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Managing Substance Abuse in Australia

Denis Bright continues the discussion on the challenges posed by substance abuse in Australia. Should the focus of responsible campaigns continue to be on law enforcement and education programmes to control illicit drug use?

As in other consumer societies, substance abuse in Australia is a mainstream activity. Excessive use of tobacco, alcohol, patent and alternative medicines, dietary supplements, foods laced with sugar, salt and other additives occupy a respectable grey area within everyday commercial transactions.

Igna Ting of the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) has simplified the patterns of illicit drug use.

There is bipartisan commitment to stronger law enforcement and public education programmes to control experimentation with the use of methamphetamines in particular.

Igna Ting adds that Australia has some of the world’s highest rates of illicit drug use of ecstasy, opioids, amphetamines and cannabis.

Reliable local data on the size of the black economy in illicit drugs needs a serious update from Australian research agencies.

Nick Evershed of the Guardian Online estimated that this component of the black economy amounted to 2.1 per cent of the Australian GDP in 2010-11.

The illicit drug niche in just one section of Australia’s black economy represents more than national defence spending.

Add-ons are necessary to cover the costs of law enforcement, losses to the Australian Taxation Office from cash transactions and the enormous health and social costs to drug users.

This situation calls for more precise estimates of the size of the black and grey economies of both illicit drug use and overdependence on other substance abuse.

The national survey of substance abuse by high school students in 2014 also reveals interacting patterns of substance abuse of both legalized and illicit products (Australian Department of Health 2016).

The national survey of substance abuse by high school students in 2014 also reveals interacting patterns of substance abuse of both legalized and illicit products (Australian Department of Health 2016).

 

 

Although the use of many illicit drug options has stabilized since 2013, even the most discerning new users are exposed to a black economy with little quality controls on the products available.

Conventional wisdom favours stronger law enforcement.

At a national level, convictions for drug offences increased to almost 60,000 in 2014-15. 75 percent of offenders are under 40 years of age (ABS 1 March 2016).

Some Australian jurisdictions have experimented with the decriminalization of small quantities of cannabis (Legal Services Commission of South Australia 2017). Police diversion programmes do not necessarily extend to minor possession of other drugs but Court Diversion Programmes do exist (Legal Aid Queensland 2017).

Mixed Messages from the European Union

Some overseas jurisdictions are more lenient about possession of small quanitities of illicit drugs. Even within the European Union, there are a diversity of legal responses.

After an upsurge in illicit drug use, Portugal chose to decriminalise possession and use of drugs for personal use in 2001 (Transform Online 2014).

While Portugal seems to have coped well with its more tolerant approach to recreational drug use, the extension of this approach across the European Union (EU) would exceed the constitutional limits of the Treaty of Rome protocols.

 

 

Conventional drug education programmes and enforcement laws in Britain have not been successful in curtailing either illicit or wider substance abuse levels (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction 2016).

 

 

The futility of relying on strict law enforcement to deter potential users from their quest for some magic moments is reflected in the high rates of MDMA use in Britain. and the Czech Republic.

Europe’s open borders are of course a challenge to law enforcement.

Potential users can easily avoid the harshest drug enforcement regimes by travelling short distances across the boundaries of the harshest jurisdictions.

Future Australian drug enforcement responses

This healthy alternative to substance abuse is diffult to sell in all cultures where substance abuse has a real hold. It has instant appeal to many busy people on a voyage of discovery.

Support from public health programmes may have to extend to medical prescriptions for certified users of illicit drugs. These prescriptions would offer quality controls to protect users from toxic additives that creep into workshop production lines. Negotiated alternatives should be available for the most harmful substances.

Mental health problems have been exaccerbated by the stresses of life in a consumer society and experimentation with substance abuse in mainstream society.

This is not the time to discourage bulk-billing of Medicare funded consultations and home visits through a freeze on payments to doctors and other specialist services as fostered by the federal LNP.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) provides ample feedback on the extent of mental health problems which are contributing to both substance abuse and family violence. Preventative action against such problems requires access to extended consultations with family doctors and referral services to specialized agencies.

