If a single reason can be given to illustrate the urgent need for reform of the current Australian drug policy it is this; that the prohibition strategy is simply not working. The toll from heroin deaths in Victoria has risen 73 percent over the last ten years, addiction and overdose rates are soaring and the price of heroin is declining.
The Federal Government is applauding the zero-tolerance regime. The Prime Minister displays the seizure of large amounts of the drug and apprehension of suppliers as proof that the law is working, while the obvious truth is illustrated on our streets.
No matter how tough on drugs the government becomes they will never eliminate their presence in society. This is clear from the failure of the approach in other nations. For example the US carries out a drug associated arrest every 20 seconds, with no signs of any decline. All that prohibition succeeds in achieving is turning the drug trade into an illegal, dark and murky black market affair.
We must now ask the question, are we going to stand staunch in policies which have proved to be unsuccessful or are we going to take a brave leap into a more hopeful future? There is great fear reverberating through the community; fear of stepping into a more open and frightening, yet decidedly more promising way of tackling the issue. Reform does not mean, as opposers argue, condoning the use of drugs. It means accepting that drugs are part, admittedly an unfortunate part, of our society which will not simply go away.
The refreshingly new ideas of controlled heroin trials, legal injecting rooms and greater availability of clean needles should be given consideration.
Lightening of the law would bring drug use out of the shadows it has long inhabited, removing the violence, criminality and risk which go hand in hand with the current drug trade. It is argued that any easing of drug laws would reduce the cost, and increase the availability of street heroin, but if pure, safer heroin is prescribed under clinical conditions, will this not reduce the desire for heroin on the street? Casting light into the alleyways will surely lessen the sinister nature of the black trade. Addicts would not have to turn to crime to finance their habit and dealers would not have the violent hold over those they supply.
It is time we treated heroin use for what it is, a social issue, not a criminal one. The community must step out of the belief that addicts are to blame for their plight; that they are selfish and weak. What we need to realise is that when a person turns to the use of drugs addiction is not the decision they are making. They are choosing an escape from an increasingly desperate and complex world, overpowering addiction comes later.
Drug usage is stigmatised within society. In order to move forward we must begin to treat addicts as victims rather than criminals. Controlled heroin trials would place addicts in contact with health care professionals who can supervise injection and open up the doors for counselling and de-toxification programs. Clinical treatment is also logical in that it would ensure that pure, clean heroin was given in the correct dosage. Sterile needles and safe injecting conditions would reduce the spread of intravenous diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis, which run rampant among drug users.
Cries are sounded that any softening of the law would mean the sanctioning of current heroin addicts and the encouragement of others to experiment with the drug. This belief is preposterous and completely unfounded. The idea is not to completely legalise the drug or to make it freely available to all who desire it, as has been absurdly suggested by opposers, it is a concept of harm-reduction. The view that clinically prescribed heroin would seduce new users is outrageous, as the trials would take place under carefully controlled medical conditions. Reform would lessen experimentation with the drug and bringing the issue out into the open would increase education on the danger and desperation which accompany heroin addiction.
It will take acts of courage and forward thinking to bring about a revolution in societys attitude toward drug addiction, particularly heroin. But it is time our community and our government began to challenge the inadequacies of prohibition. The evidence showing that zero-tolerance falls short is blatant. The facts are bleak, as lives are being lost and destroyed, counted out, as the toll rises. The need for amelioration is desperate, we must step out of current beliefs and into a healthier, more compassionate society for the future.