Pubdate: Tue, 12 Dec 2000
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: News Limited 2000
Author: Tony Trimingham


BILL MUEHLENBERG (Opinion, 11/12) draws a long bow in suggesting that
people who support the harm minimisation approach to drugs are, in
fact, in favour of legalisation.

In distorting facts and logic Mr Muehlenberg does what many
zero-tolerance proponents do in trying to pin our drug problem on this
aspect alone.

Australia has a policy with three arms -- supply reduction, demand
reduction and harm reduction. However, when it comes to funding, the
vast majority of money goes to supply reduction. i.e. customs, police,
justice and prisons.

Very little in percentage terms goes towards harm-reduction
strategies. So if he is correct that Australia's policies have failed
then surely the finger must most strongly be pointed at the sort of
policy Mr Muehlenberg would like us to do more of -- lock them up for
longer, more police, etcetera, etcetera.

It's estimated that although we have had more drug busts than ever
before we are still picking up less than 6 percent of available
illicit drugs.

Although harm reduction encompasses treatment and abstinence --
another aspect ignored by Mr M. -- it is not as simple as he says. The
most painful part of this article is that Mr Muehlenberg purports to
belong to an organisation that supports families.

He obviously has not spoken to many who have lived with hard-drug use.
If he had he would know that while there is life there is hope, and
"drug free" -- although a common initial goal -- gets relegated down
the list when simply coping and keeping families intact and users
alive are more urgent priorities. Punitive, hard-line policies very
rarely produce "drug-free" anyway.

Harm-reduction strategies including needle programs, peer education
and overdose prevention certainly may have meant that things are far
less disastrous for some people than they would have been without them.

The fact is we need more balance in funding so there is less emphasis
on failed policies and more on proven winners.

Family Drug Support, Willoughby, NSW
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