This week, I went to Canberra to participate in the National Drug Summit. Here's 9 things I learned:
1. There’s not one solution
No one approach is going to solve the problem. Let’s look at a variety of responses and run trials to collect evidence to see what works. Following NZ’s experience, we need a response that is compassionate, proportionate and innovative.
2. Harm-minimisation works. Look at the medically-supervised injecting centre
We’ve been focused on reducing supply and demand pressures through law enforcement, but a health-centred approach saves lives. The medically supervised injecting room in Kings Cross is twenty-years old. Harm-minimisation works.
3. We’re failing at treatment
Drug users that need help often can’t find it. There are long waiting lists for treatment and diversion programs. This despite the fact we know putting money into treatment delivers the best results.
4. Pill-testing will save lives
Pill-testing at music festivals happens around the world and would form part of a rational, evidence-based approach. When users understand what is in their drugs, they can dispose of the drugs in amnesty bins, rather than risk overdose or death.
5. Police are not the problem, but could be a better part of the solution
Police are sworn to uphold the law, however, as we’ve seen from the injecting room in NSW, they can be given local discretion that enables health workers to do their job and minimise harm. There are better things the police can be doing than arresting drug users. Not sure? Ask a Police Officer.
6. The Government could earn tax if illicit drugs were regulated
Colorado, which recently regulated cannabis, raised an additional $70 million in taxes, most of which went back into education, health and harm-minimisation.
7. Drug-use isn't big just amongst "the youth"
Drug-use is on the rise amongst people aged over 50. We have to change our thinking and stop stigmatising drug users. The whole community needs to be on board.
8. We need to ask the people who actually take drugs - drug users
Drug-users understand why people take drugs. They understand the risks drug-users take. We’ll do best when we stop demonising users, respect and speak about users as people, and capitalise on the opportunity for peer-support and education.
9. Doctors know the answers, but in the end it's us politicians who will need to make the changes.
We’re trying to fix the same problems with the same old solutions, even though they’re not working. We can’t stick our head in the sand and keep trying to arrest our way out of the problem. As politicians, we need to be brave and innovative. Lives depend on it.