Thursday, 13 February 2014

WANTED: Functioning Heroin Addicts

I was contacted by a TV network to help with a show about functioning heroin addicts. Is there anyone interested in telling them about your experiences? You can keep your identity confidential if necessary.

If so, contact me and I will arrange it.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Poor Smokers

Massive tax rises on cigarettes will mainly hurt those who will probably never quit
Massive tax rises on cigarettes will mainly hurt those who will probably never quit.

The Rudd government has just announced that tax on cigarettes will increase by 60% over the next 4 years. Of course, health groups and many others will applaud the government for such a move citing the health benefits from reduced smoking rates. And there are many positive reasons for such a tax. But what about the negative impacts?

Price has proven to be the most effective tool for reducing smoking levels as we saw with the last major increase in Australia. When Rudd last increased the tobacco tax excise by 25% in 2010, the Department of Finance reported that smoking consumption decreased by a whopping 11%. Conveniently Rudd and co. leave out the fact that rates were already dropping by 6% and the actual affect was a 5% decrease. Still, more increases can only be a good thing, right?

Well, all is not what it seems. Research clearly shows that by dying younger we become less of a financial burden on society. Harsh but true. All the burbling about health costs incurred by smokers is just smoke and mirrors. And of course there is the growing black market. In the UK, 27% of cigarettes and 68% of roll-your-own tobacco is bought illegally. How big is the black market in Australia? All I know is that it's about to grow.

We all know that nicotine is highly addictive. Some politicians even claim it's more addictive than heroin. So why is this highly addictive substance suddenly so easy to quit? It's hypercritical when governments tout harm and addictiveness when trying to deter smoking but when they want to raise money by increasing prices, addiction is played down. Many, many people find it so difficult to kick their nicotine addiction that they will do almost anything to keep smoking. And there's no magic bullet here, this is the complex world of addiction and the rules are different for each person. 

The one vital question that has evaded this issue so far is not who it will affect but how much it will affect some people. After all, that's the point of this initiative … to affect people. To coax them out of their addiction by causing them financial pain. To put the price of tobacco out of their reach, forcing them to reconsider how they spend their often limited funds. It may sound logical and as a method for reducing smoking, it is largely successful. But elasticity of demand for tobacco is not linear and decreases as the price rises. It should be obvious that those who were going to quit because of price have most likely done so already. Only dedicated smokers, those who were rich enough not to care and the badly addicted soldiered on with their vice. Price hikes are a blunt tool and this new increase will not produce anywhere near the success of that in 2010. The most likely outcome is that it will mainly hurt those who may never quit.

Let's get some perspective here. Lower income families are already struggling, capriciously living day-to-day in a fragile financial environment. One big utility bill or unexpected expense can throw their lives into chaos, making them homeless or without electricity or gas. Add the costs for a smoker and it becomes even more precarious.  

Lack of money can often be the catalyst for family breakdown resulting in violence, ruined marriages and substance abuse. We see it everyday in this country and it's only going to get worse as cigarettes increase in price. Imagine living below the poverty line, week after week you struggle to make ends meet and one day the people who are supposed to represent you decide to rip your guts out.

Any new price increase will not force hard core addicts to quit. Instead, it will cause grief, family stress and force smokers into perilous situations. Do we really have to be reminded about the desperation of addicts and the massive cost on society? And it's not like the tiny population of those addicted to illegal drugs. There's 3.5 million smokers who will potentially be seeking alternatives to feed their addiction. It's not going to be pretty.

So, what does a hardcore smoker do at-the-moment when they don't have enough money? They skip meals or buy cheaper, unhealthy food. They wear shoes with holes in them. Car registrations and other bills are not paid. Then there's the kids. Forget that excursion little Johnny was looking forward to. And let's hope little Carrie likes stale vegemite sandwiches everyday for lunch. The reliance on welfare becomes part of their life. Asking for food vouchers just to feed their children doesn't seem so embarrassing anymore. Buying clothes from the op-shop is necessary. Living below the poverty line becomes a fact of life. 

It's about to get worse.

Most hardcore smokers will never, ever quit cigarettes and they will do whatever it takes to get by. Some women will turn to casual prostitution. Others will commit opportunistic crimes like petty theft and shoplifting. Defrauding Centrelink will not seem so taboo anymore. Others will turn to violent crime, drug dealing and similar desperate measures. Tension between couples will become explosive as their financial situation becomes untenable. Screaming matches, smashing furniture and divorce will define the new household of a smoker. Sadly, children hiding under beds or in cupboards will go unnoticed as families try to adjust to this new reality. And I mean "reality". This is not a movie or a yarn but real people suffering beyond what most of us can even imagine. Can most of us even comprehend what being evicted really means when you have no alternative? Do we really know what massive stress is when you just have absolutely no way to pay that utility bill? Could you live for a few months without electricity? Go on, try and picture what you and your family would do if you received a final court ordered eviction notice and you have no money. Scary, isn't it.

Now spare a thought for the single mother staying home to look after her young children. If she smokes and cannot quit, life is basically over for her. Because of another thoughtful Labor government initiative, single parents with children over 8 are forced onto the lower paying New Start scheme. This nasty policy is spun as a caring way to gently "encourage" people into the workforce. 

The government is dressing up brutal financial attacks on those who are the poorest as compassionate policies. I'm simply lost for words here as I'm trying to describe how much it makes me despise the government. It probably best explains why I hate politicians so damn much.

Carnage from the cigarette tax hikes will be felt mainly by low income groups
Carnage from the tax hikes will be felt mainly by low income groups.
Let's face it. This is not a health driven issue but a need to plug a massive hole in the government's budget. Any government in power would be faced with this issue whether Labor or Liberal. Revenue is down and the budget needs to be balanced. Most people understand that. What I don't get though is why the government has an insatiable need to be in surplus? And isn't there better ways to raise this cash? As usual, the reasons are purely political and some smokers will have their lives ruined because of it. It's simply not good enough. Most economists agree that Australia can run a deficit like most other countries do. This basic strategy would eliminate all the government's proposed cuts and increased taxes. And then there's the petrol excise that was fixed by Howard in an attempt to win over voters while introducing the GST. A simple realignment would cost drivers only 1.5¢ per litre but would raise about $23 billion over the next four years. 

