FFDLR Newsletter September 2021

Next FFDLR meeting via Zoom:
Thursday 23 September, 7:30 pm
An invitation to the zoom meeting will be sent by email prior to the meeting.
Look out for it.
Welcome to FFDLR’s September 2021 Newsletter. Even though many of us are in lockdown life goes on and we continue to promote Drug Law Reform as much as we can. You will find in this newsletter a couple of letters to the editor of the Canberra Times that were published and also an opinion piece from Bill Bush – “A drug policy based on Public Health Principals – will the ACT lead the Nation”. Please if you have had letters or opinion pieces published let us know so they can also be shared with other FFDLR supporters.  
Uniting is continuing with its Fair treatment Campaign. Links to 4 short animated videos – Decriminalisation Explainer Animations – are provided in this newsletter and please distribute as far and wide as you can. 
As well Uniting organised a polling in NSW  which shows changed attitudes towards punitive drug policy.
Johnathan Davis, a Greens member of the ACT Legislative Assembly has organised a workshop – Common Cause. Common Cause are based in Canberra and specialise in communicating progressive approaches to policy. Further details later in this newsletter.
Keep well and safe in this unsettling time and if it has meant you have some extra time think about writing letters or linking into relevant zoom meetings. 
Marion McConnell
Discussions have occurred as how we might arrange the Ceremony this year ‘for those who have lost their lives to illicit drugs’. Because of the Covid 19 restrictions there is uncertainty around whether crowd events will be allowed anytime soon.  We are continuing discussions on how we might organise a ceremony via zoom. More details will be available soon. However please set aside the date – Monday 25 October around midday.
Letters to the Editor Published in the Canberra Times Letters to the Editor page on August 4, 2021
Stance unusual
Acting Canberra Liberals Director, Josh Manuatu objects that the Assembly should not consider decriminalisation because it “was not mentioned once” during last year’s election (Liberals split over ‘hard drugs’ push poll”, July 31, p23).
A motion on 20 August that year, supported by Liberal Assembly members, “called on the ACT Government, and whichever party or parties in the Assembly that Form government following the October 2020 election , to investigate the feasibility of a simple offence notice for other drugs of dependence to ascertain the legal, social and health impacts”.
Michael Pettersson who proposed that motion may have jumped the gun by submitting his private members’s bill but how is the inquiry of the select committee different from what Mr Manuatu’s own party endorsed? It’s a bit rich of him to accuse Labor of failing to give notice of the proposal to the electorate.
Bill Bush

Published in the Canberra Times Letters to the Editor page on August 9, 2021
A better drug policy

“To see drugs such as these combined and putting individuals at greater risk makes us more determined to arrest and charge those who sell and profit from illicit drugs”, says Detective Acting Inspector Shane Scott from the ACT Police (Synthetic cocaine laced with fentanyl sold in Canberra”, Canberra Times.com.au, August 3).
It is commendable that ACT police have put out a warning about the arrival in Canberra of synthetic cocaine laced with fentanyl.
The next step for them is to join the many families, health services and academics who want criminal sanctions removed from personal use to encourage more people who use drugs into education and/or treatment.
M McConnell
Bill Bush Back in 1995 a group of bereaved parents got together. They saw a connection between the punishing approach of the drug laws and their bereavement.
Strong emotion has long impeded rational political discourse of any proposal to move drug policy to a public health focused approach and to lift the compulsion of the criminal law from the back of people who choose to use certain drugs. Anyone who has dared to propose change has been an all too tempting target for politicians bent on a populist witch hunt.
26 years of campaigning seems at the point of a breakthrough with the serious consideration by the Assembly of the private member’s Bill of the ALP’s Michael Pettersson to decriminalise drugs like cocaine, heroin and crystal methamphetamine (ice).
The wonder is that the Liberals have joined Labor and the Greens in supporting this serious examination. On 20 August, before the October election, all parties welcomed consideration of the very proposition that was embodied in the Pettersson Bill. The ACT is a national trailblazer.
A hope is that the community challenges brought about by the Covid 19 pandemic will dispose all politicians to see that change to drug policy is as sensible as it appeared to Liberal Chief Minister and former pharmacist, Kate Carnell, who saw heroin assisted treatment as a public health response to the then HIV and hepatitis epidemics.
Unfortunately, the temptation to make political mischief has been too much for Sen Zed Seselja and certain elements of the Liberal Party to resist ((Liberals split over “’hard drugs’’ push poll, Canberra Times, 31 July, p.3).
Alas, the drug scene is much more complex than it was in the early 1990s now that ice has toppled heroin as the illicit drug of greatest concern.
There has always been a close relationship between drugs and mental health, to the extent that co-occurring substance dependency and mental health problems are said to be the expectation rather than the exception.
The main peril facing those consuming opiates like heroin is to overdose and quietly stop breathing. It is a peril that grows with the resurgence of availability of a range of opiate analgesics like fentanyl and oxycodone as well as heroin. By far the largest burden of disease still arises from misuse of opiates. However, the age profile of illicit drug use is now much older than it was in the 1990s.
It is harder for the parents afflicted with the chaotic behaviour typical of severe ice dependency of their child to draw a connection between punishing drug laws and the predicament of their child.
Threat of prosecution seems less an immediate concern than the absence of help to stop their child from using.  Of course, pressing charges after outbursts of violence could result in their child being taken in hand by the police but, like the parents then as now, still see their child as deserving help rather than punishment.
Entrapped by fear and desperation, the parent of the ice user cannot be blamed for failing to ponder on how it came about that prohibition failed to stem the availability of these substances and indeed promoted their availability by delegating their supply and high level distribution to organised crime.
No, history is not at the top of mind in a domestic crisis: direct marketing from peer to peer is virtually impossible for law enforcement to disrupt and prohibition is littered with organised crime developing and promoting more potent and dangerous ones: cheap and nasty crack cocaine in the United States; cheap and nasty ice in Australia in place of heroin; the development of more potent strains of cannabis. The United States saw the same during prohibition of alcohol when spirits replaced fermented beers.
With a big decline in the popularity of ice among young people, we can expect a flood of ever more potent and dangerous designer drugs.
Ice has highlighted the interaction between mental health and drug policy. Dependency is classified as a mental health condition so why is a health approach adopted in one case but not the other?
Parents want a health approach but an overloaded mental health system is unable to cope.  It lacks the resources and skills to handle people with co-occurring conditions.
The Victorian Royal Commission on mental health contrasts model of care of the mental health and drug and alcohol systems. The former preferences the views of mental health practitioners over those of consumers and focuses on deficits. In contrast, the drug and alcohol sector focuses on building on the strengths of consumers and thus starts with  engagement and connection rather than cessation of drug use as the top priority.  That makes sense because addiction is a chronic relapsing condition.
The Productivity Commission identified want of coordination of psychosocial support with treatment and stigma as two key factors behind the crisis in the Australian mental health system. Decriminalisation and the long experience of the drug and alcohol sector in addressing problems like homelessness and disadvantage shows it to be the superior approach.
The instinct of the parent to force their child to stop their drug use can rupture bonds that are the best assurance that the child will ultimately emerge recovered from the long black tunnel of dependency.
The proposed reinstitution of drug and alcohol treatment orders is a worry. The New South Wales ice task force recommended against involuntary treatment. The New South Wales involuntary short term program reported that one in 10 or its graduates had died within six months. Only in extreme circumstances may there be a case for commitment to a mental health institution. For the most part there are better options.
From the illicit drug reporting system (IDRS

