Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform

committed to preventing tragedy that arises from illicit drug use

First Question Session

Kerrie Tucker: Thank you. I'm glad you did finish that presentation with the message that people do change: that there is hope. Because that is a very graphic picture of how widespread is the impact of substance abuse from just listening to these three speakers. It certainly challenges the stereotype of it being just this single anti-social person involved in substance abuse. Itís obvious, as Maureen pointed out, a much more broadly felt problem. In fact many more people in our community are abusing substances than we might have realised. I certainly myself wasnít aware of older people abusing substances in the way that Maureen described with doctor shopping and chemist shopping.

Before I go on Iíd just like to acknowledge that we have some members of the Assembly who have joined us. Jacqui Burke is here. Iíve seen Jon Stanhope and Wayne Berry so thank you for joining us tonight.

Weíll now have a brief period where we can have some questions so if you would like to ask a question could you signal that and say who youíd like to ask the question to?

Q: I want to ask Sue. You talked about some of the resilient children of the second generation. Can you talk about some of the factors that are common between these children?

Kerrie Tucker: Can I just say what that question was? It was asking Sue to elaborate more on the resilient children in the second generation. Is that it? Yes?

Q: And what makes them resilient.

Kerrie Tucker: And what makes them resilient?

Sue Mickleburgh: Right. Well thereís a lot of talk about social capital and I think that certainly is something that makes a difference. If a kid has got somebody they can rely on, they can trust, that does mean that theyíll be able to find other people in life that they can have positive relationships with. And for some kids those supports are available. There are grandparents or a neighbour and whatever there for them. For other kids, by dint of personality theyíre able to go out and find somebody. In many ways I think itís a matter of luck or chance. But itís having the support I think is the big difference. OK?

Maureen Cane: Perhaps I could just add to that one. Iíd just also add if someone has the option of some very good child care that could give them an alternative for at least part of the day or part of their week - that there is another way to do things. And I think there is some experience in the community that really good child care, when itís available, can be very helpful to young kids.

Q: I attended a drug summit at Port Macquarie last week. The children most at risk of becoming addicts are children certified by doctors, by psychiatrists. They are children with ADD, ADHD. They must be, how do you say, continued onward . . . . Whatís the word? Do you know what Iím trying to say?

Kerrie Tucker: Do you mean from 10 years on they should be supported or medicated?

Q: No, no. Not medicated. Intervention from year 10 onwards . . . A very high percentage of children become drug addicts. And they kept the statistics. And theyíre suggesting intervention from 8 to 10 onwards. Is there anything like that going on up here?

Kerrie Tucker: That was a question about children who are ADD and ADHD children and the need to have early intervention. Would someone like to respond to that?

Fiona MacGregor: I think it depends on the sort of early intervention youíre talking about. Iím not absolutely clear about what you mean by that. There are some very significant issues around the growth in diagnosis of ADHD and ADD: there are a variety of opinions within the medical fraternity around that level of diagnosis and what the diagnosis actually means. But with regard to early intervention: if youíre talking about behaviour intervention or particular sorts of intervention, at the moment, other than the specialist types of programs in schools for some of those students, there is nothing particularly happening here in the ACT.

Some of those young people are in specialised sorts of units. Sometimes mainly to do with their behaviour but not necessarily to do with any sort of preventative work around the possibility of them becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. Other than that I donít know.

Maureen Cane: I can just add a little bit. There are some behavioural guidance programs that are undertaken at the community service level and a number of the young people who participate in that with the parents are diagnosed and are on a series of medications. But I might echo Fionaís comments. This is a controversial area and the doctor that you mentioned is a particular apologist for certain views which are not necessarily agreed to by everyone. So it is a really difficult area and I think some work is being done on it at the schools and community level.

Q: I come from South Australia from an area which has the highest ADD in Australia and some of the things I notice from that is prescribed medicines like methamphetamines. Children become drug addicts and drug dealers because they sell these things for $5.00. So society is training them to become drug addicts.

And I donít think ADD should be confined to kids. There are so many [with the condition]. And they are given these substances and they donít need them.

