Submission of FFDLR to the Australian Productivity Commission into the Social and Economic Benefits of Improving Mental Health


  1. This paper argues that the burden of mental illness in Australia is in a large measure increased by the coincidence of illicit drug abuse and other mental illness. It suggests that the reliance on the criminal law works to create and foster the social and economic conditions that drive mental illness. There is much Australian research that supports these linkages and which show, in the wording of the Treasurer’s reference to the Commission that attention to drug policy offers the prospect: “of improving mental health to support economic participation and enhancing productivity and economic growth” (Issues paper, p.iii).
  2. The object of this submission is to examine how sectors beyond health including drug policy and justice can contribute to improving mental health and economic participation and productivity. It seeks to identify how much of the current burden of disease attributed to mental health conditions can be attributed to the policy response to illicit drugs rather than the drugs themselves. On this basis it argues that substantial social and economic benefits could be realised by the adoption of a regulatory approach informed by health and familiar psychosocial principles in place of the existing reliance upon the coercive processes of the criminal law. In a final section the paper points to the encouraging experience of other countries that have at least to some extent ceased to rely upon the coercive processes of the criminal law as the primary instrument to limit the availability of drugs.