The current freeze by the federal government on payments to doctors for fully bulk-billed services allows mental health conditions which foster all forms of substance abuse to continue.

The latest political response from the federal government involves the trial of a community action programme (LDAT) to support the Durg and Alcohol Foundation with $19.2 million to combat the use of methamphetamine, including ice.

Substance abuse in whatever form is a significant and growing niche in the prevailing market economy. Offering more market access to purchase unknown substances from unknown producers is unlikely to offer real solutions to the enduring problems of alienation in consumer societies which claim best practice in the application of popular democracy.

Denis Bright is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to evaluate pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.

 

16 comments

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  1. paul walter

    The message I get is that methamphetamine is here to stay and that it fits with a more pessimistic, “grunge” outlook on life.

    Is it the new alcohol?

  2. silkworm

    The continuing demonization of cannabis must stop. The persecution of recreational users must stop as a matter of harm minimization, and the persecution of medical cannabis users is a gross violation of human rights in depriving users of a life-saving medicine.

    First of all it is important to distinguish between medical and recreational cannabis. Recreational cannabis is cannabis that contains mostly THC, which gives the user a high, but it is also important to realize that THC in itself is not toxic, though there may be some minor negative side effects for the user of, say, skunk, such as increased anxiety and dysphoria. However, if a little bit of CBD (cannabidiol) is added to the mix, such as occurs in hashish, all those negative side effects disappear, and the stone becomes euphoric rather than dysphoric.

    Medical cannabis is cannabis that contains both THC and CBD. It may or may not be psychoactive, but that depends on the ratio of THC to CBD. However, there is a pharmaceutical led campaign that pushes the idea that medical cannabis has to contain no THC, but this demonstrably weakens the medical efficacy of the cannabis. And there is also the problem of using pure CBD as an extract, which removes the beneficial terpenes from the cannabis. Full extract cannabis oil is vastly superior to single molecule extracts in terms of medical efficacy, due to what is called the entourage effect, which describes how the various cannabinoids and terpenes interact to give cannabis its medicinal properties. This is a very complex subject, and scheduling must be changed to enable proper scientific study of different whole plant extracts.

    There are many benefits that flow from the legalization of both medical and recreational cannabis, including the reduction in the use of harmful drugs such as alcohol and ice, and evidence from the US shows that the road toll has decreased in those states that have legalized cannabis. Evidence has also shown that legalizing cannabis has dramatically lowered deaths from prescription opiate overdoses.

    Far from being a gateway drug to harder drugs, cannabis is in fact helping many to get off those harder drugs.

  3. Kay Schieren

    Never used the ICE stuff – but from what I have seen of people who use it, it creates the ambience and head space diametrically opposite to a viable and creative social structure, one which enables people to work together co-operatively. It also facilitates violence, and like most psychoactive drugs, probably replaces endorphins production in the brain, by short-cutting the process both psychologically and physiologically as a result. We finish up with a load of aggressive, hyper-competitive people who are ultra conservative and never can get over themselves. And as a consequence beat up women and children, etc. when stress and sexuality get the upper hand. This is not an academic problem – this is a “survival of life support” problem, in my humble opinion. I come from a generation of people who tried to grow as souls and work out their shit as best they could – these days people tend to externalise everything and sublimate it into blaming others – I have that happening very much in my own family right now. Ice is a great way of avoiding any realistic and compassionate self-assessment and a generous view of faults in others. Forgiving is not in the mix – just trial be conflict without resolution. Gunja, apart from the superficial “high” and the actual “low” that is produced, definitely retards people’s development and ability to focus their mind and be diligent. I have been around this stuff for 50 years, and I am not impressed with what it has done to so many people I’ve known for much of that time. So I believe a rigorous education campaign, and a very rigorous follow up prohibition apart from medical marijuana is essential – but it has to be based on community awareness and support in the main. Otherwise, it will just make the criminal element more violent, especially with ice, because the unofficial acceptance will support the producers and sellers, etc. Best to keep it all out of the news and deal with the cooks quietly and swiftly. The people who profit from this stuff have no care for what it can do to so many people. So they deserve what’s coming to them.

