|The year 2021 is drawing to a close and this will be the last FFDLR Newsletter for the year.|
Articles in this newlsetter include Finally: an assessment of just how good-or bad-Australian drug policy actually is: The Global Drug Policy Index (GDPI) contributed by David McDonald Integrating Alcohol and Drug and Mental Health Sectors: Dreaming the Impossible Dream – an NDARC Webinar – summary by Tess McDonald Opinion Piece by Bill Bush Please take time to read them. There are also other hidden gems to read.
Happenings in 2021
The most important happening to further drug law reform in the ACT during 2021 was the development of Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson’s bill on decriminalisation which led to the the Select Committees Inquiry into the Drugs of Dependence (Personal Use) Amendment Bill 2021. As reported in the July newsletter FFDLR wrote a submission and were invited to appear before the committee in July. The tabling of this report is expected on the last sitting week of the year between 30 November and 2 December.
Two members also wrote submissions and were invited to give evidence. Over fifty submissions were received the vast majority of which were in favour of decriminalisation of drugs to allow a more health orientated approach. Since the committee hearings there have been some influential voices speaking against it including Zed Seselja, ACT Senator and Reece Kershaw, Federal Police Commissioner. An opinion piece, which appeared in the Canberra Times on 31 October, responding to Commissioner Kershaw’s remarks, is copied in this newsletter.
The Australian Federal Police launched a social media campaign telling drug users to “have a conscience”. The campaign outlines how Australian drug users could be “bankrolling drug syndicates responsible for overseas human trafficking and sexual servitude. It also contained graphics of a young woman whose face had been disfigured because of the use of “ice” . But as reported in the weekly Friday Drugs Wrap – “It’s endlessly frustrating to see the national debate dragged backwards in this way but perhaps comforting to know that this kind of rhetoric no longer holds the weight that it once did.”
Also during the year the ACT Government committed to pilot Australia’s first ever fixed-site pill testing service in its 2021-22 budget. This will be a six-month pilot of the service to “determine service demand and community support” for a future permanent fixed-site service. The groups which have advocated directly for this, Pill testing Australia (PTA) and Harm Reduction Australia (HRA) say: “It is also hoped that the information provided by the pilot program will allow other Governments in Australia to consider the evidence and determine the public health benefits from replicating the ACT Government decision”. FFDLR has supported PTA and HRA and are very appreciative of the efforts they have put into advocating for this harm reduction, life saving service.
Uniting and its almost 70 partner organisations (of which FFDLR are one) have been hard at it during the year raising awareness, mainly in NSW in several ways. FFDLR have been working closely with them. We are grateful for their expertise in the technology to enable the Remembrance Ceremony to be held via Zoom this year. Other initiatives from Uniting have been: A decriminalisation discussion paper on possession and use of drugs was launched on 24 March in NSW Parliament House. It discussed options for changing the law and was prepared collaboratively by Tom McLean, Alison Ritter, Will Tregonning, Marianne Jauncey & Emma Maiden The Fair Treatment campaign helped secure NSW government funding for a treatment service in Dubbo from where the walk depicted on Half a Million Steps began. Several workshops have been held to help people in their advocacy for fair treatment and more humane drug laws including encouraging and organising meetings with politician. Members of FFDLR have taken advantage of these workshops. Campaigning in local communities with visitations to politicians leading up to its response to the “Ice” inquiry and looking at how to make a difference towards decriminalising personal drug use and getting more resources into treatment and harm reduction. Again FFDLR members have visited relevant politicians. The Campaign conducted a poll which showed a pleasing level of public support for better, less punitive drug policies. This NSW poll shows majority support for no jail for minor drug crimes. The Church and Uniting are continuing to implement the resolutions of the 2016 Synod to work to decriminalise personal use and possession of drugs and to boost demand and harm reduction. Uniting produced an excellent animated series – Food for Thought – designed to encourage an open and honest conversation about drugs. The four videos can be viewed here While you’re there show your support by liking them on Facebook.
Of course FFDLR members continued throughout the year to advocate where they could through meetings with relevant people, letters to the editor, opinion pieces – all during a time of disruption brought on by Covid 19.
