Thursday, 17 December 2009

ACT Heroin Trial Revived?

The ACT and Federal governments are currently reviewing their drug policies for 2010 onwards. What’s most interesting is that the ACT is proposing once again, a trial of heroin assisted treatment (HAT) for long term drug addicts. The last attempt in 1997 had overwhelming bipartisan federal support and agreement from a majority of the states to move ahead but after continuous displays of moral panic and drug hysteria from the right wing press, little Johnny Howard vetoed the proposal. It was a sad day for Australia especially for the experts who had many years of intensive research flushed down the political loo.

Both the federal government and The ACT are calling for public input and it will be interesting to see what Kevvy will do if a heroin trial is proposed as part of their strategy. Maybe he might do what Denmark did and skip the trial altogether since there is enough evidence already that HAT is successful. Then again, most modern Christians like Kev oppose anything sensible that’s drug related. We will have to wait and see if Kev’s claim before the election to base policies on evidence, is true.

Public Input Critical To Make Drug Strategies Better
Canberra Times (page 17)
December 2009

Federal and ACT policies need a full and objective review, Brian McConnell writes.*

The ACT and Federal governments are reviewing their respective drug strategies and are seeking community input. The timing for seeking comments is unfortunate as many are in holiday mode. But if the community does not become engaged both drug strategies will just be more of the same.

That is drug overdoses, diseases and deaths; full jails; huge profits to black marketeers; more sensational headlines about “the biggest drug bust ever”, but effectively no real change.

And the vast bulk of funding going to the criminal justice system, despite evidence to the contrary that increased health and treatment provides a greater pay-off.

The ACT draft strategy 2010-2014 is generally a sound document with guiding principles that include: harm minimisation; applying evidence-based practice; and increasing access to services.

Harm minimisation is a three pillar policy adopted by all Australian governments which include supply reduction, demand reduction and harm reduction.

Generally it relates to the prohibition regime for illicit drugs but the ACT draft strategy applies the principle to all drugs.

Two potentially life-saving actions included in the ACT strategy are a national and local early warning system about drug purity and strength and a heroin trial.

Readers will recall that the heroin trial had been approved at a meeting of all health and police ministers in 1997, a decision that still stands. However the then prime minister John Howard vetoed the importation of the heroin necessary for the trial to be implemented.

The question of importation now needs to be put to the current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. And given that overseas countries, which have adopted the practice of providing prescription heroin to the severely addicted, have experienced outstanding results in terms of reduced drug related crime, reduced drug use and reduced drug supply, it is questionable that a trial is necessary. Australia could follow Denmark’s lead, accept the evidence and move directly to implementation.

It is noteworthy that the ACT strategy proposes that police will have a target of increasing the number of arrests of drug providers (ie dealers). The past records show that increasingly the majority of arrests for drug offences were of consumers (ie 77 per cent in 2004-05, 82 per cent in 2005-06, and 87 per cent in 2006-07). Consumption of drugs is largely a health issue and therefore the target should include reduction of consumer arrests.

There are omissions from the ACT’s strategy that merit examination, there is correctly no mention of roadside drug testing in the strategy. There is little evidence of its cost-effectiveness, there is no base line as there is with alcohol, and the current tests are only available for a limited number of drugs that as yet, have not been shown to be the cause of significant road accidents.

The provision of “the same health services to prisoners as the general community”, although a public health and human rights issue, has not been brought forward from the previous strategy. An example is the provision of clean syringes to injecting drug-using prisoners. The facts are clear - drugs and syringes are shared in prisons and the ACT prison is no exception. The experiences in prisons in European countries with syringe exchange programs have been positive and free of major problems.

The objection to the program appears to come from the prison officers who fear that syringes could be used as weapons, stating the case of a prison officer in a NSW jail who was stabbed by an infected syringe by a mentally ill prisoner. The officer died as a result. But note that this happened even though syringes were banned. For prison officers, this is an unrecognised OHS issue. With controlled provision, officers would be safer knowing where every syringe was and that they were uncontaminated.

The most significant item missing from the strategy is a full and thorough evaluation of illegal drug policies, policies that have given rise to most of the problems we experience with illicit drugs.

Regulated and controlled, the black market and other problems would reduce significantly.

Most recently David Weisbrot former head of Australian Law Reform Commission had this to say about treatment of drugs:

“I think the war on drugs, using that kind of military approach and policing approach, has really failed communities all around the world, and you can see the fallout from it, not only in the statistics of people who have died, or had serious health ailments from their drug use, but also the way it's distorted the criminal justice system and ravaged many of our communities.”

No one’s family is immune from the ravages of drugs. Holiday mode or not, now is the time to become engaged and insist that a full and objective review of drug policies be included in both strategies.

Brian McConnell is President of Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform

Related Articles:
The Start of Prescription Heroin in Australia?
Survey: Heroin Trials in Australia
Who Supports a Heroin Trial?
UK Heroin Trials - Another Win For Prescription Heroin
Canada Provides the Final Proof Needed for Heroin Assisted Treatment
Germany Passes Prescription Heroin into Law
What Does Prescription Heroin Really Mean for Junkies?


Gledwood said...

Oh I really wish they'd stop fucking around re heroin prescribing. In this country 440 selected addicts (and they're top secret ~ I haven't a clue how they got on these programmes) DO receive diamorphine for heroin addiction... But we've fewer legal hurdles, as diamorph is commonly carried in ambulances, used in hospitals, doctors carry it ... etc. So why the prissiness I've no idea. Also until very recently you could quite easily get injectable methadone from a private doctor ~ and seeing how much more toxic that is I really cannot comprehend why they don't ALL stop shillyshallying about and just fucking give neat heroin to EVERYONE who needs it. NOW!!

jay said...

Where,How,Who??? RE Govt seeking public input???Are they seeking info or public input ..First i've heard/read about the "440"..any extra info would be cool ...cheers

Anonymous said...

I recall hearing the last heroin trial torpedoed by little Johny Howard not only because of his personal beliefs but by the UN threatening the Tasmanian poppy industry.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Gleds.
It gets like that!!! Political bullshit.

Hi Jay
Sorry about taking so long to reply. This was the first(and only) time I have heard about the public input too. The 440 patients you asked about are a mix of 2 different programs. Some are from the old days when diamorphine was prescribed for heroin addiction and some are leftovers from the latest heroin trials who were granted an extension because of special circumstances.

Thanks Anon.
Yep , you are dead right. I have written about it several times. Try these: