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Uniting and 58 partners back Mayor’s drug summit call

Uniting’s church-led drug law reform movement has welcomed the motion by the City of Sydney Council to urgently pursue a NSW drug summit.  

Lord Mayor Clover Moore put forward the motion last month, saying a new approach was urgently needed and that the summit would be an effective tool to discuss wide-ranging issues around the use of drugs. She highlighted that “compassionate proposals for drug testing” would be a high priority for the summit, given the tragic deaths of five people at music festivals in NSW in the past five months.

Uniting Head of Advocacy Emma Maiden agrees: “We need to focus on keeping people safe in the community. We cannot ignore the mounting evidence from the UK and ACT that pill testing is an effective harm minimisation strategy.” Uniting wrote to the Premier in January offering its networks, resources and know-how to establish a pill-testing trial and other reforms in NSW, in collaboration with others.

Emma Maiden says Uniting is an appropriate contributor to this conversation: “Our Medically Supervised Injecting Centre has taught us so much about harm minimisation, and we can use this experience to help progress a pill testing trial.”

Clover Moore was MP for Bligh during the successful 1999 NSW Drug Summit, which recommended the opening of the first Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) in the southern hemisphere. Uniting has run this centre in Kings Cross since it opened in 2001. In its 18 years of operation, Uniting MSIC has supervised more than one million injections – and despite 8,000 drug overdoses at the centre, there has not been a single death in this time.
Today it has the broad support of police, health professionals and the community, and is an example of successful drug policy in Australia.

Uniting now supports a NSW pill testing trial – arguing that we should consider more effective measures to prevent further avoidable deaths.

Clover Moore has pointed out that “simplistic ‘don’t take drugs’ messages … often have the opposite impact when they are delivered by those who lack credibility with their intended recipients, particularly with young people”.

The summit could be a comprehensive discussion of NSW drug policy, involving members of parliament, government agencies and experts, community representatives and people affected by drug use.

Uniting seeks to correct misinformation and misunderstanding in the pill testing debate. A group of medical professionals has approached Clover Moore for permission to use a City-owned building to demonstrate how testing could be carried out. The Mayor has expressed hope that “such a demonstration … could help dispel misconceptions and misunderstanding about drug testing … [and] ensure that the ongoing public discussion about drug testing and other approaches to minimising harm from drugs is better informed”.

Uniting, as part of the Uniting Church, seeks consideration of pill testing through a compassionate lens. The success of the MSIC has shown that implementation of harm minimisation strategies not only saves lives in the short term, but also gives people who use drugs access to external health and social welfare services to help break the cycle of drug use.

Uniting leads the Fair Treatment campaign which has 58 partner organisations supporting better-resourced harm reduction and decriminalisation of personal drug use. The campaign is found at www.fairtreatment.org.

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