We wish you a peaceful Christmas period and may 2022 bring more humane and just drug policies.
|Vale John Ley|
It was with much sadness that we learned of the passing of John Ley on 19th September 2021. He passed away peacefully in Calvary Public Bruce Hospital. John had been a member and supporter of FFDLR since 2001. He held the position of vice-president for many years and was always a dedicated, thoughtful and productive committee member. His determination to overcome his disabilities was an inspiration to us all. He will be very much missed. We offer our condolences to his family Fiona, Karen and Steve and their children. His on line celebration of life was held on Sunday 14 November. Several members of FFDLR attended. The service can be viewed here.
|Janine, one of the speakers at this year’s Remembrance Ceremony, visited the memorial rock and laid some flowers.|
|Finally: an assessment of just how good—or bad—Australian drug policy actually is: The Global Drug Policy Index (GDPI) David McDonald|
|What is the Global Drug Policy Index?|
Earlier this month, the International Drug Policy Consortium, in conjunction with other NGOs, released a document titled The Global Drug Policy Index 2021 (GDPI). This is a huge advance in assessing the nature and quality of nations’ drug policies, as highlighted by Helen Clark, Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In her Forward to the GDPI, Dr Clark wrote:
For decades, tracking how well—or badly—governments are doing in drug policy has been an elusive endeavour. In no small part, this is because data collection efforts by both governments and the UN have been driven by the outdated and harmful goal of achieving a ‘drug-free society’. The success of drug policies has not been measured against health, development and human rights outcomes, but instead has tended to prioritise indicators such as the numbers of people arrested or imprisoned for drug offences, the amount of drugs seized, or the number of hectares of drug crops eradicated.
This wrong-headed focus of drug policy and, as a result, data collection has prevented a genuine analysis of whether drug policies have contributed to overarching policy goals such as achieving gender equality, reducing stigma and discrimination, protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, or alleviating poverty. Marginalised communities who are disproportionately targeted by drug policies have remained largely invisible, while in many countries punitive drug control measures continue to operate unabated. The net result is that there is a severe dearth of accountability when it comes to the repressive approaches to drug control that most governments continue to employ. In this context, it is my absolute pleasure to welcome the first edition of the Global Drug Policy Index, a new tool which offers the first-ever data-driven global analysis of drug policies and their implementation in a systematic, comprehensive and transparent manner (p. 6).
The publisher of the GDPI explain that ‘The Global Drug Policy Index is a unique tool that documents, measures and compares national-level drug policies, providing each country with a score and ranking that shows how much their drug policies and their implementation align with the UN principles of human rights, health and development. As such, the Index provides an essential accountability and evaluation mechanism in the field of drug policy. It is composed of 75 indicators running across 5 broad dimensions of drug policy. This first iteration evaluates the performance of 30 countries covering all regions of the world.’ The Australian drug policy community made significant contributions to the development of the Index, with Prof Alison Ritter of the Drug Policy Modelling Program at UNSW, Dr Vivian Moxham-Hall from Kings College London, and Penny Hill from Harm Reduction Australia, being among the people who made significant contributions.
Two main sources of data underpin the GDPI: careful assessments of national and sub- national drug policy documentation, undertaken by some of the world’s top drug policy researchers from the Global Drug Policy Observatory at Swansea University, and questionnaires completed by 371 civil society experts in the 30 nations assessed who scored drug policy and its implementation in their respective countries.
How did Australia score?
Well, the good news might be that Australia scored fifth out of the 30 countries assessed, with an index score of 65 out of 100. Norway came out on top, at 74/100, followed by New Zealand 71/100, Portugal 70/100, and the UK 69/100.
But you have already seen the bad news: Australia’s score was just 65/100, not something to crow about! How did we come to have this low score?
The answer lies in the structure of the Index. It covers five dimensions that were selected because of their alignment with the UN System Common Position on Drugs. The dimensions are 1) Absence of extreme responses, 2) Proportionality of criminal justice responses, 3) Health and harm reduction, 4) Availability of and access to internationally controlled substances for the relief of pain and suffering, and 5) Development. (The Development dimension does not apply to Australia; we were scored on the first four only.)
