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Supporters of a heroin trial in Australia

Political Leaders & Parties

Federal Political Leaders and Parties

New South Wales Political Leaders

Australian Capital Territory Political Leaders and Parties

Victorian Political Leaders

Northern Territory Political Leaders

South Australian Government Political Leaders

Tasmanian Government Political Leaders

Western Australia Political Leaders

Public support


Health Professionals

Legal Profession

Local Government

All Australian Capital City Mayors

Community Organisations

Police and other law enforcement agencies

Church and other Religious Leaders

Organisations representing families of drug users

Drug and Alcohol Organisations,

Newspaper Editorials

The Canberra Times

Supporters of a heroin trial - the details

Political Leaders & Parties

100 parliamentary members of the Australian Parliamentary Drug Law reform Group,

Federal Political Leaders and Parties

Federal Liberal MP Brendan Nelson (past president AMA)

Australian Labor Party (ALP)

In the lead up to the Federal Election in November 2001, the Federal ALP issued a policy statement entitled "LABOR’S 10 POINT DRUG PLAN". This document included the following:

Controlled Heroin Prescription

The use of heroin on prescription for long-term users has been taking place in Britain for decades. More recently trials in Switzerland and Holland have reduced drug use and crime. Health specialists continue to argue that a trial is needed in Australia, targeting small groups of long-term drug users for whom no other form of treatment has worked. In 1996 a proposal for a scientific trial in three cities initially attracted bipartisan support but was vetoed by John Howard.

Prescribing heroin is not the same as providing it free to anyone who wants it.

Controlled prescription of heroin is a way to stop long-term drug users living lives of crime and providing them with an opportunity to stabilise their lives and enter rehabilitation programs.

A Labor Government would consider a proposal from one or more States for a scientifically designed prescription trial, consistent with our international treaty obligations. It would be a requirement that adequate measures were in place to prevent misuse of the drugs supplied and to avoid any adverse impacts on people living in the community in which the trial takes place.

Medically Supervised Drug Injecting Rooms

The debate on heroin has focused too much on whether there should be supervised drug injecting rooms. This approach has had some success in Europe but there has been strong opposition to trials in Australia - particularly to finding a suitable location.

Labor will work with State Governments who wish to conduct a trial within a clear legal framework and in compliance with Australia’s international treaty obligations.

The Commonwealth will also provide funds to assist in the proper and independent assessment of such trials.

Labor believes there is more to be gained from focussing on other initiatives until the results from a properly conducted trial are available.

Federal Greens Senator Bob Brown

ALP Senator Brenda Gibbs

9 March 1999


Senator Brenda Gibbs tonight condemned the Prime Minister for his 'zero tolerance' stance on drugs in Australia. The Senator highlighted the failures of such strategies in the US, where the so-called War on Drugs has already been lost.

"America imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation on earth, including Communist China. They have the highest incarceration rate in human history for nonpolitical offences. Some may interpret this to mean that all their dangerous criminals have effectively been rounded up and taken off the streets - not so. Less than a third of American prisoners have committed a violent crime. Drug-related cases predominate. Due to mandatory sentencing, drug offenders spend more time in gaol than rapists. -The average sentence is 82 months for a drug offence and 73 months for rape.

"Its time for the Prime Minister to stop ducking and weaving and make some tough decisions. He needs to stop putting the taxpayers' money where his mouth is and wasting valuable resources on punitive 'zero tolerance' measures that have already been proven ineffective overseas.  . . . 

"In my opinion, the heroin trial is an inevitability in the long term. Last year in Australia 600 people died from heroin use alone. It's not appropriate for the Prime Minister to be digging in his heels on a matter of life and death for many Australians. He should admit he made a mistake in panning the heroin trial and let us have one as soon as possible so that this year some of those statistics might be avoided. The more treatment options we have up our sleeve, the more chance we have to successfully address the problem," Senator Gibbs asserted." (Media Release of Senator Brenda Gibbs, Labor Senator for Queensland, 22 South Street, Ipswich QLD 4305)

Former Leader of the Democrats, Meg Lees

28 February 1998

"The Australian Democrats have thrown their weight behind efforts to resurrect a heroin trial in Canberra.

"In a fresh development in the national debate over Australia's rising toll from heroin abuse, Democrats Leader Meg Lees said last night that her party was prepared to fully support a trial in Canberra based on the successes of similar trials in Switzerland and the Netherlands

Rejecting concerns raised by a group of Swiss doctors, who painted the trials as an "abysmal failure" because they failed to get addicts off heroin, Senator Lees called on Prime Minister John Howard to meet experts from the Netherlands and Switzerland before committing himself to American-style zero tolerance police policies.

Senator Lees said he should be prepared to investigate other successful drug-tackling strategies. "While zero-tolerance may sound like a tough, catchy slogan, Australia should be very wary of following any of the policies of the US with regards to drugs."

She said the aim of the Swiss trial was to reduce drug-related crime, not abstinence. It had reduced crime by 60 per cent and improved the health and lifestyle of the addicts" (The Sunday Times (Canberra) Sunday 28 February 1998, pp. 1 and 2)

12 December 2000

Senator Meg Lees
Australian Democrats
Parliamentary Leader

"Just Say No" Strategy Not Working

The Australian Democrats today welcomed the launch of the report From Hope to Science – Illicit Drugs Policy in Australia and called on the Government to recognise that its "Just Say No" to drugs strategy has not been effective.