IDRS is an annual cross-sectional survey of people who regularly inject drugs recruited from all capital cities of Australian states and territories. Between 2014 and 2020 the participants were administered a one-hour face-to-face interview and reimbursed $40 for their time, with the exception of 2020 when interviews were conducted via telephone or video-conference due to COVID-19.
Inspection of the trends suggest an increase in self-reported overdoses since 2014 and a notable percentage of heroin users reported receiving no treatment on the occasion of their last heroin overdose, putting them at potential risk of adverse outcomes. IDRS stated that further promotion of appropriate overdose responses, monitoring of trends in overdose and investigation of motivations for overdose responses are all warranted. Jim Snow
(For the latest information about that survey and other drug trends, can be found on the NDARC website here)
Greens invitation to Common Cause Workshop Via Zoom
2-4pm, 20 September 2021
RSVP ASAP to DAVIS@act.gov.au

The workshop will be facilitated by Johnathan Davis (MLA) and Mark Chenery from Common Cause. Common Cause are based in Canberra and specialise in communicating progressive approaches to policy. Mark has been working with the Alcohol and Drug Foundation and Uniting doing data analysis on communications strategies on drug harm to produce an effective communications strategy. The ACT Greens have been working with Common Cause in developing our communications strategy on drug harm reduction.
We believe that the skills and information you learn from this workshop will be helpful in guiding your organisation’s communications, including any media appearances, on the Drugs of Dependence (Personal Use) Amendment Bill 2021 later this year.
Several FFDLR members have registered for this event.
Polling results across 5 electorates in NSW
 Overwhelming support of over 78% demonstrates that NSW is against criminal sanctions for the possession of small quantities of illegal drugs.
Uniting used independent polling company uComm to conduct research across the five electorates of Willoughby, Parramatta, Monaro, Coffs Harbour and Baulkham Hills between 8th and 24th June, 2021. The polling found about two-thirds of people (65%) don’t support fines for minor drug possession and would prefer people to be cautioned or referred to drug treatment or education programs.
Uniting NSW/ACT and the Fair Treatment campaign are calling on the NSW Government to make changes that reflect the greater population and their own constitutents’ attitudes towards illegal drugs.
More information from the Fair treatment website here
Fair Treatment: Food for Thought
Uniting have recently produced an animated series – Food for Thought – designed to encourage an open and honest conversation about drugs.
Video 1 – Under Decriminalisation, What Would Happen? 
Video 2 – Why treatment needs to be more readily available. 
Video 3 – Why decriminalisation should apply to all drugs. 
Video 4 – Why the current system is not working.
View the four videos here

Please visit The Fair Treatment Website here and show your support by liking them on facebook. Fair treatment is calling for decriminalising the possession of small quantities of all drugs for personal use and double the Government funding for treatment options.
Please also share this animation series with others.
ABC News Radio reported that a toxic synthetic opiate substitute (not fentanyl) had been distributed in Australia and had caused a death in late August. This follows the shortage of heroin and distribution of synthetic substitutes in the USA. A soaring of drug overdoses of fentanyl was described as ‘an epidemic within a pandemic’ by the ABC’s Planet America program. Increased trafficking involving sales of the bulk synthetic opioid powder on the ‘dark net’ and including bitcoin transactions, resulted in a 24 percent increase in fentanyl use in 2020 in the USA. Criminalisation of opioid use has clearly resulted in more crime, not less, and has resulted in dangerous, toxic and unregulated substitution. Submitted by Jim Snow