CommentHealthOpinion

Drug expert says Sydney must lift its harm reduction game

As Melbourne prepares for its first trial of a Medically Supervising Injecting Centre (MSIC) next year, Sydney drug treatment expert Dr Alex Wodak AM is urging expanded harm-reduction facilities in this city to counter changes in the drug trade.

The first MSIC in the southern hemisphere, Uniting’s at Kings Cross, has been running since 2001. Evidence of its life-saving record given to a Victorian parliament inquiry inspired the Victorian government last month to approve its MSIC trial from mid-2018.

Sydney, meanwhile, needs to expand its provision of harm-reduction strategies to counter changes in the illegal drug market, says Dr Wodak – President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and a partner with Uniting in its campaign for drug law reform in NSW and ACT.

Dr Wodak, also former Director of the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent’s Hospital (1982-2012), says: “We have to accept the fact that the ‘war on drugs’ approach has been a comprehensive failure.

“In recent decades, the drug market in Australia and internationally has expanded greatly and become much more dangerous. Drug production and consumption are up, while prices of street drugs are much lower, purity is often greater and drugs have been and still are readily available.

“Worse than that, the things we all care about – deaths, disease, crime, corruption, violence and threats to national security – have got much worse.

“If our drug policy was a company it would have been declared bankrupt long ago.”

In particular, Dr Wodak finds alarming the finding of fentanyl in Australian street drugs, noting that “it seems likely that fentanyl has made a huge contribution to the increasing number of deaths in the US and also in Canada”.

Fortunately, Dr Wodak says, effective strategies are available to counter this danger. “It’s not that hard to work out what needs to be done to protect young Australians who use drugs,” he says.

“We need to redefine drugs as primarily a health and social issue and adopt a package of specific measures including: expanded and improved drug treatment; a dozen or so Drug Consumption Rooms across the country; scrap sanctions for people found to be in possession of personal quantities of drugs; ready availability of naloxone; and Heroin Assisted Treatment for treatment refractory people who are severely dependent on heroin.

“The problem is getting these measures through the political maze.”

Dr Wodak is hopeful the Alliance for Drug Law Reform, coordinated by Uniting and including 53 health, medical, drug treatment, enforcement, legal, drug-user, faith-based and other organisations, will help to make an effective case for reform to NSW politicians.

The campaign led by Uniting (on behalf of the NSW-ACT Synod of the Uniting Church) and its partners is expected to ramp up in the new year with concerted political advocacy and a public awareness campaign – in support of the twin aims of increased support for evidence-based harm and demand reduction policies, and decriminalisation of personal drug use.

 

 

More on the campaign at nswact.uca.org.au >Social Justice Forum >Drug Law Reform campaign or contact Stafford Sanders – ssanders@uniting.org / 0412 070 194.

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