Bad politics vs good drug policy and prison health

Australia’s National Drug Strategy consists of the three pillars of Harm Minimisation

To hear major parties speak of Australia’s national drug strategy one may be forgiven for assuming it is a competition of muscle. To be sure, we’ve come a long way since the great stupor of the Howard years, as then federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott taunted Opposition leader, Kim Beasley for being “soft on drugs”. Translation? Taking the evidence based advice of global drug strategists.

Terrified of losing votes, Beasley all too readily took the bait. In this way successive debates and policy changes had a ratcheting effect on absurd non evidence based and wasteful attempts to be seen to be “tough” on drugs. Manfully tearing up cannabis plants and thrashing them against rocky outcrops or cursing at bags of cocaine aside, it follows quite logically that “tough on drugs” is nothing less than tough on people.

Should Abbott become PM we will quickly find that there is more to Aussie politics than just carbon taxes, boat arrivals and the odd NBN slur. It wasn’t just Howard’s homophobia, weapons of mass destruction lies and black and white 1950’s relativism we’d woken up from. Howard’s skill as a politician is rivalled very well by his inability to understand the 21st century. Indeed, perhaps the last third of the one before.

I’m not suggesting drug policy should become a national focus to the exclusion of any other policy. It never will. Yet, the list of human rights abuses ushered in by stealth and without reason under Howard is a long one. It was Tony Abbott himself who funded the extreme right evangelical lobbyists, Drug Free Australia with the explicit aim of destroying Neal Blewett’s 20 year old successful policy of Harm Minimisation. Howard’s sabotage of our role as world leaders in Harm Reduction is legendary.

Even in 1997 going against the advice of then health minister Michael Wooldridge, and taking that of (later) DFA board member, evangelist and disgraced Salvation Army Major, Brian Watters (initial Chair of the ANCD) to dump the heroin on prescription trial. From The Politics Of Heroin – ABC 4 Corners:

KATE CARNELL: The approach that we put, or I put, to that meeting, was that this was a small trial, only 20 people or so in the first instance. That the trial would be a medical trial with appropriate science backup.

ANDREW FOWLER: The vote came as a huge surprise. The Federal Health Minister, four States and the ACT voted for the trials to go ahead.

A 6-3 result. The decision marked a radical shift in policy.

KATE CARNELL: This is not just a heroin trial. It’s an integrated, national approach that brings in the majority of States in this country. I think it shows a huge amount of maturity and it really is a mammoth step forward.

ANDREW FOWLER: The Federal Health Minister, Michael Wooldridge, telephoned the Prime Minister to tell him the news. But a few minutes later, as he made his way back into the meeting, observers say he looked shaken.

Nothing to this day has beaten Bronwyn Bishop’s 2007 Parliamentary Committee Inquiry. A despicable abuse of our parliament and the role of standing committees, the final report was rejected by every D&A body in Australia. All except our installed enemies of humane policy, lobbyists Drug Free Australia. As Chair and at John Howard’s urging she intoned to field experts that, “the PM says he doesn’t want that” (Harm Minimisation), sounding much like an Inquisitor instructed to reject reference to heliocentrism. That this was her governments policy was entirely lost on her. It was a predetermined farce to attack progressive successes, and demonstrably so.

Her attacks upon Alex Wodak‘s internationally respected skill and evidence in favour of biblical stories from fundamentalist zealot Dr. Stuart Reece, left jaws agape. A bastard baptising, bible wielding, Jesus summoning fruit cake who’d knocked off 25 of his patients in 20 months with reckless naltrexone treatment. The investigation into which he described as “a conspiracy”. “They’re only drug addicts anyway”, he informed a grieving parent who later wrote to me.

As reported in Crikey by Ray Moynihan in Naltrexone II: no trials, just the power of prayer:

In lengthy evidence to a current parliamentary committee inquiry into illicit drugs, being run by Bronwyn Bishop, Reece suggested one of the biggest problems at the moment was a disease called “drugs, s-x and rock and roll.” As part of his evidence, Stuart Reece cited Sodom and Gomorrah, the Biblical cities destroyed by God for their immorality.

Reece’s testimony then suggested Australia’s civilisation was under threat of being destroyed by the scourge of injecting rooms, give-away syringes, and methadone. These of course are the well-established strategies of “harm minimisation”, the approach that underpins the way Australia deals with the dangers of illicit drug use. In contrast to his attacks on harm minimisation, Stuart Reece spoke reverentially of the work of Dr George O’Neil, and the immense value of the still unproven naltrexone implant.

Asked during an interview whether he currently prescribed naltrexone implants to heroin addicts, Dr Reece answered cryptically, “Yes and No”.

Suffice it to say, Reece as a member of Drug Free Australia still marches front and centre with the most dangerous and most irrational opponents to Harm Minimisation. Our National Drug Strategy. What they call “the noramlisation of illicit drug taking”.

However, the Public Health Association report below on the proposed Needle, Syringe Program (NSP) trial at the Alexander Maconoche Centre is clear:

The Australian government web page on the National Drug Strategy (NDS) identifies that

“the National Drug Strategy, a cooperative venture between Australian, state and territory governments and the non-government sector, is aimed at improving health, social and economic outcomes for Australians by preventing the uptake of harmful drug use and reducing the harmful effects of licit and illicit drugs in our society”. (Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing-DoHA, 2011)

The NDS is based on three inter-related strategic approaches to dealing with drugs in our community – the NDS refers to them as the “three pillars” of the overall approach of harm minimisation.
Harm minimisation, therefore, is our agreed national approach to drug policy which encompasses the three pillars of:

Demand Reduction

Demand reduction to prevent the uptake and/or delay the onset of use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs; reduce the misuse of alcohol and the use of tobacco and other drugs in the community; and support people to recover from dependence and reintegrate with the community. To achieve this requires effort to:

  • prevent uptake and delay onset of drug use
  • reduce use of drugs in the community
  • support people to recover from dependence and reconnect with the community
  • support efforts to promote social inclusion and resilient individuals, families and
    communities

Supply Reduction

Supply reduction to prevent, stop, disrupt or otherwise reduce the production and supply of illegal drugs; and control, manage and/or regulate the availability of legal drugs. To achieve this requires effort to:

  • reduce the supply of illegal drugs (both current and emerging)
  • control and manage the supply of alcohol, tobacco and other legal drugs

Harm Reduction

Harm reduction to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. To achieve this requires effort to:

  • reduce harms to community safety and amenity
  • reduce harms to families
  • reduce harms to individuals

Our NDS does not simply limit its scope to the broad community but states categorically:
“The approaches in the three pillars will be applied with sensitivity to age and stage of life, disadvantaged populations, and settings of use and intervention”. (DoHA 2011)

Over the years we’ve had the rants of Alan Jones and John Laws. The rubbish of Piers Akermann and Andrew Bolt. The fear mongering of the anti-science mob. Still many fail to appreciate not just good policy but the responsibility under human rights which (as I’ll get to in time) is exactly what Alexander Maconochie is about. Right down to using the name of the great penal reformer himself.

This Lateline segment from October 2009 gives excellent insight. On October 2nd 2009 they reported, “The Australian drugs conference in Melbourne has today called for a trial of needle and syringe programs in Australian prisons. One in three Australian inmates has hepatitis C, and it is thought that a needle and syringe program could reduce the incidence of blood-borne viruses in jail.

Resistance born of political will, not evidence, continues today. It will be a great shame if ignorance prevails.

Lateline


Public Health Association Report on NSP Trial at the Alexander Maconochie Centre

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