Australian Government:

  1. Adopt the WHO Report and commit to addressing the social determinants of health relevant to the Australian context.
  2. Adopt administrative practices that ensure consideration of the social determinants of health in all relevant policy development activities, particularly in relation to education, employment, housing, family and social security policy.
  3. Place responsibility for addressing social determinants of health within one agency, with a mandate to address issues across portfolios.
  4. Give greater emphasis in National Health and Medical Research Council grant allocation priorities to research on public health and social determinants research.
  5. Make annual progress reports to Parliament a key requirement of the body tasked with responsibility for addressing the social determinants of health.


The recommendations of the tripartisan inquiry were endorsed by all of the participating Senators, including Senators Siewert, Moore, Boswell, Boyce, Brown, McKenzie, Smith, Thorp, Fierravanti-Wells and Di Natale.


The report clearly states that:

Good health involves improving access to education, reducing insecurity and unemployment, improving housing standards, and increasing the opportunities for social engagement available for all citizens. Addressing the discrepancies of health outcomes resulting from the prevailing social determinants means addressing the causes of those social determinants.


“It’s vital that the Commonwealth, state and territory governments work together if Australia is to address those factors that are holding us back in seeking to achieve better health outcomes for the Australian community,” said Mr Laverty. 

SDOHA is a collaboration of like-minded organisations from the areas of health, social services and public policy established to work with governments to reduce health inequities in Australia.  The Alliance currently has over 60 organisational members.  More info on SDOHA, its activities and membership is available at:



Alcohol Producers’ Influence On Public Health: Statement of Concern





On October 8, 2012, thirteen of world’s largest alcohol producers issued a set of commitments to reduce the harmful use of alcohol worldwide.  The commitments were issued in support of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol.


An independent coalition of public health professionals, health scientists and NGO representatives has written a public “Statement of Concern” that is addressed to the WHO Director General in response to the recent initiatives of the global alcohol producers. The Statement documents the alcohol industry’s lack of support for effective alcohol policies, their misinterpretation of the Global Strategy’s provisions, and their lobbying against effective public health measures.  The coalition is seeking 500 endorsements from the global health community.


Qualified professionals throughout the world are being asked to review the Statement of Concern ( and indicate their endorsement by sending an email to the office of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) at


ADCA on Indigenous Incarceration


“It’s time for all governments to address more public health focused approaches to handling growth in Indigenous prison populations,” according to the President of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA), Dr Mal Washer MP.

“Alternatives have existed for years,” Dr Washer said, “and we need to act on them without any further deliberation by committees, working groups or parliamentary inquiries.”

Dr Washer was speaking after today’s release of the report, An Economic Analysis for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Offenders; Prisons vs Residential Treatment,commissioned by the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) and the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee (NIDAC). The report says greater investment in drug and alcohol treatment will reduce the ever-increasing number of Indigenous people in prisons.

“It’s clearly wrong that the same group that makes up only 2.5 per cent of our people accounts for more than a quarter of Australia’s adult prison population. We need rehabilitation programs to keep Indigenous people out of Australia’s 115 correctional facilities – to prevent their getting caught up in the endless round of recidivism and attendant drug and health problems,” Dr Washer said.

The report by Deloitte Access Economics identifies annual savings in excess of $111,000 per prisoner if they can be diverted to rehabilitation programs rather than being incarcerated. That’s in addition to a more than $92,000 per offender saved in the long term due to lower mortality and a better health regime.

Dr Washer cited the US where prisons in Texas are closing partly due to a shift in policy that favours rehabilitation programs over prison sentences. “Only weeks ago, it was reported that the new approach had led to 10,000 vacancies in Texas prisons.

“We have known this to be the case for years. As the so-called War on Drugs has shown to be an abject failure after more than three decades, so too has the lock-em-upmentality where Indigenous justice is concerned.”

ADCA CEO David Templeman says that with our prisons overflowing – largely with people convicted of non-violent crimes yet suffering from serious drug and alcohol problems – it is surely time to turn against the tide of imprisonment and embrace a meaningful policy of care, treatment and rehabilitation.


PHAA: Roxon wins award for tobacco stance

Press release from PHAA:

Nicola Roxon wins highest public health award for 2012

PHAA Sidney Sax Medal awarded to former Health and Ageing Minister

Attorney-General, Hon Nicola Roxon MP has been announced as the Sidney Sax Medallist for 2012.  This is the highest award given annually by the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to public health.  The Medal will be presented at a public health dinner this evening by PHAA’s Immediate Past President, Professor Helen Keleher.


