Articles, Publications & Further Info
this month 's Issuing Forth we examine the issue of safe
injecting rooms, just one of the many controversial
strategies that have been put forward to combat the
'heroin problem'. To discuss the pros and cons
surrounding safe injecting rooms or 'shooting
galleries', we have invited Dr Alex Wodak and Major
Brian Watters, two of the major players in the media
debate on the heroin trial, to provide arguments for and
against the proposal.
Dr Alex Wodak
St Vincent's Hospital
rooms reduce public nuisance and protect public health.
They should be pad of a comprehensive response to
illicit drugs in Australia.
Australians these days are unintentionally exposed to
individuals injecting drugs in public places. Others
come across discarded used injection equipment littering
public places such as parks, streets and beaches.
recent unpublished literature review (A. Reynolds) did
not find any published report of viral infection
following injury from discarded used needle. This does
not mean that infection is impossible but the risks are
remote. Even so, negative reactions from the public
about public injecting or discarded used equipment are
very understandable. It is important to remember the
relative risks. Children are at very high risk of
contracting HIV (from their parents) in countries where
HIV/AIDS is poorly controlled among injecting drug users
(IDUs). Poor HIV control occurs in these countries
because pharmacological fundamentalism prevents adequate
provision of sterile injecting equipment. In contrast,
children are at very low risk from a rare needle stick
injury in pragmatic countries like Australia where
sterile injecting equipment is provided to IDUs.
in public places generally only happens close to major
drug markets. It involves a minority of IDUs, usually
the most marginal members of an already marginalised
population. Some are homeless, others have mental health
problems. Most will have only recently purchased illicit
drugs and then quickly obtained injecting equipment.
Many will be desperate. Some will have little money.
Most cannot tolerate any delay in finding a private
place to inject. Some will have no private place to go
to. About 80% of injections occur (far more safely) in
needles and syringes are mainly discarded close to major
drug markets. Only a small percentage of the large
numbers of needles and syringes used by IDUs are ever
discarded in public places. Some used injecting
equipment finds its way on to beaches through storm
water drains because methods of dealing with storm water
are still primitive. In some states, authorities have
retained legislation which enables injecting equipment
with traces of illicit drugs to be used as evidence of
self administration. This legislation makes drug users
fearful about responsible disposal of used injection
equipment. States such as Queensland have managed to
charge and arrest illicit drugs easily despite lacking
equivalent legislation. The Clean Up Australia Campaign
confirmed that discarded used injection equipment is a
tiny fraction of street litter.
public perceptions have been inflamed by some media
dinosaurs who have temporarily escaped from their cages.
if the level of discarded used injection equipment is
low, the public is entitled to see that authorities do
what they can to further reduce the quantity of
discarded used equipment. Injecting rooms would
contribute to a reduction of discarded injecting
equipment although they will never eliminate the
many other western countries, Australia has experienced
a steady increase in the number of reported 'drug
overdose deaths' from 70 (10.7 per million) in 1979 to
550 (67 per million) in 1995. There are now more deaths
from drug overdose each year than the number of
Australian servicemen killed in action in all the years
we had troops in Vietnam. Injecting in public places is
far more hazardous as resuscitation is unavailable.
Injecting rooms may help reduce drug overdose deaths,
especially if located and run so that they are
attractive to IDUs. Swiss authorities believe that
injecting rooms have helped to reduce drug overdose
deaths. There has not been a fatal overdose in a Swiss
injecting room since they were established 10 years ago.
infection among IDUs without other risk factors is under
control in Australia. A decade ago, politicians from all
parties put the interest of the community ahead of their
own parties and allowed effective policies to be
adopted. The health, social and economic benefits have
been immense. Thousands of lives and many hundreds of
millions of dollars have been saved.
control of HIV infection among IDUs in Australia is very
fragile. An epidemic could easily break out in prisons
across the country. Indeed, a small HIV outbreak in an
Australian prison system has already been detected
(Dolan et al, submitted for publication). An epidemic of
HIV infection could easily break out among indigenous
Australian IDUs. Surveillance and prevention in this
vulnerable population is more difficult. Such an
outbreak could easily lead to the much feared further
dissemination of HIV among indigenous Australians by
major threat to continued control of HIV infection among
IDUs is the current backlash against harm reduction
measures such as needle exchange and methadone
maintenance. Some senior members of this community have
supported this short-sighted reaction. For the first
time since an agreement to deal with HIV/AIDS in a
bi-partisan spirit was forged in the early 1980s, there
is a real possibility that HIV will become politicised.
