Pubdate: Tue, 13 Jun 2000
Source: Valley View (Australia)
Contact:  +61 2 6293 2183
Author: Paul Obsorne, MLA


HAVE a guess at how many free syringes and needles will be handed out
to drug users by government officials this year in Australia?

Most people guess at first between five and ten million. Not even
close. It will be thirty million this - year - minimum - with
Canberra's contribution around 600,000.

Of these, in Canberra, at least one third will not be exchanged and
left lying around oar parks, school play grounds, swimming areas and
other public places. In the rest of the country almost two-thirds will
not be exchanged.

Critics of our current illicit drug laws mock suggestions of more
policing and chant that "prohibition has failed". What they
conveniently forget is that we have not had prohibition here in
Canberra for over a decade, instead we have the alternative and
supposed enlightened approach of "harm minimisation."

Unfortunately, while harm may have been minimised for a few, it has
been maximised for the rest of us. Given that our drug problem
continues to spiral, if anything has failed us it is harm minimisation
- - and miserably so.

A syringe and needle cost 50 cents at the local chemist. It costs us
taxpayers a dollar each to hand them out for free at one of the city's
needle distribution outlets.

The idea behind needle distribution is to prevent the spread of
diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.  But recent scientific studies
in Canada and the USA prove that those frequenting a Needle Exchange
Program are more than twice as likely to catch one of these diseases
than be protected from it.

How so? On investigation, it turned out that well over half of the
study participants regularly borrowed needles, and nearly half who
knew they were HIV-positive lent their needles to others. Each needle
was being reused three times on average.

Obviously, the same results would not be true for every city, but we
should always be cautious of simple solutions or of simply doing
something because something - anything - needs to be done.

Does all this mean that we should open a string of heroin shooting
galleries all over the city? Of course not! Experience in Europe shows
us now that few would use them, just as many needles would still be
left lying around, there would be no reduction in the number of heroin
addicts, and drug dealers would congregate around the injecting facilities.

Rather than helping people take drugs "safely", we should be trying to
help them become drug-free - and stay that way. Hard core drug law
reformists consider drug taking as being "profoundly normal". I don't.
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