“The PHAA is proud to present an award to someone who has really made a difference in public health,” said Professor Keleher in making the announcement.  “As Minister for Health and Ageing Nicola Roxon embraced public health, understood the role of social determinants and recognised the importance of prevention.  Most importantly, however, she was prepared to take action including standing up to big tobacco and vested interests in the alcohol industry in favour of a healthier community.


“Nicola Roxon’s own words in response to a question when she was launching the report of the Preventative Health Taskforce in October 2009 summarises her approach: ‘we are killing people by not acting’.  As Health Minister from December 2007 through to December 2011 and then as Attorney-General she has pursued public health issues with vigour and with considerable success,” said Professor Keleher.


The most prominent achievement is the world leading plain packaging of tobacco legislation which has only been successful due to her outstanding leadership.  There are also many other achievements in fighting tobacco including a 25% increase in excise on tobacco, a ban on internet promotion, a boost for funding of anti-tobacco campaigns through the National Preventive Health Agency and a $125 million program to tackle Indigenous Smoking.


However, her other outstanding achievements cited in the nomination include:

  • The establishment of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA)
  • Facing down the spirits industry over the “alcopops” tax – reducing the number of young women introduced to spirits in early puberty
  • An additional $50 million into campaigns around binge drinking
  • Oversight of the biggest increase ever in funding to prevention of $872.1 million from Federal, State and Territory contributions

o   Seeking healthier communities through careful targeting of specific groups and settings including children, Indigenous people, workers and local governments.


“The PHAA is proud to have Nicola Roxon accept this award from the Association as it highlights the impact that a Minister can have when they are prepared to provide leadership in the area of public health,” concluded Professor Keleher.

Further Support for Australia21 report

Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform congratulates and welcomes the second report from
Australia21 entitled “Alternatives to prohibition – Illicit drugs: How we can stop killing and
criminalising young Australians”.

“Australia21 is one of the few organisations that has had the courage to speak publicly on the
grave consequences that is visited on young people and their families because of  our prohibition
drug laws,” said Brian McConnell, President of Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform.
“Prohibition has been an experiment that has failed. Even though the United Nations recognised
this in 1988, it and the rest of the world persisted, thinking that if they tried even harder it might
just work. ”

In its 1988 convention on drugs the UN, among other things, said that it was “Deeply concerned
also by the steadily increasing inroads into various social groups made by illicit traffic in
narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, and particularly by the fact that children are used in
many parts of the world as an illicit drug consumers market and for purposes of illicit production,
distribution and trade in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, which entails a danger of
incalculable gravity.”

And yet it continued with the same failed policies with no evaluation and it even believed that it
could achieve a drug free world by 2008.

“Australia21 has examined the prohibition policy and has identified some of the possible options
for consideration. In short Australia21 has thrown the gauntlet down and challenged Australian
governments to discuss the alternatives,” said McConnell.

“It is telling that Australia21 has focused on the fact that the drug laws are killing our young
people as this report is released just one day after the 20th anniversary of the overdose death of
my oldest son. If the use of drugs had not been driven underground by the prohibition laws and if
it had been treated just as a health problem, we would not have been in the dark about his drug use
and we might have been able to save his life.”

The report examines the measures being taken in respect of drugs in a number of countries. It
looks favourably on the Swiss prescription heroin scheme, the Dutch cannabis model and the
Portuguese decriminalisation approach. The Swiss scheme has clearly been effective and it was
just such a scheme that was proposed in 1997 in Australia, and approved by all health and justice
ministers, but because of pressure by the USA, was vetoed by John Howard. Many young lives
have been lost because of that decision.

The Portuguese decriminalised all drugs for personal use in 2001 with mostly positive results .
Lisa Prior, journalist, writer and medical student, has said in the report “one of the things I like
about the Portuguese system is that I would feel more confident of dobbing drug addicted kids in
to the police, confident that the outcome would help rather than [the alternative] jail.”

“I, also would be more confident,” said McConnell. “But it would be for the reason that drug use
would not be hidden and driven underground, but would be more open, where young people
would be more likely to discuss their problems with their parents and seek help early.”
Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform urges all governments to seriously consider this report
from the independent organisation Australia21.