As mentioned above, Australia’s overall score was 65/100. This score, relatively high compared with the other nations assessed, was dragged up by the high score of 85/100 on the Index dimension of ‘Absence of extreme responses’. This refers to the absence of the death penalty for drug offences, extra-judicial killings, and non-consensual confinement in the name of treatment, et cetera.
We scored far worse on the other three dimensions. At the bottom of the list was the score of 54/100 for ‘Proportionality of criminal justice responses’. This covered item such as human rights violations in the name of drug policy, lack of equity in the impact of criminal justice system responses, imprisonment of people involved in non-violent drug-related offences, lack of drug decriminalisation, et cetera. We scored better on the dimensions of ‘Health and harm reduction’ and ‘Availability of and access to internationally controlled substances for the relief of pain and suffering’, with both receiving a score of just 60/100.
It would be easy to quibble about the methodology underpinning the GDPI, and the veracity of some of the assessments. I suggest, however, that that is not the point. The key issue is, as Helen Clark pointed out, we finally have a framework for assessing the quality of drug policy against realistic criteria, such as health and human rights, rather than the spurious ones used in the past, such as creating a drug-free society.
The researchers who created the Index have acknowledged that there have been challenges in applying it to federated nation, such as Australia, owing to the inevitable differences between national policies and state and territory policies, and between those of the different states and territories. On the other hand, the Index provides a basis for each state and territory to assess its own policies against the objective criteria detailed in the Index, to see how it is performing at that level.
It is hoped that drug law reform activists across the country will use the findings of this first iteration of the Global Drug Policy Index as a tool for advocacy for improving Australia’s drug policies, their implementation, and evaluation.
International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) 2021, Global Drug Policy Index (GDPI), IDPC, London,
United Nations Chief Executives Board (CEB) 2019, Second regular session of 2018, Manhasset, New York, 7 and 8 November 2018. Summary of deliberations, CEB/2018/2, United Nations, New York, (‘Annex 1: United Nations system common position supporting the implementation of the international drug control policy through effective inter-agency collaboration’),
|NEWS SNIPPET – Jim Snow|
The New South Wales Parliament’s Cross-Party Harm Minimisation Rountable wants a health centred and evidence based approach to the challenge posed by amphetamine type stimulants. This followed what the group of MPs described as a ‘lengthy delay’ to any response by the NSW government following the Special Commission of Inquiry into the drug ‘Ice’. – statement by Cate Faehrmann MLC, Alex Greenwich MP, Jo Haylen MP, Shane Mallard MLC. The NSW government expects to respond to the Inquiry in December. The full report is available online and the five recommendations the government has already indicated it does not support are: additional medically supervised injecting centres two recommendations on substance checking ceasing use of drug detection dogs needle and syringe programs in correctional centres.
Summary of Webinar on Integrating Alcohol and Drug and Mental Health Sectors: Dreaming the Impossible Dream – NDARC, UNSW, Professor Nicole Lee Tess McDonald
|Professor Lee ‘s view is that evidence based policy recognises that the two sectors should not be “integrated” as it has never succeeded in any attempts to do so in Australia. In 30 plus years in this arena integration has occurred before and when found not to work, the two sectors are separated. When corporate memory disappears, integration is again seen as a good idea.|
Her thesis is that the two services remain separate but work together for the individual who needs both. There are only some people who need AOD and MH services. There are other medical and social welfare services inputs also required in both sectors, eg housing or dental, that should be co-ordinated to assist the individual’s needs and wants. AOD and MH sectors both need increased funding for this better co-ordination of co-morbidities and/or welfare services.
The term “Integration” means different things to AOD and MH sectors. AOD services see it more in the form of collaboration and are more practised in reaching out to other services required by the individual. When integrated, MH services, which are much larger with medically qualified staff, in practice, subsume the much smaller AOD sector.