Kerrie Tucker: That was a comment from the floor from a young woman from South Australia who says that she feels the over prescription of medication for children with ADD and ADHD is teaching them to be drug addicts and dealers because they sell that medication. And the other point was that there is a broad range of behaviours that can be actually diagnosed as this condition. And that shouldnít necessarily be whatís happening to those kids.

. . .

Kerrie Tucker: So the question being raised is: if you look at the background of these children it is often a low socio-economic status. There are all sorts of other social issues which are also there. So there is a question being asked of what is actually happening there. Is that a reasonable interpretation? OK

Q: Kerrie. Just something that Maureen said Ė and this is a comment about shopping around Ė doctor shopping and chemist shopping. Iíve had over 12 years experience of someone addicted to heroin and a lot of other things as well and this female is able to shop around and go from doctor to doctor and go from chemist to chemist. On my wish list would be some kind of dossier kept of people who can just go from doctor to doctor and be able to get enormous amounts of tryseptone, methadone and valium weekly, in huge amounts. And there is no file kept. And I think itís an absolute disgrace that there is some sort of record when that person goes into the chemist and nothing shows up.

Kerrie Tucker: So the point thatís being made there is that doctor shopping and chemist shopping is happening much too much and itís too easy. So there is a question about whether there can be some kind of file kept. And there would be some privacy issues there as well, or so I think. I understand the point. But the point is that itís too easy.

Iím a bit concerned if weíre having statements and people canít hear you and I donít want to interpret or tell everyone what people are saying.

Weíre almost going to move into second session. So are there any actual questions for these speakers? Can we have that now please?

[A member of the audience explained that a system was being put in place to control doctor shopping to obtain excessive quantities of drugs.]

Kerrie Tucker: This person said there is something actually happening now. We might like to talk about that later. Thereíll be an opportunity to talk later after this evening as well. Iíd be interested to know more about that as well.

Is this a question?

[Further explanation from a member of the audience.]

Kerrie Tucker: So there is a system in place. People are operating on other peopleís Medicare Cards. Thereís a system there which is working well except there are ways of getting around it.

Is this last one a question? Yes?

[Question about the desirability of low teacher-pupil ratios to foster reslience.]

Kerrie Tucker: Fiona, would you like to take that? The question was the relationship between class sizes and ratio and the ability of children to become resilient.

Fiona MacGregor: Can I say that the issue is not pupil-teacher ratio, it is class size. If you took one primary school and took the pupil-teacher ratio it would actually come out quite small because youíve got different teachers who teach LOTE, who teach ESL. The question is class size. The international research particularly from America, from the Tennessee Star Program and the longitudinal study that was done there actually bears out the social value - the overall social value, not just the educational value - of reducing classes in the first four years of schooling, that is from kindergarten to year three.

In Australia I think it has taken a long time to acknowledge that research but I think weíre starting to see a glimmer of an acknowledgement of that in nearly every state and territory because nearly every state and territory including the ACT is going to reduce class sizes or has done already.

I think the thing that is absolutely significant right throughout childrenís education is the interpersonal relationships that they have within the school and with their teachers. The more that young people have to deal with a large number of teachers, the poorer the culture of the school. That has been confirmed by work done both in Australia and overseas. So at the high school level itís really important to try and reduce the number of teachers that young people interact with so that you have far better quality in interpersonal relationships. Thatís something I think we must work on and there is a growing body of research that is Australian based that supports that work.

Kerrie Tucker: Mr Stanhope.

Jon Stanhope: Thanks Kerrie. [Thereís a lot of discussion about early intervention. To do this it is necessary to recognise that children are at risk. What is the best way of doing this?]

Kerrie Tucker: The question is how best to recognise children at risk. The question is to anyone who wants to answer.

Fiona MacGregor: Can I just say. It depends what you mean by "at risk". There are a whole range of risk factors for young people. Weíre talking particularly about substance abuse and alcohol abuse. I think early intervention is a really important notion. But I think the other thing that we have to acknowledge is that for a whole range of factors all kids can be at risk. It is not a matter of saying: yes we can identify this group within our community and predict that later on they are going to be at risk. Because you can take young people, for example, who will not fall into that category and they reach adolescence and things start dramatically to change. So I think we have to be looking at the overall health of our community and our school communities and acknowledge there is capacity for young people to fall through the net.

