Drug use is an issue in this country and it’s a health issue. In all the years I have practised, and as far back as when I was in Year 10, there has been an emphasis on the prosecution and policing of illicit drugs. Along with it has been a resistance to improving the resources available for people addicted to drugs.
One thing that doesn’t work is scaring people about the dangers of using drugs. In the 70s, concerned people showed us movies depicting LSD-addled individuals jumping off buildings with colours swirling around them. We all laughed and dismissed the films as having little to do with reality. They were supposed to deter, but I think they had little impact. Yes, there are people who have suffered because of using ice and amphetamines. But there are many other “recreational users” who do not relate to the horror stories. They become more disbelieving of the government and police propaganda.
In Victoria, we have about 37 beds at Thomas Embling Hospital for prisoners with severe psychiatric issues. Many prisoners who would benefit from treatment can’t be treated in an appropriate setting. In Victoria, a state of over three million people, there are only 176 beds available for drug detox.
The courts have few options. The burden of providing and co-ordinating drug rehabilitation for offenders falls mostly on organisations such as Odyssey House and Windana. These organisations struggle to provide the services that drug-dependent people so desperately need. Funding is a constant issue.
Successive governments in Victoria have responded to “law and order demands’’ by building jails. Imprisonment has dramatically increased over the past decade.
Parents and relatives ask for the courts to send their son, daughter or partner for treatment. Some think if the offenders stay in custody that means they will get the treatment they can’t get in the community. I tell them this is a forlorn hope.
The current regime is a failure
One thing that stands out in the drug debate is that the current policing regime is an abject failure. Most federal police (and the Victorian Police) see the war against drugs as a hopeless failure. It consumes hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to plug holes in the proverbial dyke. They know that for every bust at the airport, home lab and cannabis crop, there are many more that slip through the net.
There is no doubt that ice is a problem in our community. So is alcohol. So is heroin, and so is the abuse of prescription medication. We are demonising ice and ice users. No wonder that with limited services and a punitive policing strategy few seek help for their substance abuse.
The Australian Crime Commission should not dictate government strategies by giving credence to failed policies. The community does not need law and order. It needs real positive intervention to overcome the use of ice and other drugs. This is particularly so in country towns, where there are already significant issues such as unemployment and lack of community recourses.
By Anthony Brand