Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform

committed to preventing tragedy that arises from illicit drug use

New approaches to drug policy - Dare we try?

by Brian McConnell, President, Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform.
Published in DrugInfo, Vol2 No 3 February 2004

What does a family do when it loses a member to drugs?

Reactions of families can be different. For some, understandably, the shame and stigma associated with illegal drug use will guarantee their silence, others believe we have not tried hard enough and want tougher laws,. Neither effectively contribute to reducing the harm.

Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform (FFDLR) adopts a different approach. It takes an evidence-based family oriented approach. It informs members about experiences of families, about research, about the history, about what works and what does not, about truth and honesty in drug policy. It shares information with the community and encourages members of parliaments and community leaders to adopt better drug policies.

The problem is complex it is not responsive to simplistic solutions yet can be worsened by such solutions. For example: prior to 1953 in Australia, heroin was regulated and used for medical purposes - with no reports of recreational usage. Consumption was just over 5 kilograms per million of population.

The United Nations claimed that such consumption, for whatever purpose, was too high an argument driven primarily by the United States of America (see From Mr Sin to Mr Big by Desmond Manderson, 1993, pp. 125-131). Australia capitulated to the pressure and prohibited heroin: "If heroin can be suppressed in decent countries the manufacture of it is likely to cease," the Sydney Morning Herald reported (12 July 1953 p.4).

In 1998/99, consumption rose to 350 kilograms per million of population 6.7 - 8.0 tonnes was consumed which would have grossed $2.5 - $3 billion. Production costs were probably less than 2 per cent, and only 734 kilograms (about 10 per cent) was seized. (National Crime Authority Commentary 2001)

Heroin consumption, once for medical purposes, has increased exponentially since prohibition. Once its use was government controlled, now criminals are in control. Governments, society and especially families now pay significantly, both financially and socially, while enormous profits are harvested by organised crime.

Are we winning this "war on drugs"? Of course not! We will make no progress unless we are willing to explore and trial new approaches.