And as a final "fuck you" to smokers, the government maintains it's ban on electronic cigarettes containing nicotine … the single most effective method to reduce the smoking of carcinogenic cigarettes. It's a stark reminder that anti-drug lobby groups like Quit are just far too influential on government policy. If the government really cared so much about our health, they would ignore the anti-drug/smoking groups and give smokers access to e-cigs. 

If health was really the issue then this policy would have been better thought out. What about making cigarettes only available via prescription? This would stop most new uptakers and be too much trouble for casual smokers. What about age limits so that the price pain is only inflicted on younger, less addicted smokers? Why aren't e-cigs used for treatment? It's just so obvious that this is not about the government's concern for our wellbeing.

As usual, those with enough money will not be affected. I don't smoke that much anymore so personally it won't really effect me too much. And those I know that still smoke just feel betrayed by Rudd. Not voting for Labor won't be a vote for Mr. Rabbott or The Greens though. They fully support the idea of hammering smokers with increased prices. I dare say we will see a few votes going to The Australian Sex Party, Wikileaks or the Drug Law Reform Party. The main result I can see for Rudd's master plan will less votes for him. Maybe even 3.5 million of them.  

Monday, 17 June 2013

The Joys of Being in Recovery

On rolls another year. And like each year "in recovery", life goes on with an array of challenges, changes and temptations. 

I have not touched anything now for many, many years with the exception of a beer about a year ago, an occasional glass of red wine with dinner and I smoked a bit of ice one sunny day. I have an excellent work contract, a steady relationship and an above average health. But something is missing and I still feel like my life is on hold.

Each year my life gets better in some aspects but worse in others. Well, not actually worse but more complex and frustrating. It's often said that issues that affect our lives are relative to our current situation. What stresses us out today might be minor compared to a decade ago. And the problems we may see as insurmountable to us are just minute compared to what others have to contend with. I'm sure that even if I was stinking rich, married to the Minogue sisters and healthier than Chuck Norris, I would still be worried out of my mind. Like I said, our problems are relative.

My daily dose of Slow Release Oral Morphine (SROM) has halved since this time last year. SROM is the magical medication that keeps me away from heroin. It's been a hell ride but overall, I am in a much better position now than anytime since my headlong dive into junkism. But there is a problem and one that is more frustrating than heroin addiction itself … the mess they call recovery.

Recovery is subjective and depending on who you talk to, it must be done a certain way. Some people insist that cold turkey is the only way out while most recommend substitution treatment like methadone. Others swear by the 12 steps program while a lucky few like myself receive something more practical. And then there's the naltrexone cheer squad who have their own ideas. So who is right? 

Forget the multitude of research showing that each person has unique needs. Forget the constant stories of users relapsing. In fact forget it all. If you're in the system, you are at the mercy of whoever you get burdened with regardless of their knowledge and success rate. For all the talk and money spent on recovery, it seems that our medical system is just not geared up to deal with individual needs. Not once have I been asked what I think is best (for me) or if I feel comfortable proceeding with a particular course. If my doctor and the specialist had it their way, I would be totally clean in a just few short months. Who cares if I relapse or my life becomes unbearable?

When I first approached the specialist pharmacotherapist to cut my dose nearly two years ago, he came up with a simple plan. Drop 50mgs every two weeks and soon I would be magically opiate free. Even I knew that was a big ask. And after voicing my dismay at such a rapid tapering he told me it would be fine. Of course it wasn't. 

Dropping 50mg every two weeks is just ridiculous. I have been on some form of opioids for nearly 20 years and every forced attempt to drop my dose just resulted in chaos. The upside is that when I initiate the reduction, it works.

It was me who suggested an initial drop of 100mg then maybe 50mg every month. I knew I was ready to start this long, painful journey and reducing my dose by a whopping 100mgs was a show of good faith that I was serious. Silly me! This enthusiasm was quickly exploited and the "maybe" drop of 50mgs each month became fortnightly. Of course it was a massive failure and after several pleading emails it was changed to monthly reductions.

I stop exercising and put on weight. I smoke more. I stop interacting with my family and hide myself away in my office. I stop contributing to the household (cooking/cleaning/caring for the pets etc.). I neglect family and friends. My focus on work deteriorates which costs me my income and the bills pile up. Even simple tasks such as showering becomes a drag.
-Extract from a letter to my specialist

Eventually, the monthly reductions started taking their toll. Dropping my dosage was causing too many problems and heroin was again becoming an attractive alternative.

The pressure to keep lowering my dose by my largely ignorant doctor and the specialist has been intense. It takes several long winded emails and some major pleading just to keep my dose fixed for another month. Sometimes I wonder if they actually understand that I am on a maintenance dose to keep me stable. If it was methadone, there would be no pressure whatsoever. 

It is a medical fact that forced recovery simply does not work. For some folks the idea of forcing junkies to rapidly drop their maintenance dose is appropriate punishment for being an evil druggy but for doctors it is just not good enough. There is ample research readily available and anyone, including a doctor, can just Google it. So why does my doctor and pharmacotherapist keep insisting that I constantly drop my dose?

It gets really tiring trying to explain the affects of lowering my dose when I am not ready. I have repeatedly explained to them that just prior to my dose dropping my clinical depression gets worse, I become very anxious and it causes me incredible stress. This falls on deaf ears. Even saying that I fear I may return to heroin isn't enough to reassess my situation. What is that about? You would think this would send off alarm bells. You would think…

The last 12 months have been pretty scary at times but I have somehow managed to get through. But as I have mention many times, each reduction causes incredible stress and distress. I manage to get through it but now it's proving to be counter-productive.

Each month as it comes time for my dose to drop and for weeks afterwards, I become extremely apprehensive and anxious. I feel that every everything is just too daunting and I loose any motivation I may have. It also makes me depressed. Naturally, I want this to stop. When I loose my motivation and feel depressed, everything suffers. At my age, this is not an acceptable situation especially after putting in so much hard work to get this far.
-Extract from a letter to my specialist

I can't help but question the reasoning behind the current policies for prescribing opiates. There are no major physical health problems with long term opiate use which only leaves the problem of dependance and any psychological issues. If SROM improves my ability to lead a normal productive life without causing any physical problems then why are the so called experts hell bent on dropping my dosage when I'm not ready? The physical health advantages from having a steady supply of SROM are glaringly obvious; 20-30kgs lighter, a regimented exercise plan, a healthier diet, a massive reduction in smoking and much less back pain. These benefits alone should justify my monthly script. Then, of course there's the huge benefits to my mental health; participating in work, socialising, integrating into the local community, reduced depression and anxiety, increased mental aptitude.

I wonder why diabetics are not forced to reduce their insulin? What about those on Ritalin or other medications to deal with specific mental health issues? Why are opioids singled out? If these medications help benefit our lives then they should be readily available for recovery as well.

We all know what causes the extreme paranoia around prescribing opiates and it should not exist in our advanced, modern society. The war on drugs -encouraged by sleazy politicians, the trash media and the anti-drug nutters- is probably the single most destructive policy in modern history. And when it affects the process of recovery you know it has really just gone too far.

Living life whilst in recovery is not pleasant although it's better than the constant cycle of heroin addiction. I suppose I shouldn't complain but it's hard when I know there's an easier route. I just want to know why those people and governments departments who are supposedly experts in addiction and recovery seem to know so little about addiction and recovery.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

One Year On ... Some Things Never Change

My life has changed somewhat since I officially ended The Australian Heroin Diaries over 12 months ago. And by far, the biggest change has been the amount of free time I now have. I never realised how much time actually went into my website. Just having time to surf the web without sniffing out drug related issues is so refreshing. Now I have some resemblance of a normal life with more time for work and other interests. But the itch to restart The Australian Heroin Diaries has at times been overwhelming especially when I keep getting emails from readers and comments are still being posted on my website.

For those who may be interested, I no longer use drugs and I'm living a happy, productive life on the NSW coast. My reliance on SROM has dropped to half the dose I was on just over a year ago. I still pinch myself sometimes to see if it's all not just a dream. I feel the last 16 years have been a blur to the point where it's almost surreal. Did all this really happen to me? A confident professional with fantastic friends, a great family, a new house, a successful business and a plan to marry the love of my life? What possibly could have gone wrong? Anyway, that is in the past now and I have much to look forward to. My depression has almost gone and I have someone special in my life. Work is great and I have got back much of what made me who I am.

Unfortunately, my return for this article is not just a simple update but the scary realisation that we still have a long way to go. On a recent visit to Victoria, I caught a glimpse of the Channel 7 news and up pops that bearded burbler called Hinch. Now I have no real qualms with Hinch but also don't have that much interest either in his self assigned role as our moral saviour. Sure, he has some worthy pet issues (as we all do) but calling himself the human headline probably sums up the style and depth of the journalism he dishes out. But what I heard that night sent shivers down my spine and brought back the bitter distaste I had for drug hysteria, moral crusaders and those who abuse the drug issue for personal gain. I suppose you could drop me into the last category but at least I try to base my ramblings on research and facts. Maybe it's something Hinch might want to try.

The first surprise with the Hinch story was that he had resurfaced that stale myth called the ice epidemic. I thought that went out of flavour years ago. Maybe it's part genius to once again capitalise on scaring the bajesus out of suburban housewives and the largely ignorant public especially since the issue had faded into drug propaganda history years ago. His claim that ice was going to rewrite history as the greatest drug threat society will ever see waddled off into the pond of obscurity a long time ago. Of course, the ice carnage promised by various drug warriors never materialised and they simply moved on to other critical issues like Korean rap singers and Matthew Newton. So why now Mr. Hinch?

What did Hunch say that provoked me to write a whole article after being away for so long? Well, if there was a list of every myth and lie that has been said about the so called ice epidemic then Hinch must have it. Super addictive, epidemic proportions, giving users super human strength, our worst drug problem ever etc. etc. According to Hinch, our worst drug problem ever has Ambulance call outs rising by 107% from 136 to 282. Yup, that's 282 ambulance call outs. Hardly a national crisis. If anything, it shows that the recent policy of not charging drug effected people when calling an ambulance is working.

It makes people psychotic. Puts police, emergency services and members of the public at risk. And can give users almost super human strength.
--Derryn Hinch. Channel 7 News

Like so many anti-drug stories, the lack of research, popular myths and fuzzy facts blur the reality for the sake of ratings. Some bearded buffoon banging on about addicts robbing your house and hulk like, drugged out maniacs attacking members of the public makes for good viewing. I'm sure the fact that most people affected by ice are more likely to cuddle you to death than belting you won't win over any viewers especially when we are constantly bombarded by such ridiculous claims like those by Hinch. The perception that everyone on ice is a raving lunatic wanting to rob or bash you is so far from the truth that it makes me dizzy. Contrary to most media reporting, amphetamines are well known to cause over friendliness, make people talk too much and want to have sex. Sure, there will be some who become violent but not anymore than the national average of drunken youth out on the town. Adding the "psychotic" tag is bound to help garnish up images of frenzied junkies wanting to bash and rob our grandmas. Luckily, it's just junk journalism at it's worst.

“Most methamphetamine users do not become psychotic. There are some people who do, a minority who do, and that's usually related to extended periods of binge using, with people not sleeping, not eating - that sort of thing,"
"The vast majority of people use methamphetamine very occasionally recreationally, perhaps on the weekend or something, and they're not going to get to that point."
--Annie Madden. AIVL

If there are so many ice "addicts" and it's such an epidemic then why aren't the night clubs actually fight clubs? Where's the reports of frenzied bloodbaths in a club full of drugged out ice users? The fact is that any amphetamine such as ice usually makes you friendly towards others much like low doses of alcohol does. But like Alcohol, too much can have the opposite affect. We tend to forget that alcohol is the single most violent drug on earth and the violence associated with ice is usually because of the copious amounts of booze they consumed while out on the town. Add to that the ability of ice to keep you up for days and you get the nasty combination of sleep deprivation and several days of drinking condensed into a short period. This is where most of trouble occurs.

Because there has been such extensive media coverage of this purported relationship between violence and ice use, what we get now when we talk to service providers, is a reproduction of the messages that the media are portraying. So, when someone walks into the service and they might be agitated or violent, very quickly the service provider says, !!!OOh, they must be on ice.!!!  And so, you get this reproduction of the message that is actually communicated in the media, rather than one that is based on evidence and based on good clinical practice. We weren’t receiving news amongst the service providers of high levels of violence related to methamphetamine use five years ago, when the peak of methamphetamine use was occurring in Australia. We are seeing that now.
--Associate Professor John Fitzgerald, Principal Research Fellow at the School of Population Health, University of Melbourne

Methamphetamine is a dangerous drug when abused. But so is alcohol. It seems a wee bit hypocritical that someone renown for their boozy lunches and capacity to drink several bottles of wine in a single sitting is taking a swipe at ice users. But hypocrisy and stupidity form the basis for most anti-drug stories. Hinch and the police rattle on about ice being responsible for 80% of crime and how violent these druggies are. They even make it point to tell us that desperation drives them to commit serious crimes. Surprise, surprise ... none of these crimes would happen if we had different laws. Boozers don't commit crimes to buy their drug of choice because it's legal and when they have a problem, we give them medical treatment not jail.