The dangers of this should not be underestimated.
the most serious threats to the current control of HIV
infection among IDUs in Australia is the continuing
increase in cocaine use. This is probably occurring
nationwide but the Kings Cross area is a particular
focus. The Kings Cross area is possibly the major
illicit drug market in the country. This area is also
the national HIV epicentre. Cocaine
use is a particular problem for HIV control because the
number of injections per day is far greater than with
heroin. This means that the needle exchange system has
an even greater difficulty keeping up with demand. Also,
many who inject cocaine go through a brief period of
paranoia or chaotic behaviour during which their risk of
infection is increased. We do not have now and may never
have any pharmacological treatment for cocaine use
equivalent to methadone maintenance for heroin use.
Methadone treatment has undoubtedly made a major
contribution to HIV control among heroin injectors.
Powder cocaine epidemics overseas have often become
crack cocaine epidemics after a few years. Crack cocaine
use in many countries has led to a rapid increase in HIV
transmission and other sexually transmitted infections
probably because of sex for drugs and/or money. We can
anticipate a continuing increase in cocaine importation
and use in Australia as global cocaine production is
trebling approximately every ten years. A very serious
epidemic of HIV infection among injecting drug users,
reaching an annual incidence of 19% per year, has been
reported recently from Vancouver (Strathdee, et al,
1997) despite Vancouver having the largest needle
exchange in North America. Increasing cocaine use in
Vancouver, a shortage of facilities and treatment for
drug users apart from needle exchange aid the poverty of
the neighbourhood where the epidemic started, and the
fact that Vancouver is a major entry point for cocaine
into North America seem to be the most important factors
in the epidemic.
major area of concern is the epidemic of hepatitis C
among Australian IDUs. IDUs account for approximately
90% of old (prevalent) and new (incident) cases of
hepatitis C in Australia. Clearly, control of the
hepatitis C epidemic in Australia will not be achieved
unless control is achieved in this population. The
highly infectious nature of hepatitis C through
blood-to-blood contact and the very high baseline
prevalence levels means that authorities are unlikely to
achieve a significant reduction in new cases of
hepatitis C unless drug users are encouraged to adopt
noninjecting routes of administration. Efforts to reduce
the demand or supply of drugs, however attractive in
principle, are supported by little evidence of success.
Injecting rooms could provide an opportunity to
influence drug users to administer drugs without
injecting. Staff could assist by providing information
about alternative routes of administration including
sniffing, snorting, smoking or swallowing.
rooms were established in three cities in Switzerland a
decade ago and later in cities in the Netherlands and
Germany. Published evaluation is scant. Establishing and
running injecting rooms has not been difficult. Although
understandably initially treated with some suspicion in
Switzerland, injecting rooms are now reasonably well
accepted. Public nuisance of drug injecting in these
cities has declined. Overdoses are promptly attended to
in injecting rooms. The staff believe that they have
influenced clients to inject less hazardously. Smaller
gauge needles and syringes have been promoted and
accepted. These cause less damage to veins and are less
likely to transmit infections.
injecting rooms has increased referral to drug
treatment. Government sanctioned injecting rooms would
remove these facilities from their present association
with criminals. Indeed, it could be argued that
consideration of injecting rooms is really a matter of
whether we want them to continue being run (sometimes
badly) by criminals or run well by health departments.
rooms cost at least $300,000 to $400,000 a year to run.
Vociferous community opposition is likely if these
facilities are located where they are not welcome. The
benefit to cost ratio, while still positive, is unlikely
to be as high as needle exchange or methadone
maintenance. The experience of Switzerland suggests they
will still be very worthwhile.
decades of responding to illicit drugs in Australia has
shown that alluring quick-fix solutions (such as
Ultra-Rapid Opiate Detoxification) rarely justify their
initial fervour Longer term, partial solutions like
injecting rooms are almost always far more rewarding.
most aspects of drug policy, details are far more
important than overarching policy. The benefits and
costs of safe injecting rooms in Australia are likely to
be far more influenced by details like opening hours,
conditions for clients, attitudes of authorities,
communities and staff, than simply whether or not an
injecting room has been established. It is likely that
three or four safe injecting rooms throughout a state as
large as New South Wales will probably be adequate.
rooms may be an unpalatable policy option. As in many
other areas of drug policy, a continued lack of
unsanctioned injecting rooms will in the long run be
even more unpalatable.
one has to acknowledge the problems associated with the
unsafe injecting practices associated with IV drug use,
nevertheless 1 see the proposal to establish shooting
galleries as being a cure potentially worse than the
concerns are broadly two fold:
there is a values or philosophical question. Should we
as a society be facilitating an illegal activity.