“I personally urge parents who have been affected in the same way that my family has to speak
out, to overcome the shame and stigma heaped on them by the current laws, and take this
opportunity to save the lives of our young people,” said McConnell.

Support For Australian Drug Law Reform (ADCA & PHAA)

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.


iDoses: let the resource drain begin

After reading this story on the growth of ‘digital drugs’ in the US, the first thing that occurred to me was the time that AOD professionals are going to have to spend debunking stuff like this at the expense of real treatment and prevention work. That said, it’s also a phenomenon that needs a lot more investigation – not to determine whether it does mimic drugs (I’d nearly stake my life on the fact that it doesn’t) – but to explore its idiosyncrasies and any light it might shed on wider behaviours by young people in the digital age.


Substance Snippet

The Economist (UK) – How to stop the drug wars. “A HUNDRED years ago a group of foreign diplomats gathered in Shanghai for the first-ever international effort to ban trade in a narcotic drug. On February 26th 1909 they agreed to set up the International Opium Commission—just a few decades after Britain had fought a war with China to assert its right to peddle the stuff. Many other bans of mood-altering drugs have followed. In 1998 the UN General Assembly committed member countries to achieving a “drug-free world” and to “eliminating or significantly reducing” the production of opium, cocaine and cannabis by 2008.”

– an incisive analysis of political interference in a health issue

News of substance – drugs in the worldwide news

1. (USA) – ‘Insight’ Deficit May Explain Denial in Drug Addiction; Researchers Explore Role of Mental-Illness Hallmark at Neuroscience Symposiumколи под наем. “Drug abusers are often characterized as being in denial – not recognizing the severity of their disorder. Although denial is often considered to be a form of deception, emerging research suggests that it may be due to a specific brain dysfunction similar to that observed in other neuropsychiatric illnesses.”

2. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Drug court a success: research. “Addicts who commit a drug-related crime are less likely to reoffend if they are dealt with by the NSW Drug Court than if they are are sentenced through the traditional judicial system, research reveals. A study by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research and the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation found that the Drug Court is more cost effective than sending offenders with a drug addiction to prison”.

3. Globe and Mail (Canada) – Safe injection may save system $14-million. “Vancouver’s safe-injection site will save the health-care system at least $14-million and prevent more than 1,000 HIV infections over a 10-year period, according to a new study about the controversial program. The study, published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, is the latest piece of research to suggest the potential social benefit of Insite in helping curb substance abuse, and reducing the spread of hepatitis C, HIV and other infectious diseases.”

4. Medical News Today (USA) – In Cocaine Addiction, Drug-Related Preference Extends To Images. “When given a choice between viewing pictures of cocaine and a variety of other images, cocaine addicted individuals, as compared to healthy, non-addicted research subjects, show a clear preference for the drug-related images. Findings from this study, which was conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, were presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington D.C. by Scott Moeller, a psychology graduate student at the University of Michigan who worked with the Brookhaven Lab Neuropsychoimaging group.”

5. JAMA (USA) – Methadone Maintenance 4 Decades Later. “The effects of the article by Dole and Nyswander1 are best understood by knowing what preceded it. The current scientific consensus is that opioid dependence is a chronic and severe medical disorder, and withdrawal alone is usually followed by rapid relapse.2 A century ago, however, withdrawal was often considered adequate to treat narcotic addiction, with methods used often more dangerous than withdrawal. Individuals who relapsed were viewed as doing so out of choice rather than necessity. The frequency of relapse, however, led to the establishment of narcotic clinics to legally provide heroin or morphine to individuals with addiction.”

6. CounterPunch (USA) – When Mooning is a Sex Crime. “In 1993 JM turned around, dropped his trousers and told his sister-in-law to “kiss my black ass!” The younger sisters laughed, compounding the indignity. To make JM pay for this rude affront, the sister-in-law called the cops. He did three days in the county jail and pled out to misdemeanor indecent exposure and credit for time served. Sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? Three day and nights for mooning your sister in law? Fast forward to 1998 when the voters of California passed “Megan’s Law” (PC 290) requiring those convicted of certain sex offences to register with the local police for the rest of their lives. Indecent Exposure (PC 314) is listed under PC 290 and is applied retroactively. Required to register under penalty of felony, combined with a taste for illicit substances, JM picked up a new state prison term.”