The biggest give away though to expose Hinch's rant as a poorly researched puff piece is that he complains there is no specific treatment for ice abuse and no legal substitute drug like methadone is for heroin addicts. It takes a mere 10 minutes of research to discover that substitution treatment is solely for addictive drugs that cause no physical harm e.g heroin. Amphetamines like alcohol have a devastating effect on you physically and using these drugs daily will not only fry your brain but inflict massive harm to your body. And since amphetamines are not physically addictive but physiologically dependant, substitution treatment would be pointless. It's just sloppy research by Hinch. But who cares? Some media personality with a degree in gravel collecting must know more than the hundreds of experts who spend their lives researching this stuff.

Although this is a serious issue, there is an amusing side to it. Hinch says that ice can give users almost super human strength. Really?! Super human strength … like Captain America? Pffft. For the record, no drug can instantly give you extra strength. Muscles do not magically grow because you smoke ice. It may boost your adrenaline levels but you still have the same strength with or without ice. Ironically, it's the legal drug, alcohol that causes the aggression and wild thrashing that many blame on ice. You know, the drug that Hinch was once infamous for abusing (or as he so delicately puts it, it was ‘all part of life’s rich tapestry’). The silly argument about street drugs giving users super human strength is as bizarre as believing in the science behind the Hulk. It's pure fiction and was debunked decades ago when PCP was making it's rounds in the 1980s. Do you remember decades ago when reports of drugged out super humans lifting up cars and taking on a dozen police officers were part of the war on drugs? Even a few years ago, there were hospitals being coerced into building "safe rooms" and deploying security guards to protect workers from crazy, iced up supermen? Well, this bizarre claim was dismissed as a media beat up by irresponsible, second rate journalists and simply another attempt by anti-drug nutters to bluff the public. It seems like some things will never change.

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Sunday, 28 August 2011

And in the End...

And in the end, the love you take ... is equal to the love you make.
-The Beatles

This is the last line from the intended last song on the last album recorded by the Beatles.

And this is also the end of The Australian Heroin Diaries.

My journey is over now that I have achieved what I set out to do. I no longer use heroin and have a dwindling interest in our drug policy set out by silly politicians. It is a new chapter in my life that involves a new location, a new attitude, a new start and possible even a new love interest.

I have learned a lot since I first started this site back in 2007. I have also met some inspirational people who kept me writing day after day. But, in the end, what has changed? 

There is a slow but steady change in attitude building throughout the world. The constant barrage of scientific data and quantified research is chipping away at the misconceptions that been pounded into our psyche for the last 100 years. The constant reminder of a failed drug war is taking hold as society starts to question why the problem only ever gets worse. The current scrutiny of the Murdoch empire is finally raising awareness about the incredible power that the trash media can wield, ultimately influencing governments in their drug policies. Ex presidents, ex prime ministers and some brave politicians are starting to take a stand and speak out against the draconian drug laws that are wreaking so much havoc and carnage throughout the world. Social commentators and editorial writers are speaking like never before. Yes, many things have changed and attitudes are still evolving albeit, very slowly.

Unfortunately though, there still remains many groups and individuals who refuse to accept the science and facts. These largely ideologically driven protagonists are often driven by a force much more powerful than facts and research. They formulate many of their views from religious faith which in itself is just a personal conviction with no evidence or facts. Faith has no place in a field like drug policy which is a medical issue and needs to be based on cold, hard evidence. If anything, someone who has faith in a loving god should practice what they preach. Banging up drug addicts in jail or ruining their lives is as hypocritical as it gets.

I need to thank so many people for a variety of reasons but it would require several pages to list them all. Although I received some criticism and nasty comments, the bulk of readers have offered nothing but support. It has been an emotional journey for me and as corny as it sounds, I could not have gone on for so long without the incredible kindness of so many people. 

Thanks to:
Paul Gallagher(Firesnake)
Ant Rogenous
Michael Gormly(Kings Cross Times)
Paul Dessauer
Puja from Mumbai
Bob Affenhaus
Michelle(The Red Pill Survival Guide)
Dave Gaukroger(Dave From Albury/Pure Poison)
Greg Iverson
Tonia Suzanne Zoldosh
Maureen Jo Begley
The Happy Revolutionary(THR)
Guy Ferguson
Tory Shepherd
Mr Ghostface
John(Pins Grins and Sins)
Naomi(Junky Life Naomi)
Fiona Patten
Sandra Kanck
Andrew Bartlett
Kerry Wolf
Dr. James Rowe
Gino Vumbaca
Tony Trimingham(Family Drug Support )
Nicholas Cowdery
Mark O'Brien
Long Time Anon Poster
Reb(Gutter Trash)
Mr. Orange
SickGirl(Methadone Pretty)
Christians Against Prohibition
Kieran Bennett
Donna Weiss Kloppenburg
Ross Sharp (The Wittiest Writer on the blogosphere) 
Ben Pobjie
Michael Slezak(Good Bad and Bogus)
Grods Corp
Jeremy Sear
Scott Bridges
Bridget Gread
Cosmic Jester
Weez(Machinegun Keyboard)
Jim Brown(On Probation Blog)
Stonetree Harm Reduction
Marginalutility (The Virtues Of Vice)
We Speak Methadone (Forum)
Kat Daley
James(Australian Drug Blog)
David Nentwig
Marion & Brian McConnell(Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform)
Free Schapelle Campaign Group
Nigel Brunsdon(Injecting Advice)
Matt Gleeson(Stonetree Harm Reduction)
Monica Barratt
Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative
JUNKe Life(Opiated)
Jack Dorf
Leon Bertrand
The Irish Needle Exchange Forum
William(With Just A Hint Of Mayhem)
Canna Zine News
My groovy friends at the Bluelight Drug Forums
Canadian Spades
New Zealand Drug Foundation
Why We Protest
Canna Nation
Jane Shelling
Leah McLeod
Sue Miers
Gary Gahan
Jan Steele
Annie Madden(AIVL)
Jon Markus
Steve Robinson
Rob Marsh
Andy(Slack Bastard)
Sam Liebelt(AIVL)
The 7pm Project
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) Australia
Losing In The Lucky Country(blog)
Civil Tongues(blog)
Alan Ide(New Australia)
The National Library of Australia
All Treatment
OZ Stoners(forum)
Johnny Mortgage
Ken Low
Heads Together - The AOD Collective
Rich Bowden(The Angle)
Gary Toca
Shane(Memoirs of a Heroinhead)
National Library of Australia
New Matilda
Sam Sejavka
Sarah(The Voice of Today's Apathetic Youth)
Crikey/Pure Poison
Tobias Ziegler
Private Tom
Bruce(Thinkers Podium)
Darryl Mason(The Orstrahyun)
and of course Anonymous who posted so many comments.