Intravenous drug use is against the law and there is
certainly an element of dichotomy in establishing a
facility where one can legally do the illegal!
Furthermore there is an implied, or tacit approval, for
the use of illegal substances - heroin, cocaine,
amphetamines and whatever else a person chooses to
question of "messages" is a great concern to
me. 1 like to believe that all of us in this field are
committed to preventing the spread of drug use. That
(hopefully) being so, then we should recognise the mixed
signals going out to the young in our society; namely If
you want to try heroin, come along here to the 'Shooting
gallery" where we can make it safe and comfortable
for you!" There will be the further message
"you don't have to worry about the police, its
legal here!" Our society should be sending out a
clear message that drug use is dangerous and
unacceptable and that we as a society will do all in our
power to prevent others becoming trapped in addiction.
second concern and objection to the proposal, flows very
logically from the philosophical debate. The pragmatics
are, that the legal shooting galleries will increase the
incidence of IV drug use. Obviously, to be successful
these centres will need to be protected by the law and
from the law. Thus, as with needle exchanges and
methadone clinics, the police will be either officially
or unofficially kept away from the centre.
it seriously be denied that the provision of legal
facilities for the use of drugs and safe from police
interference will not generate a supply to meet the
demands for the substances? These places will become a
Mecca for dealers and pushers. They will not only be
supplying the existing demands, they will be stimulating
and expanding their markets.
this scenario: Joe and his mates from 'but west"
are visiting Sydney and the Cross. Passing the shooting
gallery, they linger out of curiosity. The stranger
sidles up and says "go ahead boys, you should try
it. Its all clean, safe and legal, just once won't hurt
you". There is nothing too fanciful in that
scenario! We know how persuasive drug dealers can be.
Also, it is an ideal environment for extreme peer
pressure with the addendum "... if its legal it
can't be too bad!" It has long been a public health
maxim that availability, accessibility and price are
significant factors in consumption and in the growth of
of us who work with drug addicted people, know the
urgency - the immediacy - that overwhelms the addict
when they have their drug in their hand. It has to be
used now! This is clearly demonstrated at places like
Cabramatta where these "customers" can't wait
to get home, but are in the back alleys and shop
doorways risking police attention. To truly impact on
the problem of overdose there would have to be shooting
galleries in every major suburb in Sydney. The addicts
certainly won't travel from suburb to suburb.
Furthermore there will have to be suppliers close by the
galleries remember there can be no waiting!
of us in this field are familiar with the N.I.M.B.Y.
syndrome `not in my backyard". We encounter local
hysteria when we try to open a treatment service, a
needle exchange or a methadone clinic. Can we imagine
the reaction at the proposal to open a shooting gallery!
Although in this instance 1 have to admit I would join
the cry "not in my backyard!"
sure that all of us in the field are appalled at the
waste of lives associated with the use of illicit drugs.
Most of us have lost people we love, to overdose or a
bad hit. But however much this proposal appeals to our
immediate compassion and humane concern, it will very
quickly generate more problems than it solves. If we
believe that illicit drug use is a menace in our society
- and 1 know that some readers may not agree with that
proposition - then we need to be looking for longer term
solutions not band-aids. We should be providing
education, treatment and strong law enforcement against
the dealers and suppliers. Sure, let's give narcan to
the ambulances and make it available through pharmacies.
Let's continue the needle exchange program. Let's
provide properly supervised methadone reduction
programs. But above all let us resist any measures that
would give an appearance of even quasi-respectability to
addictive drugs and the facilities for their use.
A. 'Issuing forth', Centrelines Magazine 29 (1997) p. 2
Heroin use continues to cause community concern and with the
recent statistics on heroin related deaths there is further mounting
pressure for action. Numerous articles and newspaper reports reflect the range of opinions on the issue
and the public debate that often appears divided on how best
to address the heroin 'problem'. There are those that support
increasing law enforcement and imposing more severe penalties
for heroin offences, while others advocate for injecting
facilities and decriminalisation/legalisation.
Harm minimisation is one approach that is widely accepted
particularly by those working in this area. Harm reduction strategies stem from this approach and aim to
reduce harm and prevent the problems associated with drug use.