Integration doesn’t work because of differences in culture, philosophy and values. The systems do not align and so it is set up to fail when AOD is seen as a subset of MH. This is a false assumption. AOD is not solely a MH issue and sometimes it is not even a problem for some individuals. AOD also has human rights and criminal justice issues much greater than for MH.
Professor Lee raises the following issues to support her thesis.
Individuals in the AOD sector experience a stigma in the health sector and the broader community in that they are seen to have brought this harm on themselves. AOD staff are trained to work beyond this. MH and AOD treatment services are very different regarding focus, prevention, harm reduction and more severe outcomes.
The MH workforce is “more professionalised”. AOD staff have a more generic, psycho- social, less professionalised standing. In any integration, as experienced to date, the AOD is disadvantaged and services are diminished in such a medical model. Integration policies have been made by people with a MH background. AOD sector loses specific funding especially around advocacy when merged. Tasmania was presented as an example, where MH requirements, such as crisis management, overlay AOD policies. Statements made included, “vast improvements in AOD policy when uncoupled from MH.”, “It [integration] has been tested and failed every time.”
MH and AOD are two problems which may impact on each other but need separate treatment. Parallel and/or sequential treatment will be helpful for some people and there are also other needs from other services, not just MH. There may be a need for co-location and clinical case management but not integration.
Professor Lee provides what she calls a nuanced solution. Combining the advantages of a “one stop shop”, not through integration but thinking about holistic care for the individual. In responding to an individual’s needs and wants both the AOD and MH sectors work collaboratively and “build” services for that individual. Formal structures need to be put in place so that both sectors (and any others needed) can do what they do best. Stop using the term integration and use “collaboration”. All this requires better funding and better collaboration between the different services. If formalised then corporate knowledge will not be required to remember that integration does not work.
|NEWS SNIPPET – Jim Snow|
NSW police are frustrated at the lower conviction rates for cocaine users by courts. They say that the decisions are unfair to ‘meth’ users who are treated more harshly. According to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research cocaine users avoid convictions in 62 per cent of cases in NSW courts compared to 12 per cent for amphetamine users and eight per cent for opiate users. Possible reasons include that cocaine users ‘present better’ and that they can afford better legal representation.
The study shows that even when convictions take a previous good record into account, amphetamine users fare worse and reoffend more often. 10 per cent of cocaine users and 47 per cent of amphetamine users reoffend within a year.
A defence lawyer said that the court decisions are acceptable if reoffending risks are considered, and most users are put on a non-conviction bond. Police described cocaine usage as a ‘major source of funding for violent cartels and crime networks.’ – Fergus Hunter, Sydney Morning Herald 24 October 2021, Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research
|OPINION PIECE by Bill Bush|
published in the Canberra Times on 31 October
Drug law reform in Australia and the ACT will save lives not destroy communities
|On Monday when 150 of us were gathered together to remember the 20,000 plus avoidable drug-related deaths since the first remembrance ceremony 25 years ago in 1996, an altogether different dialogue was taking place in Parliament House.|
There, the AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw was telling his audience that the proposal before the ACT Assembly to decriminalise small amounts of some illicit drugs would mean that “organised crime will want to target this community because they can move their product quite easily”.
Our gathering saw the world very differently. The very policy changes we welcomed, the AFP Commissioner prophesied would bring rack and ruin. The public health and treatment-focused approach, such as Liberal chief minister Kate Carnell had advocated, would have saved the life of the loved ones whom we gathered to remember.
Where does the truth lie?
If the Commissioner is so bent upon protecting the ACT community from drugs, how does he explain the booming state of the Australian illicit drug market as revealed in the Illicit Drug Data report published earlier this month – a 28 per cent increase in border detections of methamphetamines; a 1961 per cent increase in MDMA; and a 447 per cent increase in cocaine in the decade to 2019-20?
Market indicators tell us a lot about the state of the illicit market. These are indicators like price, purity and availability.
If Kershaw and his mob were effective, prices should be rising, purity declining and availability becoming more difficult.
Instead they have the hide to proclaim victory on the basis of statistics that prove their failure. To add insult to injury the AFP, through its Drug Harm Index, uses the level of their seizures as the basis for the benefit they claim they provide to the Australian community.