A special thanks to Mrs Wright for putting up with me for so long. I will love this woman forever and she will remain an important part of my life.

Also, a special thanks to my family, especially my father who encouraged and supported me unconditionally. Thanks Dad.

If I have left anyone out, you know who you are.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Drug Law Reform - NZ Show Australia How it's Done

It seems that our New Zealand cousins are finally taking some much needed action on drug law reform. Australia should take note of this and consider carefully what they are doing.

Old, antiquated drug laws and policies continue to wreak carnage on society while our government continue to apply the same old failed strategies, hoping for some miraculous turn around. For over 40 years, we have followed in the foot steps of the US which is only now starting to see the damage they have inflicted on their own people. Likewise in Australia, we have ruined so many lives from a "Tough on Drugs" mentality and the laws are causing more problems than drugs themselves.

Why do NZ have a better understanding of this than Australia? SA and WA had started seeing good results from a more sensible approach to cannabis use but decided to ignore the success by reintroducing tougher laws. These acts of arrogance were in complete opposition to the current world trend and in defiance of expert opinion. Even the Australian federal government continues to cherry pick advice from key advisory groups purely to suit their political needs. All this while the evidence keeps pouring in that our drug policies are probably some of the worst decisions ever made by a government. New Zealand is at least doing something about it.

Too many resources are directed into criminalising people rather than providing them with the medical help they most need. Current drug law is 35 years out-of-date and is hurting our families.

Too many resources are directed into criminalising people rather than providing them with the medical help they most need. The Law Commission's report recognises this and seeks to redress it by adopting a harm reduction approach for dealing with personal drug use by adults.

This new approach, if adopted, will actually save money enabling greater resources to be directed into health services for breaking the cycle of drug abuse and addiction. It will also free police to tackle more serious crime.

The suggestions made by NZ Law Commission are a good start for a future without drug prohibition ... the single most destructive policy in 100 years. Most of us have never experienced a world where recreational drugs were regulated which makes it hard for the public to imagine how ending drug prohibition would work. We have to gradually introduce recommendations like those from the NZ Law Commission and give them time to take hold. As predicted by the experts, the results will speak for themselves, slowly shifting the public's perception. Well done NZ!

NZLC R122 Controlling and Regulating Drugs - A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975

Published 3 May 2011

The Law Commission today issued its latest report, Controlling and Regulating Drugs – A Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

Among the key proposals contained in the report are:

A mandatory cautioning scheme for all personal possession and use offences that come to the attention of the police, removing minor drug offenders from the criminal justice system and providing greater opportunities for those in need of treatment to access it.

A full scale review of the current drug classification system which is used to determine restrictiveness of controls and severity of penalties, addressing existing inconsistencies and focusing solely on assessing a drug’s risk of harm, including social harm.

Making separate funding available for the treatment of offenders through the justice sector to support courts when they impose rehabilitative sentences to address alcohol and drug dependence problems;

Consideration of a pilot drug court, allowing the government to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of deferring sentencing of  some  offenders until they had undergone court-imposed alcohol and/or drug treatment

No More Prisons, Says English
May 2011

Finance minister Bill English says there will be no more prisons built under his watch as finance minister.

He's called prisons a moral and fiscal failure and there are other ways of dealing with criminals and potential criminals.

Asked by Guyon Espiner on Q A this morning if the government was going to continue building prisons once the 1000-bed facility in the Auckland suburb of Wiri was completed, English said Wiri was likely to be the last.

"They're very, very expensive," English said. "$250,000 a bed, $90,000 a year to run ... when we're tight for money."

He said the aim instead is to reduce recidivism, and prevent young people from entering the system at all.

"The public service has done a lot of very smart work on this and, over the next two or three years, we're going to see the need for prison beds drop a bit at least."

But a spokesperson for victims says English is wrong. Sensible Sentencing spokesperson Garth McVicar says it's not the right tactic.

"Just as they were starting to bear fruit through the 'tough on crime' message that they were sending out, he capitulates and waves a white flag," McVicar told ONE News.

"It just sends the wrong message to criminals. I know people think criminals are dumb but they're quite smart and they'll understand if we're not going to build more prisons out there, then ultimately we're not going to send them to prison."

One advocate for penal reform agrees with English and is certain having more prisons will just breed more criminals.

"We could put more prisoners into trades; we could put more prisoners into work on farms," Peter Williams QC told ONE News.

"We've got to put more emphasis on rehabilitation, drug programmes, anti-alcohol programmes without just locking these people up in small containers."

English said the government is committed to building Wiri's prison so that won't change.

"That's well through the process, and we need the extra 1000 beds because it's been part of this government's policy and public pressure for tougher sentences and a safer community," he said.

The Labour Government built four prisons but National has been saving money by housing some prisoners in purpose-adapted containers.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Q & A: Nicholas Cowdery

Name: Nicholas Cowdery
Role: Ex. NSW Director of Public Prosecutions (17 years) / President of the International Association of Prosecutors (6 years). 
Date: June 2011

Criminal law has no business trying to control a market. Can it modify supply and demand? Well, no it can't. It can only clean up after the event.
-Nicholas Cowdery - IQ² debate. 2011

People like Nicholas Cowdery were once rare but are becoming more common every year. I'm talking about those in very senior positions working for the government, politicians, law enforcement officers, judges, economists etc. who want an end to dangerous global drug laws that cause so much carnage each year. And Nick has been warning us about this for a long time. In 2001, he wrote the book, Getting Justice Wrong: Myths, Media and Crime which clearly exposed the problems we all encounter due to global drug policies.