The needle/syringe exchange service that first became
available in the mid 1980's is one example of a harm reduction
strategy. The major goal of such a program is to
prevent/reduce the spread of blood-borne viruses such as HIV
and hepatitis C. Current approaches to address the problematic
use of heroin (and other drugs) usually fall within three
The supply and control of heroin
is considered by many to be an important factor when
considering ways to reduce drug-related harm. Illegality of a
substance will affect the demand and supply, and also the
quality and strength of the drug sold on the market. Drug laws
determine what constitutes an offence and law enforcement
strategies are employed to assist in reducing the supply and
demand for a drug. Legislation and drug policy also plays an
important role by promoting debate about various models of
control, including the proposing of harm minimisation
strategies, such as decriminalisation and heroin trials.
There are a number of different treatment options for drug
users, which often vary in their aims and methods. Some
programs aim exclusively for the user to achieve a drug-free
lifestyle while others aim for the drug user to reduce the
harms that are associated with their drug use. The latter case
recognises that abstinence is not the only option and
different strategies can be implemented that takes into
account a range of goals to improve the health and wellbeing
of the individual.
Modes of treatment include individual counselling, group
therapy and drug maintenance therapy, e.g. methadone.
Medical or non-medical withdrawal, or detoxification, programs
aim to minimise symptoms that may present when a person stops
using a drug. It is well recognised that no one single type of
treatment is effective for every drug user and, often, a
combination of interventions, e.g. drug withdrawal/maintenance
in conjunction with counselling, is most effective.
There is continuing debate in Australia - as there is
worldwide - on new treatment approaches for heroin
use. New drugs or treatment programs are required to be well
researched and then trialed before being implemented in the
wider community. More recently, heroin trials and ultra rapid
opiate detoxification have attracted a great
deal of controversy in Australia on their efficacy as a
treatment approach. New pharmacotherapies, such as naltrexone,
LAAM and buprenorphine, are currently being trialed as
potentially new or alternative maintenance treatments for
heroin dependency in Australia. The methadone
maintenance program is the most well established treatment in
Australia for heroin dependency.
Drug education has changed dramatically over the past 10
years. Previously, providing young people with information
about drugs was regarded as being 'as culpable as supplying
them with the drugs themselves'. Work achieved by drug
educators/researchers has helped break down certain taboos
about drug education. Harm minimisation is employed as a
framework for Australian contemporary drug education and is
currently being implemented in an increasing number of school
curriculums. One significant aim of this is to promote
informed decision making among young people through increasing
factual knowledge and encouraging active exploration of
drug-related issues. Peer education is another approach that
is gaining popularity in the education of young people
throughout the wider community.
problems caused by illegal drugs
both legal and illegal, can be responsible for a great many
problems to individuals and society, including physical
illness, dependency and psychological problems, social
disruption, violence, family breakdown, economic loss,
accidents and death.
Australia, there were an estimated 22,700 drug-related deaths
in 1997. Of these, 18,200 were due to tobacco, 3,700
attributed to alcohol and 800 to illegal drugs.
AIHW, 1999. Media release: Drug use in Australia and its
health impact. 31 March 1999.
are some problems that are caused purely by the fact that a
drug is illegal.
- Many people have been imprisoned (even executed in
some other countries) for dealing in or using illegal
drugs. For many the stigma of a criminal record continues
to burden them long after their drug use has stopped.
- Restricting the supply of an illegal drug can make the
drug more expensive. Many users of heroin are forced into
criminal activities, such as theft and prostitution, in
order to obtain sufficient money to support their drug
- Because some drugs are illegal, they are not subject
to any form of quality control. Drugs bought on the street
are of unknown strength, which increases the risk of
accidental overdose. While there is always a chance of
overdose, this can be of particular risk to the one-off,
inexperienced or occasional user. Street drugs can contain
other unwanted or dangerous chemicals causing illness or
Federal Customs Act covers the importing of drugs, while each
state has laws governing the manufacture, possession,
distribution and use of drugs, both legal and illegal. Drug
laws in Australia distinguish between those who use drugs and
those who supply or traffic drugs. Victoria Police recently
introduced a cannabis cautionary scheme for those caught using
cannabis for the first time. Under this scheme first-time
offenders are formally cautioned by police then referred to a
drug treatment centre. Police have also begun trialling a
cautionary scheme for heroin and other illicit drugs.
Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act (DPCSA) includes
these major drug offences: use, possession, cultivation,
includes smoking, inhaling of fumes, or otherwise introducing
a drug of dependence, into a person's body (including another
person's body). (A drug is defined as a "drug of
dependence" if listed as illegal except under prescribed
conditions.) Generally there is a lesser penalty for the use
of cannabis compared to other drugs.
is the most common offence. Possession means having control or
custody of a drug. Knowledge of such possession must be proven
in court. Possession applies both to drugs found on the person
or their property, unless it is proven the drugs do not belong
to that person. In Victoria, those found in possession of a
small quantity of cannabis (50g or less) for the first time
are cautioned formally then referred to a drug treatment
centre. The penalty for the possession of any drugs not
related to trafficking is $3000, or one year imprisonment, or
is the act of sowing, planting, growing, tending, nurturing or
harvesting a narcotic plant. Any of these activities
constitutes the offence of cultivation. If a person cultivates
'a trafficable quantity', or intends to sell even a small
quantity, it is likely that charges for possession,
cultivation and trafficking will be laid.
Victoria if the court is satisfied that the cultivation is not
related to trafficking, then the penalty is a fine not more
than $2,000 and/or imprisonment not longer than one year. If
the cultivation is related to trafficking, the penalty is a
maximum of 15 years imprisonment, or $100,000 fine, or both.
is a very serious offence. (The DPCSA defines trafficking to
include: the preparing of a drug of dependence for
trafficking; manufacturing a drug of dependence, or selling,
exchanging, agreeing to sell, or offering for sale, or having
in possession for sale, a drug of dependence.) If this is done
in commercial quantities, the penalties are extremely severe.
Bail may be refused unless there are exceptional
circumstances. The criminal charge of murder is the only other
offence that has a similar bail condition. In Victoria, the
penalty for trafficking a commercial quantity of a drug of
dependence is a maximum of 25 years imprisonment and up to a
responses to the drug problem
Australia drug problems are dealt with in three main ways:
the supply of drugs
enforcement activities aim to prevent illegal drugs from
entering the country, or being manufactured and distributed in
result of restricting the supply of illegal drugs is to force
up the street price, because users are forced to bid against
each other for the limited quantity available.
are also many laws restricting the supply of legal drugs. For
example, making sure that alcohol is not sold to people under
18 years of age.
the demand for drugs
difficult to get accurate figures on how many people use
illegal drugs, simply because they are illegal. However, a
1998 national survey showed that 39.3 per cent of the
population had tried cannabis; 8.7 per cent amphetamines; 10
per cent hallucinogens; 2.2 per cent heroin and 3.9 per cent
inhalants. Illegal drugs were used most often by people in the
20-34 year age range.
Source: AIHW, 1999.
Media Release: Drug use in Australia and its health impact. 31
March 1999. www.aihw.gov.au.
the demand for drugs involves a range of activities including:
- giving people the necessary information to make
responsible choices about drug use;
- working to ensure that people have an adequate
standard of living and positive social and personal
relationships so they are less likely to turn to drugs;
- helping people with drug problems reduce their drug
use through access to treatment and rehabilitation
the harm caused by drug use
drug use does occur, it is important that the harm caused to
individuals and the community is minimised. This means
concentrating on the specific harms and practical ways to
example, providing access to clean needles through needle
exchange programs has reduced the spread of HIV/AIDS
and hepatitis B and C. .
Drink driving laws and random breath testing has reduced the
harm caused by drink drivers.
the National Drug Strategy (NDS), Australia's approach to
illegal drugs combines law enforcement with harm reduction.
some concern that existing drug policies have failed and it is
time to introduce a relaxation of drug laws. Opposing this is
the concern that any softening of laws will lead to increased
drug use and greater problems in society.
the specific criticisms about existing drug policy are:
drug laws fail to greatly reduce harms, and may actually
critics claim that current drug laws fail to reduce harm
because they focus on the wrong drugs. Alcohol and tobacco
account for around 97 per cent of drug-related deaths in
Australia and 90 per cent of economic costs.
there is medical evidence to indicate that some illegal drugs
(such as heroin) are less harmful to the body than alcohol,
the statistics above should be interpreted with caution. No
one knows how much heroin or amphetamines or cocaine might be
used, and how many deaths might result, if those drugs were
also clear that the illegal status of drugs, such as
amphetamines and heroin, add greatly to the risk of overdose,
poisoning and infection. Users may suffer legal sanctions and
social stigma, be forced to associate with criminals to obtain
drugs, or commit crimes to raise sufficient money to purchase
laws are inconsistent, or even hypocritical:
the distinctions between legal and illegal drugs are the
result of historical factors and cultural bias rather than a
rational assessment of the harms caused by those drugs.
many people recognise that there are inconsistencies in our
drug laws, only some see this as an argument for legalising
all drugs. For others, it is an argument for making drugs,
such as alcohol and tobacco, illegal. They point out that
having alcohol and tobacco legal is bad enough. Why add
cannabis or heroin to the list?
use should not be seen as a moral issue:
our society has seen drug use in moral terms. However, since
the appearance of the AIDS virus, the need to accept that
people use, and will continue to use, drugs has become
essential. Health workers now generally agree that it is more
effective to work with drug users and provide them with
information about safe use than to morally condemn them, and
so drive them underground.
people have expressed opinions in the debate over legalisation
of drugs: politicians, academics, police, doctors and others.