  4. Millie

    Some of the wider substance abuse problem is the result of a very stressful society- so much underemployment does not help

  5. helvityni

    Millie,…and add to that the loneliness of the suburbs, or the dreariness of little country towns where nothing ever happens…

  6. Leila Smith

    Interesting article Denis, people seem drawn to the idea of escapism from the reality of the world we live in and will always look for an escape. Unfortunately this is not the answer and proves very costly to all members of society. Society needs to support our fellow citizens to prevent the need for escape from reality, and assist them to become valued members of our community

  7. paul

    Great article Denis on a very important and complex topic.

    There is no one solution to this very complex issue. Certainly, strict enforcement approaches and increased penalties will not solve this problem particularly at the smaller possession levels. Most participants at this level could really benefit from mental health support to kerb use. Access to mental health support is so important for vulnerable people considering experimenting with drugs but even more so for those who are transitioning to more regular and serious use. However, unfortunately there remains a number of barriers to access mental health support including financial burdens, red tape, negative stigmas and even self awareness that support is needed. Here family, friends and mentors can often provide support/guidance however, unfortunately this is not always the case.

    The reasons for why people use drugs no doubt vary significantly – no doubt escapism from the pressures of society is one of the causes. The solution here is to A. Change society (not likely in the near future), B. Support the person with mechanisms/skills to better deal / process with these pressures of society, or C – a combination of A and B. I’m all for option C but option B is more realistic and achievable in the short term.

    Education is also absolutely important. However, research needs to be expanded to ensure that education campaigns are effective and actually impact the people they are meant for.

    The Justice and Health System use significant resources dealing with the negative affects of drug and alcohol use – not to mention the wider negative social and cultural impacts. Can we put more resources into education and mental health support as a preventative measure? Such measures will certainly provide value in the long term not just from a social perspective but also the public purse.

  8. Maria

    I think the key to manage the issue in Australia and any society is public health and education. Look at the success of the anti-smoking campaigns in Australia and particularly QLD with some of the most stringent laws in the country. Smoking rates have halved and lots of young people aren’t event taking up smoking now. Definitely strong law enforcement with the right balance of public health and education is the best possible solution.

  9. Less Stress

    Australia is no longer a model democracy if Malcolm and the Crew insist on a more stressful society that invites legal and illegal substance abuse. Why do some many people reach for a Coke that is laced with sugar and other unknown additives?

  10. havanaliedown

    Labor could propose and support something the Liberals couldn’t: drug testing for welfare recipients. Piss in the cup before EFT payment.

    Keating made some good decisions… such as mandatory detention of illegal immigrants, and university fees. Does Labor have a potential leader with the calibre of Keating?

  11. paul walter

    Taking up from paul, I suspect the derangement of large sections of the population makes for an easier job at imposing an authoritarian society, when in turn increases the sense of grievance that has people using drugs and alcohol for relief in the first place.

  12. paul walter

    In a way, with the drugs subculture, we see the results of isolating dumbing down and cultural cocooning. over time. The kid being crucified for the 6 ks of coke in South America must have been Disneyland to believe it could work, if indeed it was what she was attempting. But the subculture is there and it is part of the system’s inherent divisiveness, through class and generational conflict, adversariality and atomisation.

  13. paul walter

    Since I am still in a musical mood will add the following:

  14. Pat

    An important issue in today’s society – more funding is definitely needed to address this complex problem.

  15. Sandy

    “Should the focus of responsible campaigns continue to be on law enforcement and education programmes to control illicit drug use?”

    I don’t see how these campaigns actually address the root cause of illicit drug use. Law enforcement and education programmes do not necessarily center on the “why’s” of people lured into a drug of dependence (which are mainly poverty and mental health). For those who are already into illicit drug use, rehabilitation should be made priority. It is also likely that these people are facing drug charges and so legal access should be another concern. Are they, for example, facing a charge of possession of drug of dependence (http://www.furstenberglaw.com.au/drug-offences/possession-drug-of-dependence)? A punitive approach for drug addiction (such as jail) will only exacerbate the issues that led them to drug addiction in the first place.

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