Democrats’ Leader and health spokesperson, Senator Meg Lees, said that the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians are to be congratulated for their comprehensive and forward-looking document.

"Drug use is one of the most serious issues facing our community today. It is a tough problem requiring tough solutions," said Senator Lees.

"The Democrats support all the recommendations in the policy document, including increasing-funding for treatment, adopting innovative solutions to reducing drug harms and addressing the underlying social factors associated with drug use.

"I am very concerned that some unfair and harsh Government policies are contributing to Australia’s growing drug problem," said Senator Lees. "Young people who are cut off from benefits, for instance, risk losing their accommodation and their support networks. This can leave them very vulnerable to involvement with drugs.

"The increasing numbers of young people using heroin is a symptom of how many young Australians feel isolated from society and have no hope for their future," said Senator Lees.

An Australian Medical Journal study has found that the number of heroin addicts has doubled in the last 10 years. A record 74,000 Australians are estimated to be addicted to heroin with the number of casual users thought to be as high as 300 000.

"The Government’s drug policy - ‘just say no’ - clearly isn’t working," said Senator Lees. "When heroin use is on the rise and kids throughout Australia can buy heroin for $30 a hit, the Government must admit that its policies are failing badly. "If the Prime Minister was serious about saving lives, he would be looking at all the options, including safe injecting rooms and heroin prescription trials.

"You can’t help people off drugs if they’re dead.

"I urge the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues to seriously consider the recommendations of this document and in particular to accept the international evidence that shows that safe injecting rooms and heroin prescription programs save lives," concluded Senator Lees.

New South Wales Political Leaders

NSW Greens MP Ian Cohen & Legislative Council Candidate Lee Rhiannon

Australian Democrat


 . . . 


Safe Injecting Facilities for heroin users should be established on a trial basis in areas approved by local Councils within easy access of public transport and emergency medical care. Such facilities will include needle exchanges and counselling services, as well as safe-use and rehabilitation information.

Safe injecting facilities should be kept free from other forms of criminal behaviour. They should not be established for profit. Proposed heroin trials should proceed immediately. The Democrats support the extension of methadone programs and the establishment of ‘detox’ units in hospitals. Other forms of treatment (eg naltrexone) should be fully investigated by the NHMRC.

Australian Capital Territory Political Leaders and Parties

Former ACT Chief Minister, Kate Carnell

Former ACT Chief Minister, Gary Humphries

Former ACT Health Minister, Michael Moore.

"Health Minister Michael Moore will ask Prime Minister John Howard to reconsider an ACT heroin trial, after talks with the International Narcotics Control Board yesterday.

While the board said they did not "support" a heroin trial, it was a more acceptable option than the injecting place due to open in the ACT later this year.

Mr Moore emphasised he was not backing away from the injecting place, but he would write to Mr Howard this week to offer him an alternative.

If the Prime Minister agreed with the board, that the heroin trial was the "lesser of two evils", and his response was rapid, there was a possibility the heroin trial could replace the injecting place. In a heroin trial users would be provided with the drug. At a safe injecting room they had to bring it themselves.

The United Nations-affiliated board slammed Australian plans for injecting places in a report issued in February, saying they "facilitated illicit drug trafficking" and placed the host governments in breach of UN treaty obligations.

 . . . 

The board has argued that a heroin trial differed from an injecting place because the former was a medical trial of a drug , while the latter facilitated the illicit drug trade.

Mr Moore said there was a difference but that the injecting room trial would be scientifically conducted, looking into what effect the provision of a supervised place to inject drugs would have on overdose deaths and crime rates.

Mr Moore has argued that neither would breach drug treaty obligations" (Canberra Times, 12 April 2000, p. 4)

Australian Labor Party (ALP)

The ACT ALP Platform on Legal And Illegal Drugs published in the lead up to the ACT elections in October 2001 includes the following:

Drug Law Reform

 . . . 

4. Support the establishment of an evidence-based heroin trial as a national project, ensuring the inclusion of needs-based support services and rigorous evaluation processes.

5. Support the active involvement of ACT researchers in evidence-based trials of medically supervised injecting rooms elsewhere in Australia, for instance, that proposed in NSW.

6. Assess the results of such trials in determining whether establishment of a similar facility is desirable in the ACT.

ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope

When Leader of the Opposition, Mr Stanhope stated:

"The one positive thing Mrs. Carnell might take to Friday's meeting [special Premier’s Meeting on drugs] is support for Premier Kennett's heroin trial proposal. But again, it can only be her support, because the Party Room will not agree.

"There is some sense in reviving the heroin trial debate now that Mr. Kennett has expressed his view in favour of it. The original proposal was for a trial in the ACT.

"With Mr. Kennett's support, perhaps concurrent trials could be run in Canberra and Melbourne to test the different demographics.

"A trial such as this fits Labor's view that we need to adopt a broad strategic approach to the problem. Injecting rooms and heroin trials can play a valuable part in such a strategy" (Media release, Thursday 4 March 1999).

Australian Democrats, ACT Division

25 July 1997


ACT Division


Embargoed for use until: Friday, July 25, 1997

Jane Errey, Vice-President

ACT Democrats

Democrats support ACT Heroin Trial

The ACT Division of the Australian Democrats have come out in support of the heroin trial proposed for Canberra.