Most of these opinions contain elements of practical and moral
points of view. The questions remain: Should illegal drugs
remain illegal? Should legal drugs remain legal? Are there
other options available?
for drug policy reform
options for drug policy reform have surfaced over recent
option is based on the logic that increased penalties for
trafficking would act as a deterrent. The experience of other
countries that have adopted this policy is not very
encouraging. In 1989, President Bush committed $7.9 billion to
the 'War on Drugs' in the United States, despite clear
evidence that law enforcement was failing to restrict illegal
drug availability and use.
reasons have been put forward as to why illegal drug use
appears to be so unresponsive to harshness of law enforcement
Harsher penalties lead to increased drug prices. This
increases the incentive for people to join the illegal trade
because of the substantial profits to be made.
Most drug traffickers do not consider the possible risks, and
if they do it is usually in terms of whether or not they will
get caught, rather than the possible penalties. Therefore,
unless the risk of detection is high, the increased penalties
are unlikely to deter drug traffickers.
people argue that the main problems caused by illegal drugs
(in particular, heroin) could be overcome by the establishment
of a prescription system. The drug would be available to
registered users on prescription. The drug user would have to
periodically attend a doctor or clinic to get a renewal of
of this model argue that the legalised supply of heroin by
- reduce the demand for illegal heroin;
- undercut the illicit market;
- increase the number of identified drug users who could
then receive treatment and other help;
- and reduce the need for users to commit theft and
other crimes to support their addiction.
of this model argue that it supports drug use, and does not
offer any encouragement for users to stop their drug taking.
It is argued that drug users would be very well off, with
cheap, clean heroin, subsidised by the taxpayer, available to
drug users use regularly or are dependent. Recreational and
irregular users would fall outside the guidelines of the
program. They would either have to continue to obtain their
drugs illegally, or would have to increase their habit so as
to be eligible to obtain a prescription.
decriminalisation has been used in a number of
different ways, to mean anything from reducing the penalties
attached to drug offences, to completely removing all drug
offences from legislation.
can be dealt with in the manner of a fine. However, it is
generally argued for in relation to minor drug offences such
as possession. More serious drug offences, such as drug
trafficking, remain major crimes and (consequently) incur
of cannabis use has occurred in South Australia and the ACT.
An 'expiation notice' system has been introduced where a fine
is imposed for possessing small quantities. So far, there has
been no indication that the level of cannabis use in those
states has significantly increased.
would save on law enforcement efforts and on court costs. The
major argument against decriminalisation is the concern that
it would lead to a substantial increase in the use of those
drugs that were decriminalised. (People can still be dealt
with harshly under decriminalisation, however; fines can be
difficult to meet, especially for some drug users whose
financial assets may be limited.)
changes to drug policy require community support if they are
to be effective. A recent survey showed that there is not
general community support for a relaxation of drug laws. Over
91 per cent of people opposed proposals to legalise the
personal use of heroin, amphetamines (92 per cent), cocaine
(92 per cent), while 55 per cent opposed legalising cannabis.
Increasing the penalties for the sale or supply of these
illegal drugs was well supported (heroin 88 per cent,
amphetamines 86 per cent, cocaine 86 per cent and
cannabis/marijuana 63 per cent).
Source: NDS National
Drug Strategy Survey 1995
to from here?
are no simple solutions to the illegal drug problem. The
debate surrounding illegal drug use, which is frequently
controversial, is valuable to provide a greater understanding
of the issues. This is vital if politicians, legislators and
the public are to make the right decisions regarding illegal
clear that law enforcement strategies alone will not solve the
'drug problem'. A combination of strategies, including
community education and development, and legal initiatives,
are needed to reduce the harms associated with drug misuse.
are many unanswered questions about what effects changes to
drug policy would have. Only by carefully examining the
options, carrying out research and investigating the impact
that changes have had in other countries, will we be in a
position to choose the best way to address illegal drug issues
in our society.