April12 ebulletin feature
AOD clinicians need to speak out
Staff working in the alcohol and other drug (AOD) sector have been called on to show leadership in Australia's approach to illicit drugs, following the publication last week of a landmark report by a group of prominent Australians, including former senior politicians and drug experts.
The Australia 21 (A21) Foundation convened the roundtable meeting to discuss Australian drug policies. The group included current Federal Foreign Minister and former NSW Premier Bob Carr, former Western Australian Premier Geoff Gallup, former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Professor Nicholas Cowdery and former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer. The group compiled a report The prohibition of illicit drugs is killing and criminalising our children and we are all letting it happen.
The report encouraged a rethink of Australia's approach to prohibition of illicit drugs and called for a national debate about drug use, its regulation and control. Reaction to the report was widespread with both strongly supportive comments and very negative comments appearing in the media.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard dismissed any discussion of decriminalisation and called for tougher policing.
In response to the community discussion and often off-the-cuff comments made in the media, CEO of the Alcohol and Drugs Council of Australia, David Templeman has called on people who face the day-to-day reality of illicit drug use to share their wisdom in this debate.
'The A21 report has generated renewed enthusiasm in the sector, but very quickly led to disappointment and disillusion primarily due to the reaction by political leadership without any discussion or debate,' he told Of Substance.
'The AOD sector has a key leadership responsibility to ensure the A21 Report remains on the agenda – Australia has led the world in drug reform and policy initiatives.'
President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and former president of the International Harm Reduction Association, Dr Alex Wodak, was a participant in the A21. He agreed. 'The AOD workforce fought tooth and nail to get harm reduction implemented to prevent an HIV epidemic among and from people who inject drugs. The AOD workforce should dust down its soapbox, climb on top and start telling the community that treatment works and that we will always need a variety of treatments.'
Dr Wodak encouraged clinicians to believe in the power of change, both within the individual and the community. 'Think about all the clients you had for years, who never seemed likely to change. Then one day, there they were – all changed! Communities can be like that too.'
Another roundtable participant, Professor Alison Ritter, the Director of the Drug Policy Modeling Program, urged people who use illicit drugs to enter the debate, despite the stigma that they experience in regard to their use. 'The voices of illicit drug users are frequently marginalised, yet they are the most affected by our current drug laws', she said.
The key goal of the A21 roundtable was to put the issue of drug laws back onto the policy agenda. It is yet to be seen whether this goal was achieved. Professor Ritter believes that educating the community about the key terms used in the drugs debate is essential if an open discussion is to be held. 'We need more informed and rational debate that includes consideration of the research evidence, and is careful in its use of terminology. For example, the distinction between decriminalisation and legalisation is essential to progress the public debate.'
Dr Wodak suggested that the response to the A21 report showed there had been a shift in the attitude of leading politicans and the community. 'What is conspicuously absent this time around is politicians, officials or community members arguing that the War on Drugs has in fact been a huge success. No one has said that what we really need to do is put the boot in and then we will get even better results.'
To read the full report, click here.
To read media coverage about the report, click here.