Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform

committed to preventing tragedy that arises from illicit drug use

Drugs Affect all Sectors of Our Community
Introduction, Summary & Speakers' Biographies

"Drugs affect all sectors of our community"
held in the Legislative Assembly Reception Room, London Circuit, Canberra City on
Thursday 28th June, 2001

Kerrie Tucker chaired the forum (see also the preface). She is a Member for Molonglo in the Legislative Assembly and is from the ACT Greens. Telephone number 6205 0161.

Use of illicit drugs in our community is seen not only as a cause of suffering and serious social problems, it also constitutes a widespread aggravating factor, adding substantially to the difficulty and costs of service delivery to address other social problems.

This was a common thread in the presentation of the seven speakers who addressed this public forum organised by Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform during the 2001 Drug Action Week.

The seven speakers were drawn from agencies or groups involved in services which did not have substance misuse as their principal focus, namely education, mental illness, poverty, regional community services, child protection, family services, carers and suicide prevention. But substance abuse was a common dimension of their work.

"Marymead works with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable families in Canberra. And by that very definition many families that we work with are going to be affected by substance abuse . . . . It is important that we deliver our services by looking to support whole families and not families who are defined by the problems that they bring with them.

"We’re now certainly seeing second generation families. Of course, there are children who are resilient, who will break out of the lifestyle of drug abuse but there are others who have not been able to escape that and it’s really quite difficult to imagine how they’re going to find their way out of that" (Sue Mickleburgh of Marymead).

"It is certainly true that the misuse of drugs whether they’re legal or illegal does impact on all the aspects of our services or is an element we take into account in service delivery . . . .

"The five participants [in the High School Student Support Program] are daily smokers of marijuana and there is also some experimentation among them with heroin. It is of particular concern because they are all on various medications. And so there are dual diagnosis issues there because these folk generally have some learning disabilities which are being addressed through medication and so there is a concern as to whether one thing is really cancelling out the other" (Maureen Cane of Communites@Work).

"There have been over time some quite serious barriers to how effectively schools can address [substance abuse among the young people]. Some of them have been related to the inadequacy of drug education programs but I think one of the significant barriers has been actually the role of the media in highlighting the issue of ‘drugs in schools’. That role has made schools reticent: they have been deterred from being open in dealing with the issue of young people that attend the schools who are using and misusing substances" (Fiona MacGregor of the Australian Education Union).

"Something which the Governor-General said today as he left office struck a chord with me. I think I have heard him say it before. It certainly came into our [Poverty Task Group] reports. It is that the worth of a nation is best judged by the way it cares for its must vulnerable and disadvantaged members.

"One of the things which was made very clear in the [ACT Poverty Task Group] report was that all members of the community - all member of our community - are to be treated with dignity and respect.

"It is not just a government response although the government response is important but governments too respond to what community's attitudes are. All of us have an obligation to try to sensitise the community to what the issues are." (Bishop Pat Power, Chair of Poverty Task Force)

"The idea of a carer rarely conjures up the image of a desperate mother driving around Civic in the early hours of the morning searching for her drug addicted young person.

"In 1997 we saw a few carers who cared for someone with drug or alcohol problems but from the beginning of 2001, one quarter of all new referrals to our service are for issues concerning mental health and well over half of these involve alcohol or drug abuse or use. We are finding higher rates than this in the new referrals for drug and alcohol use in the Non-English Speaking Background project. And as far as loneliness and isolation go in this arena, carer issues can be doubled in terms of stress, secrecy and pain with regard to their young people on drugs or alcohol.

"In the space of four years the Carers’ Association has seen a very significant swing into the issues of caring for someone with a drug and alcohol issue" (Margaret Morton, Carers’ Association)

"The recent increased abuse of other substances, mostly illicit drugs, has been paralleled and may be responsible for an increase in suicide in young people, especially in young men. One researcher . . . estimates that substance abuse is found in 25% to 55% of suicides, a rate which far exceeds substance abuse in the general adult population. Even so these numbers may still be an underestimate because many overdose deaths are not registered as suicides at all nor are deaths that might be called suicide by lifestyle which might take many years but which usually include some form of chronic substance abuse" (Jan Adams of VYNE).

"Data suggests that about 80% of consumers who have a diagnosed mental illness also have co-existing substance problems. Conversely about 20% of people who currently use alcohol and drug services are also having some level of mental health problem.

"In [a] study people were asked why they used alcohol, drugs or illicit drugs and it was found that the reasons are quite similar to reasons why anyone would. It relieves your boredom, provides stimulation, it feels good and it allows socialisation with peers and that’s a really key issue. This is not just a problem in mental health or the drug and alcohol environment. It is a social problem and we as mental health professionals need to acknowledge, be aware and look at people as whole individuals; not as those with mental health problems." (Amanda Urbanc, Mental Health).

It is crucial that drug strategies are adopted that view the whole human context of people caught up in substance abuse. Exclusive attention to overcoming the addiction of users can aggravate the suffering of the addicted user and problems caught up in the life of the user. Research shows that with the right medical interventions and policies those struggling with addiction can be good parents. Addiction is a health problem and should be dealt with as such. Like other personal health problems there should be no role for the criminal law in dealing with addiction.


Speakers' Biographies

Maureen Cane

Chief Executive Officer of the Tuggeranong Community Services Inc. Since then this service has amalgamated with Weston Creek Community Service to become Communities@Work,

Enquiries: 6293 6500

Fiona MacGregor

Secretary for the Australian Education Union

Sue Mickleburgh

Director of Marymead Child and Family Centre

Enquiries: 6295 2755

Bishop Pat Power

Bishop Power is the Auxiliary Catholic Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn. He is currently a member of the Australian Catholic Social Commission and secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Committee for Social Welfare. He was previously secretary of the Committee for Family and for Life. Both committees have tried to address the issue of drug abuse in the community. During 1999-2000 he was chair of the ACT Churches Council and in that same period he chaired the ACT Poverty Task Force which was a joint initiative of the ACT Government and the ACT Council of Social Services. He sees the issue of drug abuse as something which affects the whole community and one which all should be involved in trying to find some solutions.

Enquiries: 6201 9800

Margaret Morton

Executive Director of the Carers’ Association in the ACT

Enquiries: 6288 9722

Jan Adams

She was the Project Officer with VYNE (Vision for Youth through Knowledge and Education) at Calvary Health Care responsible for providing education and training on suicide awareness and prevention. Her background was in education. She was formerly a School Counsellor at Lake Tuggeranong College and has resumed that work.

Enquiries: Irmgard Reid of VYNE at 6201 6155

Amanda Urbanc

Regional Coordinator, City Mental Health overseeing the crisis assessment and treatment team.

Enquiries: 0418 223 998