The book arose, in fact, from a suggestion by the publishers that some papers and articles I had produced be collected and reproduced in book form. The underlying premise of this collection of chapters is the risk to justice – the risk of getting justice wrong – posed by the influence of some sections of the media on policy making and legislating by politicians. I am also concerned, more generally, with policy being based other than on fact and reason. Without careful analysis and a critical assessment of the publications of talkback radio “entertainers” (as they like to be described), the tabloid press and low IQ television, we are at risk of the rule of law being subverted for motives that are irrelevant to the proper process of law-making – essentially, motives of profit for the commentators.

They are not accountable to the community. They are not concerned with the good government of the people, with what is in the public interest (properly understood) rather than what is of interest to the public. They appeal to the emotions of their audience with partial truths and sweeping generalisations about matters that are topical at the time. They deliberately adopt extreme positions on simple propositions. They perpetuate some of the myths about crime, especially, that are reinforced at every state election.
-Nicholas Cowdery - Lecture at the University of New England, Armidale, May 2001

You really have to respect Nick for his commitment while working under less than ideal conditions. How many people in his position would criticise a strategy that is championed by so many in his industry? But what really makes Nick's views so important is his credibility. Being a QC, receiving an Order of Australia from the Queen, serving as the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions for 17 years and spending six years as President of the International Association of Prosecutors should tell us that his legal views are more than likely correct. The point is, when someone with these credentials constantly tell us that we are making a mistake by following a set of laws that have failed worldwide for 40 years, then maybe we should listen to them. 

About Nicholas Cowdery
Nicholas Richard Cowdery AM QC (born 19 March 1946) was the Director of Public Prosecutions for the Australian state of New South Wales. He held the position from 1994 to 2011.[1] Cowdery also served as President of the International Association of Prosecutors from 1999 to 2005.

Cowdery attended Wollongong High School and completed his secondary schooling at the Sydney Grammar School. He graduated in Arts and Law at the University of Sydney where he was a resident of St. Paul's College.

In 1971, he commenced practising as a public defender in Papua New Guinea after admission as a barrister in the same year. Cowdery entered private practice in 1975 where he concentrated in criminal law, common law, administrative law and some commercial law.

He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1987, served as an Associate Judge of the District Court between 1988-1990. Cowdery was appointed the Director of Public Prosecutions for New South Wales in 1994. He was elected President of the International Association of Prosecutors in 1999 and re-elected to a second three-year term in September 2002.

He wrote Getting Justice Wrong: myths, media and crime
-About Nicholas Cowdery from Wikipedia

NOTE: I want to thank Nick for participating in this Q&A. I didn't really expect someone like Nicholas Cowdery to even respond to my email let alone agree to answer some questions. But as usual, I was wrong. Nick responded in 24 hours and said he was happy to participate. Thanks Nick.


Has being so adamant that the "War on Drugs" has failed been a problem especially since you held such a prominent position as the Director of Public Prosecutions in NSW for nearly 17 years?
No. As DPP it was my duty, which I carried out, to apply and enforce the law with the resources that I had available and within the rules and guidelines that applied. However, in doing so I was confirmed in my view that as a society we could address drug issues better. It is quite possible to apply oneself fully to the operation of a system, yet believe that the system should be changed. Legal training equips one well for such mental gymnastics.

From your experience, do many others in the legal profession feel the same as you about drug policy?
Yes, from my experience a very large number in all areas of practice.

From your experience, do many politicians you know actually believe the hype that the war on drugs is winnable?
No – but their main concern is re-election and they are loath to publicly express their true views unless they can be assured that a substantial portion of the electors will agree.

Did the dispute between you and Attorney-General John Hatzistergos have anything at all to do with your out spoken views on changing drug laws?

You have publicly criticised the "tough on crime" agenda used by politicians. Do you personally know any politicians who sincerely object to that strategy?
In November 2010 Greg Smith stated publicly that there would not be a “law and order auction” election in March 2011 and there was not. I think many politicians (and I have spoken with a few) see such campaigns as fruitless.

What are your thoughts on The Greens changing their drug policy to be more in line with the major political parties?
No doubt influenced by other considerations of political alliances, etc.

Do you feel frustrated by the public’s ignorance regarding drug myths and their willingness to accept misinformation from the government and media outlets?
It is not easy to gauge the level of understanding or of ignorance in the community generally. We become aware of these things only when something is published or stated at a meeting, etc. Ignorance about any issue in society can only be addressed by providing as broadly as possible reliable, accurate information. Politicians spread information selectively for their political advancement, as they see it (by and large). The tabloid media create conflict and controversy to sell advertising. The public are more easily exposed to those sources of “information” than to credible sources that may require some extra effort to uncover and to fully comprehend.

Do you feel it’s someone right to take illicit drugs (or to put whatever they want into their own body?)
Generally, yes – if they are able to make an informed choice about it. However, members of a society also have a responsibility to obey the laws of that society made in their name and for their benefit.

Do you or have you used illicit drugs recreationally?

Do you think a needle exchange program is needed in prisons?

The support for the proposed safe injecting room in Richmond has surprised many people. Why do you think there has been such a rapid change of attitude considering the recent controversy over the Kings Cross MSIC?
I think the controversy over such centres has subsided as the evidence has shown the benefits of such facilities – and that has taken 10 years for the Sydney one. Sydney’s is only one of 91 such centres worldwide – I think they are catching on and for good reason – they work. (But there is still the legal anomaly of requiring people to break the law to obtain their own drugs to bring in to the centre.)

Do you think Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu will eventually agree to a safe injecting room in Richmond?
I don’t know – but a change of approach by the government has been made more difficult by its earlier flat rejection of the idea.

Other Opiate Maintenance Treatments(OMT) in use or on trial in Europe, Canada and the U.K have had very successful results. Should other forms of OMT be trailed in Australia like slow release oral morphine, injectable hydromorphone, dihydrocodeine, injectable methadone and prescription heroin?
I don’t really know enough about such programs and their experience to be able to comment – but prescription heroin has produced excellent health, social and law enforcement results, for example, in Switzerland and we should certainly trial that.

A report was just released titled, Randomised controlled trial of dexamphetamine maintenance for the treatment of methamphetamine dependence. As far as I can obtain, it was not a publicly known trial but the results were spectacular. Methamphetamine/amphetamines are not technically addictive but can result in severe physiological dependancy. What are your thoughts on this compared to substitution programs for addictive drugs like opioids/heroin?
This is really for a medico to comment on; but I suppose that addiction and dependence, both being health consequences, should be treated, if appropriate, by controlled substitution programs.