Democrats' ACT Vice-President Jane Errey says her Party believes it is time to determine whether it is possible to reduce the death, suffering and crime associated with the current approach to illicit drugs and addiction.

Ms Errey said the Democrats believed the ACT-based stages one and two of the proposed trial for a limited number of registered, resident heroin addicts should proceed regardless of NSW Premier Bob Carr's equivocation about stage three.

"The proponents of the proposed ACT trial believe their approach could reduce the adverse health effects, family suffering and crime associated with the current approach to heroin addiction," Ms Errey said. "Their belief is supported by evidence from overseas.

"The Democrats believe we would be negligent to not support a controlled examination of approaches designed to reduce society's horrendous drug-related problems. We should begin the ACT stages of the trial and evaluate the results."

Support for the trial was voted on at an ACT Democrat Council meeting late last week.

Ms Errey said support for the trial from health authorities or political parties should not in any way be interpreted as support for drug use.

"The Democrats support increased community and school-based education about the potential and real harm caused by drugs and drug use, and the development of other solutions to addiction," Ms Errey said.

"The awful fact is the current approach to heroin addiction and abuse costs the community in many ways: from personal health problems (even death), to family suffering, to the call on hospital, medical and police resources, to burglary and other crime, to legal costs.

"Clearly the current situation is acceptable to no-one, except maybe the criminals profiting from the sale of illicit drugs. A controlled examination of ways which may reduce those terrible costs is a sensible and responsible way to proceed."

Jane Errey can be contacted on 249-1732 (h) or 015 288 477

ACT Division, PO Box 438, Civic Square, ACT 2608

Tel: (06) 273-2440 Fax: (06) 273-1251


Victorian Political Leaders

Former Victorian Liberal Premier, Jeff Kennett

Former Health Minister in the Liberal Government, Rob Knowles

Former Victorian Opposition Leader John Brumby

Victorian Labor Party State Conference

Northern Territory Political Leaders

NT Opposition Leader Clare Martin

South Australian Government Political Leaders

Tasmanian Government Political Leaders

Western Australia Political Leaders

WA Premier Geoff Gallop when Leader of the Opposition

WA National Party Conference

Public support

August 1997

The Nielsen-McNair poll reported in The Sydney Morning Herald of 19/8/97 identified 45% Australia wide in favour of the ACT Heroin trial

Nationally a clear majority of younger adults favoured the trial and in NSW 50% of all age groups said "yes" in answer to the question of whether Sydney should itself host a trial if the ACT trial turned out to be a success.

October 1997

The Canberra Times Datacol poll of 17/10/97 reported that 50% favoured the heroin trial with 10% undecided. Only 40% opposed it.

March 1999

"A Herald-AC Nielsen poll of 2,063 people, taken last week, shows 48 per cent oppose a heroin trial while 45 per cent support it. 71 per cent were against decriminalising heroin. Interestingly, the age group most likely to oppose decriminalisation were 18- to 24-year-olds, of whom 76 per cent were against. The views on safe injecting houses reflected those on heroin trials: 45 per cent supported and 49 per cent opposed them. The survey found 63 per cent thought the Federal Government was doing a poor job on drugs. The majority of Victorians (53%) and ACT residents (55%) support medically supervised trials" (ADCA News of the Day reporting Sydney Morning Herald 4 March 1999 p.4 and The Age 4 March 1999 p.A1).


ACT Heroin Pilot Task Force

The Victorian Premiers’ Drug Advisory Council,

Victoria, Premier's Drug Advisory Council Report, Drugs and Our Community: Report of the Premier's Drug Advisory Council (Penington Report) (Premier's Drug Advisory Council, Melbourne, March 1996) at pp. 93-94 reads:


Heroin can be used as an alternative pharmacotherapy for dependent drug users. Heroin has been available to dependent people on a prescription basis in the United Kingdom for many years. One expert consulted by Council indicated that it is now losing popularity.

Council received numerous submissions supporting provision of replacement heroin to dependent users in a medically controlled manner. Many of these submissions indicated that the social, emotional and health harms of heroin are largely a result of heroin's illicit status. These submissions argued that if heroin were available to dependent users in a controlled manner, more dependent users would be attracted into treatment. Heroin prescribing would also reduce dependent users' involvement with the criminal justice system and enables controls of both the quality of the product and its administration.

The National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health and the Australian institute of Criminology have been responsible for planning the research, scientific design and evaluation of the following question: 'Should a carefully controlled and rigorously evaluated trial be conducted to determine whether or not the prescription of pharmaceutical heroin (diacetylmorphine) is a useful addition to current maintenance treatment for dependent heroin users?' (Stage 2 Feasibility Research into the Controlled Availability of Opioids, 1995).

Dr Gabriele Bammer, Fellow, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University has been responsible for overseeing the project and was asked to give evidence. Council was impressed by the level of attention to detail, the scientifically rigorous design of the preceding and ongoing research and the proposed design of the pilot projects. The ACT Heroin Trial represents one attempt to develop sound research based experience of the effect of offering heroin in a controlled manner to heroin dependent clients.

Council is of the view that the trial is justified on research grounds and should be supported by the Commonwealth. The trial will assist in determining if there are groups of heroin dependent users for whom the availability of a heroin treatment option is more effective and cost-effective than offering methadone alone. Individual and social outcomes, and attraction and retention rates in treatment, will be examined.