The index puts a cost of harm on every unit of drugs seized, claiming that to be a measure of the harm the AFP has protected the community from. Instead it is a measure of the failure of their efforts. Farmers know they are getting on top of their rabbit problem if their catchers are netting fewer and fewer rabbits. That, however, is not a good return for the catchers if they are paid on the basis of the number of rabbits they catch.
If the words of the AFP are to be lamented, so much more is the shameless willingness of our own senator, Zed Sesleja, to play political games with this life-and-death issue. Ah yes, he is absolutely right that Kershaw’s warning was “incredibly distressing” for parents. There is a more effective way to reduce drug supply which has nothing to do with well-intentioned law enforcement effort.
A Californian study of cocaine compared the relative effectiveness of treatment with various forms of law enforcement in achieving a reduction in the number of users, the quantity of the drug consumed and the societal costs of crime and lost productivity that arise from use of the drug.
The study estimated that “the costs of crime and lost productivity are reduced by $7.46 for every dollar spent on treatment”. This was four times more efficient than domestic drug law enforcement – the most effective form of drug law enforcement. Heroin assisted treatment in Switzerland produced a reduction in drug trafficking and drug use and possession offences of between 54 and 85 per cent. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction described as “consistent findings” of the Swiss and other trials a “major disengagement from criminal activities (such as acquisitive crime to fund continued use of ‘street’ heroin and other street drugs)”.
Portugal, too, with its decriminalisation has experienced a decline in “recent and current drug use … among those aged 15-24, the population who were most at risk of initiation and long-term engagement”. Treatment clearly reduces demand and with it the incentive to supply. The funding devoted to drug law enforcement in the ACT needs to be reinvested in treatment and support services.
Monday’s remembrance ceremony bore witness to the stigma and marginalisation inflicted by our present drug laws. More than any other social policy they undermine the ACT’s commitment to “promote respect for human rights, foster a safe and cohesive community, and champion equity of opportunity, access and participation”.
The law that Mr Kershaw wants to maintain is a driver of “stigma and discrimination [that] is directed at both those people with mental illness and those who support them”. In the words of the Productivity Commission these are among the “key factors driving poor outcomes in Australia’s mental health system”.
The AFP and Commonwealth politicians would do well to keep their nose out of matters within the remit of our ACT-elected government. Bill Bush is president of Families & Friends for Drug Law Reform.
|Drug deaths top car & gun toll – Contributed by Bill Rowlings|
Americans died of drug overdoses in record numbers as the pandemic spread across the country due to lost access to treatment, rising mental health problems and wider availability of dangerously potent street drugs. In the 12-months that ended in April 2021, more than 100,000 Americans died of overdoses, up almost 30% from the 78,000 deaths in the year before, provisional figures from the National Center for Health Statistics show. It is the first time overdose deaths in the USA has topped 100,000 a year, more than the toll of car crashes and gun fatalities combined. Overdose deaths have more than doubled since 2015. Administration officials say that they will expand access to medications like naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose, by encouraging states to pass laws that will make it more widely available and promoting its use by Americans. nytimes
Readers might be interested in the most recent report by the
Productivity Commission – ‘Australia’s Prison Dilemma’ which was released on 29 October. The report is available here . If you scroll down the page you will see a webinar youtube with speakers and a QandA session. The speakers are Stephen King, the Productivity Commissioner; Don Weatherburn, NDARC; Helen Coventry, Jesuit Social Services; Nicholas Cowdery, Sydney Inst of Criminology. Some of you may have watched it live. Nicholas Cowdery at least is worth listening to and was forthright in his convictions that drug laws need changing. Unfortunately other speakers did not go this far but nevertheless raised very relevant issues. The Q and A session is also worth a listen.
|AGM held via Zoom on 4 November|
Executive committee elected for 2022
President: Bill Bush
Vice President: Marion McConnell
Secretary: Adele Stevens
Treasurer: Brock Bryce
Committee members: Bob McFadden, Gemma Killen
FIRST MEETING FOR 2022 IS THURSDAY 24 MARCH