Q: [A member of the audience referred to children from the age of 12 onwards who become separated from the parents and made the point that the influences on them were extremely important in shaping their future. There were big dangers because of the number of pushers and dealers around. We donít have enough policing.]

Kerrie Tucker: So you are concerned about people selling drugs.

Q: [The questioner asked about the age at which counselling starts.]

Kerrie Tucker: The question is what age does counselling start for young people at risk of substance abuse.

Maureen Cane: What I was seeking to refer to were behavioural programs where families in fact seek the help of the community service in addressing, in particular, behavioural difficulties in the program. We are finding that progressively parents are coming for assistance younger and younger. For instance weíre looking at children as young as 6 or 7 who are out of control. That is not related necessarily to substance abuse at that particular point in time.

I might just make a comment while Iím on my feet with respect to Mr Stanhopeís question which is that I think that a whole range of services Ė there are a whole range of intermediaries out there who potentially identify kids who might be in risky situations. And that can start at a very young age in a whole range of child care situations, for example, right through to school. And there are specialist services that can be referred to in one way or another if the parents and the people involved are prepared to consider them.

Q: I was quite shocked when my son was in kinder that I was walking down the corridor and heard a discussion about drugs. My first reaction was "What on earth is going on that I hadnít been told?" but I got over that. That education has been part of his schooling experience right from the first year Ė there has been discussion about pro-health life styles and Iím really appreciative. Thatís something that the school system seems to be applying these days.

Kerrie Tucker: This will be the last question so we can move on to the last speakers. This is from Jacqui Burke.

Jacqui Burke: [The question was about disruptive young people. What can be done to attend to the needs of these young people who are coming to school in an environment that does not interrupt others? What model should be followed to educate these young people?]

Fiona MacGregor: Can I say I donít think thereís one model. It depends on what schools and communities want actually to promote. I think the most significant thing around young people who have already started to use and misuse drugs and alcohol is their attachment to schooling. Because once they lose their attachment to schooling they lose their peer group. Their peer group can often change to another peer group that is much more likely to support their risk taking behaviour. One of the things to develop those models is that you have to have an open dialogue in schools about the very fact that you have some young people in your school who are using drugs. OK. So therefore youíve got to break down a lot of barriers about peopleís personal judgements about what that is. I think weíve had some very brave attempts in some of our schools where schools have discretely tried to make an effort to set up programs to retain particularly intravenous drug users. Itís not something that they would celebrate because of the reaction in the community and theyíre the sort of barriers I think weíve got to break down before we can even move to get a model. Any sort of model would have to be both educational and therapeutic but it would have to be determined by that school community.

Maureen Cane: I just might make a little comment based on a conversation I had this morning with the principal of Erindale College. We were there talking about youth issues generally and not necessarily connected with drugs and alcohol. And he made the comment that he was very pleased that in his College now he had the opportunity to have a specialist counsellor, a knowledgeable person for kids who have an issue with respect to drugs where they can go and talk to that individual. I felt particularly pleased about that because I know that is something that has been fought for at the college level over a number of years. So maybe that is one model. That is not the only model but is a model that says: "Maybe itís a bit too much to ask teachers to do it all." Maybe thereís a role for specialist advice.

This is Jan Adams. Sheís going to be speaking to us in a minute. Sheís from VYNE Ė Vision for Youth through Knowledge and Education.

Jan Adams: I also come from schools originally. I have worked with schools very closely in my job at VYNE at Calvary about which Iíll tell you a bit more a little later. But I think there are some very interesting things happening in schools at the moment which should give us all some hope. There has been a move in many schools to become health promoting schools and to take this on as a whole ethos in a way of being and it partly answers the question of when we start with early intervention

In early intervention we are not necessarily looking at people most at risk but looking at everybody and getting them to take on more ways of thinking. Many schools have also put in to place health committees which are looking at their schools in different ways. Two of the colleges (including one that I was associated with) have not only become health promoting institutions but from the kids themselves has come the concept they don't want to be smoking schools. Until recently smoking cigarettes has been accepted with kids after the compulsory leaving age. In most colleges smoking is rife plus use of marijuana around the edges and all the rest of it. Now these schools on their own volition have said: if we are a health promoting school then we do not smoke. If this is the thin edge of the wedge I think there is a lot of hope.