The trial Involves three sequential stages. It is proposed that there be two pilots conducted in the ACT followed by a multi state clinical trial. The decision to implement each stage is contingent on the successful completion of the earlier stage. This approach is appropriately cautious.

The proposers of the trial acknowledge that the organisation and administrative requirements of a controlled heroin prescribing service are necessarily complex. Council is also concerned that these difficulties may only be surmountable at considerable cost, or reduction in the relevance of the service to potential users. Council believes that a careful assessment of the outcomes of each pilot and the final trial is required. Council accepts that, on the basis of evidence collected in each of the three stages, heroin prescribing may appropriately be considered for inclusion in the range of pharmacotherapies.

Council has concluded that Victoria should seek to further develop its methadone program and develop proposals for clinical trials of new drugs which may offer additional benefits as alternatives to methadone or in support of withdrawal programs. In Council's view, priority should be given to the development of new drug trials. It could be appropriate that Victoria be involved with the formal heroin trial in order to undertake comparative assessment of the alternative drug choices. A judgement on this matter may be required if the formal trial proceeds and work on trialing other options is sufficiently advanced in Victoria.

Justice James Wood, Royal Commissioner, Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service

The Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service: final report (May 1997) vol. II included the following at p. 228:

2.28 The Commission received a number of submissions urging that the personal use of prohibited drugs be dealt with as a medical problem and not as a criminal offence (some urged decriminalisation or legalisation in broader terms).47 The Commission considers that a cautious move towards this approach is well worthy of consideration. It is for this reason that the Commission considers that it would be appropriate for the NSW Government to support the trial in the Australian Capital Territory, of the controlled prescription of heroin to dependent users developed by the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health. Although such trial is presently stalled because of the lack of support from the States, it would provide a useful basis for testing a number of the assertions advanced by those favouring decriminalisation.48 Without such a trial, which could be conducted subject to stringent control and scrutiny, and suspended at any moment if it was seen to be productive of unacceptable problems, its efficacy or otherwise will never be known. Until attempted, it is very difficult to move forward or to consider alternative strategies.

47. AIDS Council of NSW, July 1996, RCPS Exhibit 2809/102; Australian Drug Law Foundation, August 1996, RCPS Exhibit 2809/15; Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, NSW Legal Steering Committee, 26/7/96 RCPS Exhibit 2809/14; Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Academics Group, November 1995; Netherlands Institute on Alcohol and Drugs, 25/7/96, RCPS Exhibit 2809/45; NSW Society of Labor Lawyers, 26/7/95, RCPS Exhibit 2809/68a; NSW Council for Civil liberties, 23/5/96, RCPS Exhibit 2809/67a; Redfern Legal Centre, 26/7/96, RCPS Exhibit 2809/76a, together with the 'Harm Reduction Model for Controlled Drug Availability'; Justice Action, 26/7/96, RCPS Exhibit 2809/55; Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform, 4/12/95, see too the Victoria Premier's Drug Advisory Council Report, Drugs and our Community, (Pennington report), March 1996, p. vii.

48. See Victoria Premier's Drug Advisory Council Report, Drugs and our Community, (Penington report), March 1996 at p. 93 which encouraged the Commonwealth to support the trial which it concluded was justified on research grounds.

Health Professionals

Australian Medical Association,

28 February 1999


Australia needed a more comprehensive approach to dealing with the heroin scourge, the Federal President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr David Brand, said today.

"The Federal Government's financial commitment to the Tough on Drugs program is an excellent start, but the best results will come form a comprehensive approach which combines action on several levels, including tougher action against suppliers and strong support for education, prevention and rehabilitation programs," Dr Brand said.

"We should be prepared to look at innovative ways of dealing with the problem, including scientific studies, such as the proposed ACT heroin trial. The trial is designed to find out if the lives of addicts who have not responded to other forms of treatment and rehabilitation, such as methadone programs, can be improved through the controlled supply of heroin,

"While community and medical opinion continues to be divided on the merits of the trial, it is - at the end of the day - a scientific trial designed to see if the controlled supply of heroin can help those whose lives are at risk and whose lifestyles put others at risk" (Sunday 28 February 1999)

Doctors Reform Society,

Royal Australasian College of Physicians,

Media release issued 12 December 2000 of the Royal Australian College of Physicians and the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine:


Illicit drug use is most effectively managed when treated as a health and social problem rather than a moral or political problem, according to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP).

Outside the emergency entrance to Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital, a place where overdose victims are so frequently brought, the College launched its position paper today entitled From Hope to Science: Illicit Drugs Policy in Australia, a report calling for decisive action to stop the spiralling death rate from heroin related overdoses in Australia.

Professor Richard Larkins, President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said the College‘s involvement in the current debate on illicit drug management was prompted by grave concerns at the inadequate response to this major health problem in Australia. "The College believes that the response to the illicit drugs situation must avoid a blame mentality, and that the drug problem must be owned and solved by all levels of government and all sectors of society," Professor Larkins said.

"As long it is easier for users to get drugs from a dealer than to get treatment, Australia will not effectively respond to problems associated with illicit drug use," he said. The report was officially launched by the Rev Tim Costello, Director, Urban Mission Unit of the Collins Street Baptist Church in Melbourne.