Do you have any predictions for the future of Australia’s drug policy over the next 10 years?
Not a prediction, but a hope that, slowly, the public voice will grow strong enough to give politicians the courage to explore alternatives, even on a trial basis in some areas. A Portugal approach could be a good beginning. One of our major difficulties, however, is obeisance to the USA and the interpretation given to some international instruments that are said to prevent us from following a more rational course.

What are you're thoughts on the story of Jade Lewis at the IQ² debate? Do you feel she actually put forward any valid reasons not to legalise all drugs or was it simply a sad story that luckily had a positive conclusion?
As I said just before she spoke, if our approach had been adopted, then she may not have had to make the journey that she did. She told her story, that’s all. It is a sad story (that many more people could tell in one way or another) but in her case it has had a better conclusion than some others and she is to be praised for the work that she is now doing in community education. But there is nothing in the story that speaks against the decriminalisation, regulation, control and taxation of all drugs. Indeed, she demonstrated just how easy it is to obtain drugs, become addicted to them and stay on them under the regime of prohibition without being able to access proper assistance and treatment. If anything, hers was a strong argument against continuation of the present approach.

Before the IQ² debate started, 32.3% of the audience were undecided on whether all drugs should be legalised. After the debate, only 8% remained undecided. Those against increased by 2.1% while those in favour rose by 22.2% That's a difference of about 10-1 who changed their mind after the debate. Does this surprise you?
No. A rational audience.

What single factor do you consider to be the most convincing reason to change our drug policy.
Two factors – the futility and wastefulness of trying to use the criminal law to control or change a well-entrenched market; and the incidental harms that our present policy is causing. Isn’t one description of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result [or something like that]?

Gary Christian from the anti-drug NGO, Drug Free Australia (DFA) regularly states that the government's 2007 household survey shows that 97% of Australians do not want drugs legalised. Do you think that most of the public who naturally reject drug legalisation after constantly being bombarded with most of the media distorting the facts about drugs and politicians pushing their "Tough on Drugs" message might vote differently if they attended the IQ² debate where facts, history and evidence are presented in an intelligent and logical manner?
The answers obtained in surveys are influenced by the way in which the questions are asked, as any pollster well knows. “Legalised” is a word that can mean many different things to different people; but in the mind of the ordinary citizen it may well mean releasing all restraints so as to proliferate the unattractive aspects of drug use that are mostly hidden (or at least suppressed) at present. And there are different requirements for different drugs that would be taken into account in any move to legalisation (or decriminalisation), which was probably not canvassed in the survey.
The answer to your question is yes. People generally are rational beings, open to persuasion by evidence and logical argument – juries act that way every day. The public should not be underestimated and all they need is accurate information on which to base proper conclusions.

A similar event to the IQ² debate, The Festival of Dangerous Ideas took place at the Sydney Opera House in October 2009 and included the topic, Make All Drug Use Legal. One of the speakers, lawyer, Greg Barns blamed the media for most of the problems associated drugs. Was Greg Barns right to blame the media considering the level of misinformation, drug hysteria and propaganda they produce daily?
I am not quite sure I understand the question. I am not familiar with the Barns presentation or how he put his argument. It is not the media that causes drug problems, it’s the law. But you are right in that much of the tabloid media, especially, misinforms the public.

What do you think of politicians being labelled “Soft on Drugs” when they suggest alternatives to current drug strategies?
It’s a childish and simplistic reaction that really says nothing. It’s just a slogan that the user intends to be offensive. This is not a matter of being hard or soft, it’s a question of being smarter and more effective in the way we address a problem in society. The messages that should be sent when alternatives are suggested are that: 1. When we do something that does not produce good outcomes, we should have the sense to admit, on the basis of that experience, that we may be able to do better and to revise our course; 2. When we can see that what we are doing is actually creating harm, we have an obligation to try to prevent that harm and to proceed differently; and 3. Some things are immutable – there will always be a demand by humans for reality-altering substances and there will always be a supply. We need to control that market (and its participants) and remove the incentive for a black market to exist (ie criminal profits).

Finally, if you were Prime Minister Nicholas Cowdery and you could change one law relating to drug policy or drug treatment, what would it be?
[The party system would probably defeat me] – but changing the present approach requires attention to a whole suite of laws in a coordinated and careful, thorough way, proceeding one step at a time. There would be some trial and error – but progress cannot be achieved in that way unless there is a trial.

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Thursday, 9 June 2011

Diary: Suicide and Beyond

DIARY: June 2011

I tried to kill myself last week. 

I failed.

Should I be glad I failed or disappointed? That answer changes from day to day depending on how I feel. The mixed emotions are profound but how the hell do you put it into words? How do you describe a feeling or emotion with simple text? I don't think you can.

I have "clinical depression", whatever that is. I always just thought depression was ... well, depression. I assumed there were different levels but apparently there's also different types: clinical depression, chronic depression, dysthymia, bipolar disorder and more. I didn't use to worry too much about it and thought that everyone gets depressed at some time. It's just part of life. Boy, has that changed.

[...] Clinical depression is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Individuals with clinical depression are unable to function as they used to. Often they have lost interest in activities that were once enjoyable to them, and feel sad and hopeless for extended periods of time. Clinical depression is not the same as feeling sad or depressed for a few days and then feeling better. It can affect your body, mood, thoughts, and behavior. It can change your eating habits, how you feel and think, your ability to work and study, and how you interact with people. People who suffer from clinical depression often report that they "don't feel like themselves anymore."

I have to admit I don't feel comfortable writing about this and have only told one person. Since most people I know don't have any idea I write this blog, I am able to open up more here and actually tell it like it is. For over a week, I have spoken to most of my family and some friends and told them I'm not feeling the best and having a bad week but that's as far as I have gone.

The leading cause of death for Australian men under 44 is suicide. The leading cause of death for Australian women under 34 is suicide. And more people die by suicide each year than they do on the road.

Strangely, the main reason for not telling my family and feeling hesitant in writing this is that I feel silly. I can't even accomplish something as simple as knocking myself off. I have always thought that those who fail at a suicide attempt didn't really try hard enough and weren't fully committed to ending it all. Is that what I did? Should I have taken more pills and did I purposely take less than what was needed to finish the job? Probably. If I was really serious, why would I worry if I would have enough meds left for the rest of the week? Why didn't I just take them all? At the time, I was convinced I took enough to kill a horse or two but I still had in the back of my mind what would happen if I failed.

