FFDLR Newsletter March 2022

Next FFDLR meeting:
Thursday 24th March
This meeting will be held face-to-face at St Ninian’s Uniting Church cnr Brigalow and Mouat Sts Lyneham @ 7.30 pm.
ALSO you may attend via Zoom.

Join Zoom Meeting:

Issues to be discussed will include 

  • the progress of the ACT Assembly’s Drug Recriminalisation Bill 
  • the outcome of the recent meeting of Uniting Fair Treatment program and its partners will be reported on by Bill Bush
  • happenings in Victoria and NSW
  • and a time for members to raise issues

Please try to come along to the meeting or join via Zoom

Marion’s Response to the ACT Drug Strategy Action Plan Discussion Paper – January 2022 Overview
As a founding member of Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform I have taken a significant interest in the ACT Drug Strategies over the years of its existence since 1996.

Treatment for drug users and their families by AOD services and health professionals has improved in some areas over these years but unfortunately still much improvement is needed.  Far too many people who use illicit drugs continue to die  from overdose and far too many people in prison have AOD and or mental health issues. Far too many families are still suffering or mourning the loss of loved ones.
We desperately need to move away from a punitive and moralistic approach to the use of certain drugs that have been legislated as illegal.

We can get so bogged down with trying to fix a problem that we forget what the problem really is. First and foremost in this drug strategy and in all discussions on drug policy should be people’ lives as they are affected by drug taking and drug policy. The reduction of the harm that our present drug laws and policies cause must be the main objective of all AOD policies and services.

The ACT Government must be supported in its efforts to bring about decriminalisation of all drugs. Over time this will reduce the stigma associated with illicit drug taking and encourage those who need it to seek treatment.  

The ACT Health Minister as she appeared as a witness at the Select Committee on the Drugs Of Dependence (Personal Use) Amendment Bill 2021 in July last year, said, ”We know prohibition does not work in preventing people from taking drugs that may be considered illegal or illicit. We know criminalisation does not work. Indeed, no-one sensible is suggesting that the war on drugs was anything other than a failure, and continuation of it is not something that this government and others would support”.

The introduction to this discussion paper says “The ACT Government will develop the next DSAP in collaboration with community partners to renew and target the ATOD policy focus across the whole of government. It is most important to encourage police toward a health oriented response.  Police must not be allowed to stop the introduction of decriminalisation. Government must find ways of ensuring the police understand the benefits of reducing the criminalisation for simple drug use.

The National Drug Strategy has a Harm Minimisation approach which consists of three pillars:

  • Supply reduction
  • Demand reduction and
  • Harm reduction

It is the harm reduction pillar on which this strategy must be focussed. Government must be aware that what police do on supply reduction can have ill effects on harm reduction and need to educate police on the value of causing less harm.

It surprises me that the value of families seems to have little or no acknowledgement in this plan. After all It is families who suffer the most from our society’s response to those who use illicit drugs. And it is families who form the basis of our society.

Way back in 2000 a two day conference was held at Homebush Bay in Sydney. It was the National Families and Community Conference on Drugs – “Voices to be heard” (unfortunately long forgotten as many of these amazing conferences are). At this conference, attended by 200 people from families and service providers, the value of families was recognised as the most important resource in managing drug use. The family can be strengthened by the collective wisdom of other families and professionals. In fact their ability to cope and survive is directly related to the assistance and support provided to them. As Tony Trimingham said at the conference when referring to his “Stepping Stones to Success” program, “Family support does not guarantee success for the drug user when dealing with heroin use. Death, disease and the criminal justice system are ever present. However, the successful outcomes that we have witnessed nearly always have strong family support.”.

And of course with decriminalisation the criminal justice system will not aggravate the road to a successful outcome.

Whether Families become a priority group or whether they are integrated into all the groups listed is worthy of discussion.

The governance, monitoring and evaluation body must be broadly representative. Outcomes of the strategy must be measured against reduced harms – less overdose deaths, less people in prison, more people entering treatment, more people improving with treatment, lessened waiting times for treatment, less drug related violence etc.

Co-chairs of this governance group must be from the Health Directorate and from ATODA.

Further recommendations
Drug courts and diversion: Whilst these are better than sending someone to prison they are still based in the Criminal Justice System and are very costly. Better to put more money into drug rehabilitation and treatment and encourage users into treatment, not threaten them with prison. A Rand study showed that the domestic law enforcement costs 4 times as much as treatment for a given amount of user reduction, 7 times as much for consumption reduction and 15 times as much for societal cost reduction.