A long time critic of so-called knee-jerk reactions to drug abuse by Australian governments, Rev Costello said as with all other medical conditions progress depends on adequately funded, rigorous research which meticulously follows due scientific processes. The same should apply to drug abuse - the way forward is through the development of pragmatic and evidence based policies," he said. "We should treat illicit drug use as a medical and social problem and deal with it like we do heart disease or diabetes."

Research outlined in the RACP report suggests that the number of drug users in Australia has been increasing for some time, and that the increase in recent years has been exceptional. More than 2% of Australians aged 14 and older have injected illicit drugs at some time in their lives, and close to 110,000 people (including 12,000 teenagers) have injected recently.

Other alarming statistics in the sport include: the proportion of teenage girls that have used illicit drugs has increased from 34% to 52% between 1995 and 1998; and in 1999 more people in Victoria died from overdoses than from road crashes. "Based on all the evidence, the RACP advocates a trial of medically supervised injecting premises as a means of saving lives," Professor Larkins said. "So long as they are appropriately medically supervised and resourced, international trials have shown that injecting premises have the capacity to save lives, and reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C.

"Medically supervised injecting premises can also reach people most marginalised from health services, provide access to rehabilitation, treatment and other health services, reduce the number of people injecting on the street, and facilitate the safe disposal of injecting equipment," he said.

The RACP report also calls for the use of "scientifically rigorous" heroin trials to determine whether treatment with prescription heroin improves outcomes for the small number of long-term addicts for whom methadone and other treatment programs have failed. The report states that international research results have shown that drug users with access to prescribed heroin commit less crime, spend less money on illicit drugs, reduce their injecting drug use, and improve in their social and psychological functioning.

"While the RACP accepts the important role of law enforcement in Australia’s response to illicit drugs, the use of illicit drugs should be regarded as primarily a health and social problem," Professor Larkins said.

"Accordingly, the medical profession should play a central role in the development of a national policy and program response."

"We hope that the release of this RACP policy document will stimulate more than just discussion on the illicit drugs problem. To reduce the use and impact of illicit drugs, a coordinated and multi-faceted approach is required, and that this approach must be driven by scientific evidence," Professor Larkins said.

Royal Australasian College of General Practitioners,

Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australasia

Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine

Joint media release with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians 12 December 2000

National Health Alliance

A combined media statement of the alliance entitled "Substance Misuse, Mental Health and Suicide: Priorities for the Federal Election and Beyond September 2001" included the following:

"4. Expanding Drug Treatment Services


Drug dependency is a complex issue, with the causes and consequences of dependence differing between individuals. Regardless of whether the dependence is tobacco, alcohol or heroin, there is a need for a broad range of treatment options to meet the specific needs of the individual.

Australia has a poor record in providing a wide range of treatment options for dependency, although this is now starting to change. . . . 

Policy Action

It is clear that the current approaches to the treatment of drug dependence are not able to meet the needs of all people seeking treatment. There are neither enough treatment places nor enough treatment options to satisfy needs.  . . . 

The alliance believes there is an urgent need to significantly increase funding for treatment and rehabilitation services, and to look at innovative approaches to treatment, including properly supervised, independently evaluated trials of injecting places and pharmacotherapies, including prescription heroin as endorsed by the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy"

The full statement is available on the Public Health Association of Australia website at http://www.pha.org.au/media/healthalliancefinalsept2001(1).htm.

The national alliance consists of peak non-government organisations with a key interest in substance misuse, mental health promotion and suicide prevention.

Professor David Penington

"A heroin trial would have explored ways to reduce the harm done to society by the long-term, heroin-addicted person with a high dependence on crime, trafficking and prostitution. Swiss experience shows that many can be rehabilitated and got back to normal living, to employment and to earning sufficient to pay for their heroin. it continues to be ruled out by the Prime Minister, but its time must come if we want to reduce the damage being done by drugs to our society." ("Welcome new initiatives in the fight against drugs just don’t go far enough" by Professor David Penington, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1999, p. 15"

Legal Profession

Law Council of Australia

A memorandum dated 21 December 1999 from the Acting Secretary General of the Law Council of Australia read:

"You will recall that, at the December Council meeting, the President informed the Council that the Criminal Law National Liaison Committee (CLNLC) had unanimously adopted the following resolution at its meeting on 9 October 1999:

That the Committee endorses:

1. The immediate re-establishment and commencement of the cancelled ACT trial of medically prescribed heroin with a view to adopting harm minimisation policies similar to those adopted in Switzerland and the Netherlands.

2. The immediate establishment of a network of safe injecting facilities in areas where there is a high incidence of chaotic intravenous drug use behaviour.

3. The passing of legislation in all jurisdictions throughout Australia giving courts the option of suspended or deferred sentences for drug addicted offenders who have a real prospect of rehabilitation.

4. The immediate decriminalisation of possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use with the short term goal of separating cannabis users from those who would sell them heroin, the long term goal being the adoption of policies similar to those so successfully put in place in the Netherlands."

Law Society of NSW

Directors of Public Prosecutions of NSW, South Australia and the ACT

DATE 6 May 1999


By: The Directors of Public Prosecutions of

New South Wales Nicholas Cowdery QC

South Australia Paul Rofe QC

Australian Capital Territory Richard Refshauge

The Directors of Public Prosecutions have concerns about the continuation, unaltered, of the present legal regime that applies in relation to illicit drugs in Australia

That regime, which has been in place for several decades, casts a large responsibility for addressing "the drug problem" onto the criminal justice system.

The Directors accept that they have a continuing responsibility to seek improvements to the criminal justice system of their various jurisdictions. They are also concerned to ensure that scarce public resources are not expended unproductively.

Users and dealers of illicit drugs enter the criminal justice system as defendants charged with drug offences - but also, in significant numbers, charged with offences against private property (eg armed robbery, housebreaking, theft).

The vast majority of the property offences prosecuted by the Directors are drug related. These are a significant burden on the resources of the Australian prosecution services, which are already under considerable strain.

The Directors consider that greater emphasis should be placed on dealing with the health and social consequences of "the drug problem", in the expectation that its impact on the criminal justice system may thereby be reduced. Accordingly, they urge the authorities in all jurisdictions to earnestly consider new measures that may more effectively reduce the present level of harm being occasioned to the community by illicit drug use and the commission of drug related offences. There should also be more resources made available for the treatment and rehabilitation of drug users and for their diversion from the criminal justice process.

Following upon the recent Australasian Drugs Strategy Conference in Adelaide, the Directors urge public consideration of the following general initiatives:

- the expansion of needle distribution programs to further reduce the risk of transmission of blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV AIDS;

- the holding of a scientific trial of medically prescribed heroin;

- the expanding and improving of educational programs, particularly for school age children, the overall message remaining that the use of many chugs is undesirable and may be harmful;

- the expansion of diversionary options in the criminal justice process (with the present NSW Drug Court trial to be carefully evaluated).

Consideration should also be given to the establishment of safe injecting premises for intravenous drug users (as recommended by the NSW Police Royal Commission in May 1997) where appropriate medical care, counselling and access to treatment and rehabilitation facilities could be available; however, if the social costs of such a measure are unacceptable, an alternative course of the medical prescription of heroin to registered addicts should be considered (depending upon the results of the trial referred to above).

Consideration should also be given to a regime that would have cannabis treated in a similar way to tobacco. As a first step, all jurisdictions should adopt a decriminalised expiation regime of the kind operating in South Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory.

The availability of free heroin on prescription to registered addicts in safe circumstances would significantly reduce the illicit market and consequently the large profits, the motive for the commission of drug related property crime. It would also substantially reduce morbidity and mortality from intravenous drug use. In conjunction with methadone maintenance programs it would substantially improve the social condition of addicts. Heroin users would not need to sell heroin to first time users. Prisoner addicts should have access to such a facility, in addition to treatment facilities.

The criminal dealing in prohibited drugs would continue to be policed rigorously; the resources available to do it would be increased and the incidence of drug related offences against private property would substantially decline.

Director of Public Prosecutions of NSW, Nicholas Cowdery QC

The follow report appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 7 March 2001, p. 8.

"The NSW Director of Public Prosecutions says doctors should be allowed to prescribe free heroin. In a new book – Getting Justice Done – Mr Nicholas Cowdery, QC, writes that heroin profits must be reduced to break the link between drug and crime. He suggests doctors be allowed to prescribe heroin to registered addicts who finance their drug habits through crimes such as dealing and theft. ‘This is not heroin on demand, available from the corner store,’ says Mr Cowdery who proposed that Australia’s tightly supervised opium production in Tasmania – used for medical purposes – be expanded to become a source for the supply of prescription heroin.

He writes: ‘While there might be a slight, short-term increase in consumption, we might be able to achieve at least the modest measures of success we have had in relation to tobacco and alcohol’."

Local Government

All Australian Capital City Mayors

Sydney's Lord Mayor, Cr Frank Sartor, said the three elements of drug control were enforcement, demand management and innovative education. Money was better spent on drugs management than on enforcement, he said. Enforcement is the focus of the Federal Government's drugs initiative. "It's quite obvious that the political leadership in this country has let us down significantly," Cr Sartor said. "It's quite obvious that the current strategies on drugs are not working, will not work, and the capital cities need to work much harder.' Cr Sartor said local governments were increasingly left with the problems associated with drugs, which was a health and not a moral issue. The Adelaide Lord mayor, Dr Jane Lomax-Smith said: 'As capital city lord mayors we recognise we all share the same problem. There has been education in the past but clearly it's not effective.' She said lord mayors were disappointed with the Howard Cabinet's rejection of the Canberra heroin trial. An education campaign will be the focus of the national program. Melbourne's Lord Mayor, Cr Ivan Deveson, said 'more of the same will not work, and we will be catalysts in promoting a much more informed debate.' He said traffickers should not be tolerated. The lord mayors offered no support for the use of 'shooting galleries'."" Age 5/12/97, p. A7 (p. 6 of fax).

Community Organisations

Australian Lions Drug Awareness Foundation,

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations,

Police and other law enforcement agencies

Former Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mr Mick Palmer

Mr Mick Palmer, Commissioner of Federal Police: "I simply think that the nature of the problem and the sheer growth of the problem means that we must be prepared to try new ideas . . . and I think initiatives such as the heroin trial promoted by the ACT are very positive" (Canberra Times, 30 May 1997).

NSW Commissioner for Police, Mr Peter Ryan,

SA Police Commissioner Mal Hyde

Mr Mal Hyde, Commissioner of Police, South Australia: "'We need to be looking to health experts as to what is the best way to deal with the use of heroin,' he said. . . . Mr Hyde said that if addiction could be successfully treated, it was 'a reasonable expectation' that drug-related crime would fall.'  . . . Mr Hyde said he was disappointed by the Commonwealth's decision [to scrap the heroin trial]" (Adelaide Advertiser, 22 November 1997).

