Saturday, September 09, 2006

Dramatic changes to drugs strategy needed

Our ineffective drug policies must be changed. Australia desperately needs a strategy that works. Sweden has shown that there are measures which can be taken, even in a liberal democracy, which are effective in dramatically reducing drug consumption and associated problems including violence and other crime. One element of this strategy is to empower Courts to require teenagers with developing drug problems to undergo detoxification and then rehabilitation. In Australia, decades of an inconsistent, half-hearted 'harm minimisation' approach to drugs has resulted in disaster for many young Australians and their families and a huge economic and social burden on our community.

Consumption of many drugs is increasing. We are witnessing the beginning of a scourge of crystal methylamphetamine hydrochloride, aka "ice".(1) The potential harm of this drug alone is truly frightening. Cannabis is misunderstood and is being consumed by ever younger people and, although the public perception is still in the context of the 1960s, the drug itself, through genetic engineering, is now around thirty times stronger than it was forty years ago. Its increasing use is extremely harmful to both mental and physical health.

Australian governments and law enforcement authorities take a relatively soft approach - Australians do not have to go far to see drugs being sold openly in the streets. At the same time Australian youth are officially discouraged from using drugs but given 'harm minimisation' strategies if they decide to ignore this advice.

Sweden has taken a very different approach and its strategy is working. Sweden has now cut drug usage by teenagers to three percent a year. (3) The figure in Australia is 27.7 %. (3) The Swedish strategy is comprehensive but at its centre is the introduction of compulsory detoxification and rehabilitation programmes for drug users.

An effective strategy will not be cheap, it demands funding the establishment of detoxification and rehabilitation centres on a large scale. The alternative however, clinging to failed strategies, will result in much greater social, as well as economic, cost in the long run.

If elected to the seat of Western Victoria, I will propose and work towards implementing the following initiatives:

1. Set the international best practice target of no more than 3% of teenagers having used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months.

2. Make teenagers the key focus to reduce the number of new users (studies show that those who do not use illegal drugs by the time they are twenty are unlikely to ever do so).

3. Ensure that information to teenagers is truthful, setting out the real dangers of illicit drug use.

4. Establish specialist detoxification and rehabilitation programs .

5. Empower Courts to direct teenage illicit drug users into detoxification and rehabilitation programs. This would be discretionary, on the recommendation of police, medical personnel, such as ambulance officers or parents.

6. Surveys and studies of teenage drug use to be carried out annually and reported to every Parliament in Australia.

7. Teenage drug use trends and strategies for reduction to the 3% target must be included in the annual report to our Parliaments.

8. Make the seizure of drug dealers' assets easier and simpler. The onus should not be on the Crown to prove that assets came from drug dealing, in order to confiscate them. The onus should be on drug dealers to show that their assets were not the result of drug dealing to avoid confiscation.

9. Vastly increase funding for and number of drug treatment places for voluntary patients.

10. Study the effectiveness of various rehabilitation methods and facilities and continue to fund only those that are effective.

by Peter Kavanagh
DLP Candidate for Western Victoria


(1) Australian Crime Commission, Illicit Drug Report, 2004 - 05, p.9.

(2) See, David Perrin, Executive Chief Officer of Drug Council of Australia in News Weekly, 22 October 2005.

(3) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: Detailed Findings, p. 36.

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