Clinical depression is not a sign of personal weakness, or a condition that can be willed away. Clinically depressed people cannot "pull themselves together" and get better. In fact, clinical depression often interferes with a person's ability or wish to get help. Clinical depression is a serious illness that lasts for weeks, months and sometimes years. It may even influence someone to contemplate or attempt suicide.

So what happened in the days following my attempt? Did I feel relief or regret? Did circumstances magically resolve themselves? Did some good news come in or something positive happen that helped me get on with life? Absolutely not. In fact, it was the start of a horrific week which got worse each day. I didn't get paid by a client as promised, I was now short of my daily meds, ex Mrs Wright was home sick all week - constantly angry and demanding - and on it went. I kept remembering the day after trying to escape my shitty existence. Instead of being escorted through some beautiful, ornamented gates by an old man with a white beard or sitting at the bottom of the ocean because I had been reincarnated as a mud crab, I instead woke up as usual to some seriously annoying birds trying to tweet and my dogs by my side. Maybe I would have tried harder if I knew what was yet to come.

Well, it's a new week and most of the pressing issues have been resolved. I am trying harder than normal to stay balanced and get ready for my move to the coast. Unfortunately though, the depression is more severe than normal and each day is really a struggle. I have decided that maybe I do need to see a shrink and explore the possibilities of confronting my depression. My doctor is convinced that seeing a shrink would be pointless for me but what have I got to lose? If there is one thing that I am certain of, that is unless something changes, there will not be a follow up article to my next attempt.

Silence On Suicide Does More Harm Than Good
by Lainie Anderson
June 2011

In July last year, the South Australian Coroner Mark Johns called for suicide statistics to be published alongside the road toll. Since that time, just over 100 South Australians have died on the state’s roads. More than 180 South Australians have killed themselves.

Despite Mr Johns’ call, suicide statistics remain unpublished. The topic by and large remains taboo. And desperate people keep taking their own lives because their mental illness isn’t properly treated, or because friends and family don’t have the confidence or the skills to raise this most delicate of subjects.

As a community, we’ve got to stop being so squeamish about suicide. It’s the single biggest cause of death for Australian females aged 15-34 and males 15-44. Latest statistics show that 2130 Australians took their own lives in 2009, compared to 1417 road deaths for the year and 1837 from skin cancer.

Yet while $7m is spent on mass media advertising to curb SA’s road toll alone, there’s nothing similar to curb the incidence of suicide. So what needs to change?

Experts like Mr Johns and SA’s Public Advocate John Brayley says the task is two-fold: prevention and awareness.

Around 70 per cent of suicides are associated with depression, so reducing the stigma of mental illness and expanding services are fundamental. Most other suicide victims are in a ‘situational crisis’, so timely access to crisis counseling is also essential.

Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire says SA’s services are simply too haphazard, and this week called for a Suicide Prevention Coordinator to be funded in Thursday’s State Budget.

In response, Health Minister John Hill revealed that his department has for some time been preparing a Suicide Prevention Strategy “to focus our efforts on the things that will have the most impact”.

It will include a new Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee, reporting directly to the Minister on the success (or otherwise) of measures, any gaps in services and ways to better coordinate government agencies.

That’s the first we’ve heard of it – and it’s a welcome initiative. But it still leaves us with the mammoth task of raising awareness and reducing the stigma of suicide in the wider population.

With church ministers and chaplains dealing with suicide on a weekly basis, the Moderator of the Uniting Church in South Australia, Rev Rob Williams, agrees. He too is calling for urgent action on suicide awareness as well as prevention, and the Uniting Church is now forming its own taskforce to drive the issue forward.

“There’s got to be more that we can do and we think a good place to start is lifting the lid on the secrecy surrounding suicide. Certainly, a sensitive and gentle shift in the way media look at these issues is something that we are very interested in.”

The Australian Press Council is interested too. It’s currently reviewing its 10-year-old reporting guidelines on suicide and will release the findings later this month.

A major issue, of course, remains the fear of copy-cat suicides. Some still believe that instead of preventing suicides, increased reporting will merely cause more. But with so many Australians taking their own lives, it’s time to mature our thinking on that score.

People who are truly intent on killing themselves have an abundance of information to make it happen – not least in the online world where traditional media guidelines are ignored with gusto.

The mainstream media has a responsibility to continue treating suicides carefully and sensitively, but surely one way to achieve that is by publishing regular figures (similar to the road toll) to keep the issue high on the public agenda.

As a community, we’re then sending a message that – like road deaths – suicides are preventable and we’re committed to curbing the toll. That’s got to be better than pretending 2000 Australians aren’t killing themselves each year.

Lifeline offers 24 hour crisis support on 13 11 14

Many Chronic Pain Sufferers Ponder Suicide
Verity Edwards
June 2011

A NATIONAL study on chronic pain shows a third of the population suffers from the malady and, of those, 20 per cent have considered suicide and 5 per cent have attempted to take their lives.

Chronic Pain Australia president Coralie Wales, who commissioned the study of 2500 people, said most sufferers also felt stigmatised, believing they were perceived as drug addicts or bludgers. "The more stigmatised you feel, the more likely you are to commit suicide," she said.

Chronic pain is defined as that which persists for more than three months. It affects about 6.5 million Australians.

A 2007 Access Economics report estimated chronic pain cost the nation $34.3 billion a year in lost productivity and on health service demands.

Ms Wales said South Australia treated chronic pain sufferers worse than any other state, because they were forced to collect their medication from the Drug and Alcohol Services, alongside drug addicts.

"In South Australia it seems that anyone who takes an opiate seems to be a suspicious character and you have to be fearful of opiates," she said.

Ms Wales said the situation was so bad that chronic pain sufferers were forced to move interstate for better access to medication.

Colin Shaw moved from Adelaide to Brisbane a year ago to seek treatment for his cluster headaches. "Collecting medication alongside addicts was one of the most inhumane things. It was soul-destroying," he said.

He has attempted suicide four times.

Mr Shaw, 49, has suffered from up to six cluster headaches a day for more than 20 years. He says they are 10 times worse than migraines.

"It's like you've got a fire hose going through a small tube. It's like you're literally bursting, combined with a knife behind your eye," he said.

"It's just cost me so much. It's cost me my family, my social life, my work as a photographer. Everything is gone."

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