Former Police Commissioner for Tasmania, Mr John Johnston

Former Victorian Police Commissioner Neil Comrie

28 May 1999

"At one end of the scale, you have hardened drug addicts who in many instances need to acquire about $400 or $500 a day simply to feed their habit. Some of these have been addicted for a number of years.

There are two inevitabilities about those people: one, they will commit crimes to support their habit; two, at some point in time they're going to overdose.

I believe that if we're serious about addressing that group, we need to find some sort of pharmacotherapy. That's why I've supported a heroin trial. Like the minister, I say that a heroin trial is only one of many options that can be tried. I don't put it forward as a panacea, but I think that if we can get through to a small group in that hardened drug addicted group, then we ought to try. And until we actually try it, we'll never know whether it works.

We see all this research coming from Switzerland and Europe and the Netherlands, but in Australia it's a vastly different environment. I think we need to try some of these things in Australia to see what works here" (The Age, Friday 28 May 1999, pp. A16-A17).

Head of the National Crime Authority, Gary Crooke

Church and other Religious Leaders

Former Bishop Richard Randerson, Anglican Diocese of Canberra & Goulburn

15 December, 1997

Media release


"One of my greatest wishes would be to see an end to drug-dependency, and to drug-related deaths with all their associated tragedy and grief," said Bishop Richard Randerson today in support of Professor Max Neutze's paper on the ACT Heroin Drug Trial. "The recent spate of deaths in the ACT coupled with the alarming number of young people who have lost their lives to illicit drugs in recent years, is a human and social disaster too large to ignore."

"While a heroin drug trial is not the final solution to the problem, it nonetheless has the capacity to take people on a step away from the harm associated with illicit drug use, and into a situation where they might better exercise the option to become drug-free. Illicit drug use and trading brings with it both organised and petty crime and corruption, and is a threat to the health and well-being of users and their families. A trialed supply of heroin in a controlled setting to dependent users could offer a way out of such evil.

"From a Christian perspective the trial expresses compassion for those who suffer, and offers hope to those who might seek a better lifestyle. Such a lifestyle is characterised by loving relationships, stable family and personal life, and greater independency and self-esteem. At the very least it represents a morality of the lesser evil in terms of minimising personal and social harm. At its best it could become the gateway to new life for many.

"While some may feel that a trial might send a signal to the community that drugs are OK, my own view is different," said Bishop Randerson. "This trial is very clearly based on the premise of wanting to rescue people from the dangers of dependency: its motivation is not to condone drugs but rather to offer a better way of living to dependent users."

Victorian Uniting Church Community Services Director Colleen Pearce

Reverend Gregor Henderson, National General Secretary, Uniting Church

"One of Australia's most senior church leaders, Reverend Gregor Henderson, has voiced his support for safe-injecting rooms and a properly conducted heroin trial.

The Uniting Church's national general secretary, Mr Henderson also has called on the Federal Government to show leadership in the drug debate.

At a remembrance ceremony in Canberra for those who had lost their lives to illicit drugs, he said, "It is not right that people die when new approaches and treatments are available but governments lack the courage to permit them.

 . . . 

Mr Henderson said the Uniting Church in Canberra had recently adopted a new drugs policy which supported a scientific heroin trial within a framework of community education, law enforcement, and rehabilitation.

He would look at adopting a national drugs policy for the Uniting Church. "It's time we stopped treating drug users as criminals and started treating them with compassion as people who need help," Mr Henderson said. "By our attitudes we are forcing them into the back alleys."

"[Churches] probably haven't done enough in this area, too." Church leaders had a powerful role to play in the drug debate because they could challenge their generally conservative constituency to think about the issues.

They also had some capacity to influence politicians. "Federally they could give a bit more leadership," he said. "There is no doubt about that.

‘It would be excellent if the Federal Government [would at least] support community organisations -- like churches -- and state governments in trying new things to help drug users’" (Canberra Times Wednesday 27 October 1999, p. 4).

Salvation Army Southern Command

3 March 1999

"Salvation Army Victorian drug and alcohol services director David Brunt said the Salvation Army had not supported a heroin trial because there were still unanswered questions. "

"But Mr. Brunt said the army in Victoria was certainly not opposing it and a trial would eventually come" (Whittlesea Post, Wednesday, March 3, 1999 page 1)

28 May 1999


If the Salvation Army is as divided as we are on the question of the heroin trials and drugs, then I guess it says how much this issue is dividing society.

My Sydney colleague, Brian Watters, unfortunately sees addiction - and I'm quoting him from our own publication, The War Cry, last week - as sin. We find that abhorrent and oppose it totally.

Changing attitudes is a slow process for an organisation like ours. I find differences in church attitudes north and south of the border. When the heroin trial was first mooted, the Salvation Army in Melbourne put together a paper saying we wanted to be part of the evaluation of the trial if it went ahead. Unfortunately Brian became the Prime Minister's main adviser at that stage. And subsequently, some of our issues have become very blurred.

When the Premier announced he was going to try for a heroin trial in Victoria, perhaps the most significant thing I was able to get our leadership to do was to say, "We will not oppose it." They've recently said exactly the same thing about safe injecting houses. We don't want to set up one ourselves, but if it was legal we wouldn't oppose it.