Drug driving: This must be based on driving impairment not presence of drugs only. Cannabis, for instance can remain in the body long after its affects. People are having their licences cancelled which brings with it many other disadvantages.

Strip searching in the AMC: This must stop. It is demoralising to say the least and it has no benefits.

Child and Youth Protection: This is a key area of need. We must do all we can to keep families connected. The relationship between Care and Protection and the AOD sector needs to be much improved so that families aren’t afraid to seek help because of fear of losing their children. Funding needs to be increased in this area so families can get help for longer periods than 12 weeks. New and vulnerable families need support from the start – during pregnancy – early support is the key.  As Craig, an attender at the Womens and Families Workshop said: “If you are trying to heal you don’t won’t Care and Protection hounding you”.  Keeping kids with their families is paramount wherever possible.

I hope that my reflections here will have some influence on your deliberations over the next drug strategy.
As you may or may not know my son died from a heroin overdose way back in 1992 – 30 years ago this year. It was police interference that drove him away from the help he needed, the result being that he overdosed and died. A young man of 24, working full time, a degree under his belt.  He just needed some understanding and support not interference from the police that frightened him away from that support.  With different policies the outcome could have been so different.

– Marion McConnell

Where the ACT decriminalisation bill is currently at, following the amendment made in the assembly on 2nd December 2021


No 36
Thursday, 2 December 2021

(1) calls on the Minister for Mental Health to report to this Assembly:

       (a) about how treatment services for people in the ACT with both mental health disorders and alcohol and other drug use disorders will be integrated, including by implementing effective cross-referral and coordination, and when; and

       (b) report back to the Assembly no later than 3 May 2022; and

(2) resolves that the Drugs of Dependence (Personal Use) Amendment Bill 2021, standing in the name of Mr Pettersson, not be brought on for debate until five (5) sitting days after the Minister for Mental Health has reported back to this Assembly.”—

From the Family Drug Support Day Newsletter: 


Founder and CEO of Family Drug Support (FDS), Tony Trimingham OAM, who started the organisation after the death of his son Damien 25 years ago to the day, said that it was now abundantly clear that the national drug policy debate was missing a critically important voice – families.

Mr Trimingham added, “It appears that everyone has a say on our current drug policies, including politicians, police, religious leaders and media commentators, yet families are too often left out of these discussions, despite being the people, along with the people using drugs, most affected by the current policies.”

“In our recent Voices to be Heard Survey of over 600 family members affected by someone else’s drug and alcohol use, families were unambiguous about their deep dissatisfaction with the status quo regarding drug policy. This was especially the case with the zealousness of government to pursue the punitive responses rather than those of compassion, which are far more effective in reducing harm and exacerbating problems for families.”

Demographics of the ‘Voices to be Heard’ Survey
In looking at the results of the survey, families overwhelmingly support the following:Needle & syringe programs (87.5%)Pill testing services (85.7%)Pharmacotherapy (methadone, buprenorphine etc.) programs (86.3%)Medically supervised injecting centres (83.1%)Medicinal cannabis (83.9%)Prescription heroin programs (74.8%)In addition, families wanted to see resources allocated to harm and demand reduction strategies by a factor of almost 7:1 when compared to law enforcement strategies The reality being experienced by families from the extraordinarily harmful legal consequences of drug use resulted in families overwhelmingly supporting the legalisation of cannabis and strongly supporting the decriminalisation of all currently illicit drugs.

Furthermore, it is also clear that families often try tough love approaches (60%) when trying to deal with drug and alcohol issues with family members but find them to be ineffective and problematic.

As a result, families become far more in favour of strategies that encourage connection and coping (86%), with as few as 10% continuing to support tough love approaches.

Mr Trimingham said – “It is definitely time for these voices to be heard and for change to happen. Families are demanding reform and governments simply need to start listening”The International FDS Day video: IFDSD Video 2022The survey report: International FDS Day Time For Change Report The survey results: International FDS Day Survey Results


The Andrews government is being urged to consider a local government trial that decriminalises the possession and use of small quantities of drugs after ruling out statewide legislation.

Reason Party leader Fiona Patten is pressing ahead with a bill in State Parliament this week under which any Victorian caught using or possessing a small quantity of a drug of dependence would be issued a notice by police that referred them to education or treatment, ruling out the possibility of criminal charges.