Pubdate: Wed, 02 Mar 2016
Source: Age, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2016 The Age Company Ltd


This week federal parliamentarians will discuss with world experts 
ways to minimise harm caused by illicit drugs. At a national drug 
summit, legislators will also be reminded of the sobering reality 
that Australians consume illegal drugs at concerning levels. A 2014 
United Nations report found, for example, Australians lead the world 
in ecstasy use.

The so-called war on drugs has failed, here and in every nation that 
embraced it. Former Victorian police commissioner and head of the 
National Ice Taskforce Ken Lay last year encapsulated the views of 
many informed people when he said "we can't arrest our way out of 
this". Former UN chief Kofi Annan made the same case in these pages 
only last Sunday.

Associated with all this, experts argue the use of police sniffer 
dogs at music festivals illustrates how a severe approach can result 
in greater harm; the dogs can create panic and scare attendees into 
rapidly and potentially fatally consuming all the drugs they have 
with them, rather than risk being apprehended.

We need an inclusive, informed community discussion about how we deal 
with drugs that are available on the black market and thus 
effectively beyond the control of authorities. Ultimately, that means 
destroying the black market by decriminalising and regulating these 
substances, and by putting people with problems into the health 
system, not the criminal justice system.

The Age has consistently stressed we are motivated by harm 
minimisation, and are not condoning or encouraging the abuse of 
substances illicit or legal. We recognise the danger of misusing 
substances, and the tragedies that occur daily. An effective 
harm-reduction strategy would foster policies based on education and, 
again, regulation.

Next year, the Victorian Parliament's law reform, road and community 
safety committee will deliver a report on the effectiveness of 
treatment programs and will explore harm minimisation as an 
alternative to treating drug users as criminals.

The inquiry is an opportunity to consider a wide range of expert 
views, including those of the police. It provides a chance for 
legislators to examine what has worked elsewhere.

Last week two prominent doctors vowed to run pill-testing trials, 
designed to verify the purity of drugs, at music festivals, in 
defiance of the law. We do not support that; rather we think their 
voices should be heard in the debate. Pilltesting should be part of a 
mature public debate about harm minimisation.

The broader issue is decriminalisation and regulation of substances. 
The two substances that cause the most harm are legal - tobacco and alcohol.

And therein sits a model for minimising harm caused by illicit drugs. 
Smoking rates have been reduced through education and health 
campaigns, exemplified by the globally applauded Quit campaign, and 
through using taxation to create price disincentives. Plain packaging 
has also helped smokers defeat their deadly addiction.

According to the National Drug Safety Household Survey 2013, 12.8 per 
cent of Victorians aged 14 and older smoked daily compared with 25 
per cent in 1993. The rates were far, far higher only decades ago. 
The success of public antismoking initiatives underscores the power 
of sound government policy combined with strong support from health 
promotion agencies and the media.

People have always used drugs, licit and illicit. Prohibition of 
substances and criminalisation of consumers has merely created 
massive, unregulated and dangerous markets controlled by criminals.
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