We see addiction as an illness, a health issue. Down here we don't see it as a moral issue. In St Kilda we set up what's now become one of the largest needle and syringe exchanges in this country. It seems a little ironic, when we're running such an exchange, that at the same time our colleagues are talking about moral issues" (The Age, Friday 28 May 1999, pp. A16-A17).

Organisations representing families of drug users

Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform

The Damien Trimingham Foundation

Drug and Alcohol Organisations,

Australian Drug Foundation

Australian Drug Foundation Position Statement
Proposed Trial of Controlled Availability of Opioids


Since 1991 the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH), in conjunction with the Institute of Criminology has been conducting a feasibility study of a trial to provide heroin to dependent users in a controlled manner.

Due to the sensitive nature of the issue and significant opposition to the proposal from many quarters, the Study has proceeded very cautiously, openly acknowledging the potential problems of such a trial and ensuring that these were researched and considered fully.

The Study has now reported to the ACT Parliament and to the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy and makes a number of recommendations.

The report has called for an initial six month trial involving 40 dependent users who are already participating in the ACT'S methadone program.

The trial will then be expanded to involve 250 dependant users.

Following the pilot studies, a two year trial will be conducted in three Australian cities, involving 1000 participants.

No decision has been reached by the ACT Government to support the trial. The first step proposed is to form a taskforce comprising representatives from the police, judiciary, state, territory and Commonwealth departments, the medical profession, user support groups and members of the community to consider responses to the recommendations.

The concerns expressed include:

- Addicts would be attracted to Canberra: the `honey pot' effect

- It would encourage heroin use

- The ACT would appear to be soft on drug use

- The trial would face impossible practical and logistical problems

At the June MCDS meeting, Ministers were cautious but generally open to the recommendations except for Victoria.


The ADF supports the findings of the Feasibility Research into the Controlled Availability of Opioids.

The ADF believes that new and better ways must be developed to reduce the harm caused by drug use. The research proposed in this trial is one way of doing that.

The approach taken by the NCEPH of methodical and rigourous research is to be commended and supported.

The ADF recognises the potential problems but until this research is carried out we won't know if these problems will eventuate and, if so, what can be done to minimise them.

This type of approach is just one strategy to address drug related harm. Prevention education strategies must continue to help prevent people becoming users in the first place.

Accepted by the ADF Board September 1995


Newspaper Editorials

Canberra Times

Subject: Editorial in The Canberra Times

Date: Mon, 13 Aug 01 21:53:39 +1000

Source: The Canberra Times

Location: Editorial p.8

Contact: letters.editor@canberratimes.com.au

PM deaf to calls about drug policy

PRIME MINISTER John Howard says he is listening. However, when it comes to the drug problem it seems he is only listening to what he wants to hear. If there is a squawking pressure group which is threatening to cost the Coalition some votes, then Mr Howard is happy to throw some money at them to shore up his electoral support. However, if there is a difficult policy decision which requires courage and leadership he turns a deaf ear.

Last week the head of the National Crime Authority, Gary Crooke, said governments should consider treating heroin addiction as a medical problem and should consider supplying heroin from a government- controlled repository to registered addicts. Mr Crooke cited damning statistics about heroin in Australia under prohibitionist policies.

In the mid-1980s, there were an estimated 34,000 heroin addicts consuming about three tonnes of heroin a year. Now, an estimated 74,000 people were addicted to the drug and they were using about 6.7 tonnes of heroin a year. Authorities have seized just 734kg of heroin in the past year, less than 12 per cent of the amount being used. The number of heroin users was up from an estimated 0.4 per cent of the adult population in 1995 to 0.7 per cent in 1998, and overdose deaths had gone from 302 in 1989 to 958 in 1999.

Mr Crooke came to the obvious conclusion that the present policies were not working.

Mr Cooke could have gone further and said that present policies actually contributed to the heroin problem because prohibition was creating a black market that caused pushers to induce other people to take heroin, so that they in turn could provide money to help feed the original pusher's habit.

Mr Crooke is at the coalface of fighting the scourge of drugs in Australia. He has first-hand knowledge of the illegal trade and of the crime which supports it.

It was therefore dispiriting to see the Prime Minister reject what Mr Crooke had to say within hours of Mr Crooke's announcing it and to instead thump the prohibitionist drum yet again.

Surely, it is incumbent on the Prime Minister to listen to a person with such high credentials.

Mr Crooke is not a lone voice. Several state directors of public prosecutions, several heads of state police forces and the Australian Medical Association have all urged a change of approach. They have urged in varying degrees that the problem be treated as a medical one rather than a law-enforcement one. They have urged that treatment of addicts be dealt with in a range of ways other than locking them up, or stupidly urging them to "just say no" when the medical attributes of addiction make such an approach useless.

Mr Howard made it plain in Parliament last week that he was utterly opposed to a trial of giving heroin on prescription to registered addicts or providing safe injecting rooms for them.

While prohibition policies continue it is inevitable that the number of people seeking to feed their habit will increase. As that happens, more people will be adversely affected with family members or friends succumbing to addiction and possible death by overdose or their property will be stolen by people desperate to feed their habits.

Mr Howard says that so long as he is Prime Minister there will never be a heroin trial. If that is the case, increasing crime and addiction rates will be the mark of his prime ministership and it will take another leader to make inroads into this dreadful scourge.