Instead of reducing harm, current drug laws have negative health and social impacts on individuals, our communities and the nation as a whole
IN NOVEMBER 2018, Australia21 launched a report exposing the health and social harms from current drug laws, called We All Pay The Price: Our drug laws are tearing apart Australia’s social fabric as well as harming drug users and their families. The report explores the complex two-way interactions between the punitive approach to drug use and problems including poverty, social disadvantage, unemployment, homelessness, family violence, child protection interventions, mental illness, stigma, discrimination and suicide. We All Pay the Price is the product of an unprecedented Roundtable collaboration between experts in drug law, drug treatment and community welfare. It finds that Australian governments have failed to take into account that many policies affecting people who use drugs are not considered drug policy, and many specific drug policies have large effects outside the drug domain. They have also ignored the evidence that many people who use drugs will not experience harm unless they come in contact with the criminal justice system. It calls for the removal of criminal sanctions for consumption and a boost in funding for treatment, to reduce the health, social and economic costs of drug harms ultimately borne by all Australians. In Sydney, We All Pay the Price was presented to NSW parliamentarians Cate Faehrmann (Greens), Alex Greenwich (Indep), Jo Haylen (ALP) & Shayne Mallard (Lib) along with a petition from Uniting’s Long Walk to Treatment, which highlighted the need for better support services across Australia, particularly in country areas. In Canberra, the report was presented to ACT Attorney General Gordon Ramsay and Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris, who both welcomed the recommendations. The report was also taken to the Victorian Parliament and one of the Roundtable participants, Leader of the Reason Party Fiona Patten, pledged to circulate it to MPs. IN MARCH 2018, Australia 21 brought together a high-level group of 38 experts specialising in drug treatment, drug law, community welfare and the social effects of drug use in Australia, for an all-day Roundtable discussion in Parliament House, Melbourne. This included representatives from Uniting, Anglicare, the ACT Council of Social Services, the Noffs Foundation, Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform, the Penington Institute, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, the ACU Institute of Child Protection Studies, the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, the Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders and high profile addiction specialists, sociologists and criminologists, as well as participants with lived experience of drug use and imprisonment. The purpose was to explore the ways Australian drug laws and practices impact on Australian society, and to build upon the conclusions of three previous high-level Australia21 Roundtables on illicit drug policy since 2012. The Roundtable group issued a public statement calling on Australia’s federal, state and territory governments to treat drug use primarily as a health and social issue and to remove criminal sanctions for personal use and possession. With the release of We All Pay the Price, the Roundtable participants called on the health and social sectors to work together to engage broad community support drug law reform in order to reduce the health, social and economic costs of drug harms ultimately borne by all Australians.