SMART Recovery Australia National Program Coordinator Josette Freeman was one of twenty industry professionals to take part in a specialised roundtable on drug-related harms, hosted by Greens Leader Dr Richard Di Natale at NSW Parliament in Sydney last Friday.
The purpose of the event was to explore the best policy and legislation approaches to reduce harms associated with drug use in Australia.
Attendees were a broad range of people who work on the front lines of dealing with drug harm, including former Director of the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dr Alex Wodak, Nicholas Cowdery AM QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions for NSW, and Tony Trimingham of Family Drug Support, to name a few.
The Sydney event was just one stop on a national series of roundtables, which have been held in Hobart, the Gold Coast, Sydney and Newcastle.
“Australia has one of the highest rates of illicit drug use in the world, despite our no tolerance policy. Treating drug use as a criminal matter, rather than a health matter, clearly isn’t working,” Senator Di Natale said.
“I was a drug and alcohol clinician before entering politics. The frustration of seeing first-hand what drug addiction does to families and communities, and the failings of the current approach, was one of the things that motivated me to enter the parliament.
“It takes courage to start a conversation on an issue considered too controversial for the other parties. I knew the Greens would face attacks from some elements of the media but I believe this issue is too important. We won’t be distracted.
“We’ve been holding roundtables with experts from law enforcement, academics and health workers who all say the same thing: Australia is not going to be able to arrest it’s way out of this problem.
“The Greens are methodically talking to experts around the country and will announce a new national response to drug addiction in the near future. That’s how the Greens develop policy.
“So let me be clear, the Greens are not advocating for the legalisation of ice or any drug. We’re hearing from the experts that removing criminal penalties for personal drug use would go a long way to helping drug users come forward for treatment.
“I visited Portugal last year, where this has already happened. Serious penalties still apply to people dealing drugs, but since 2001 Portugal has poured almost all the money they used to spend on going after drug users into providing health treatment and social support to those who seek help.
“I think any parent whose kid got into trouble with ice would hope they got access to treatment, not locked up. It’s a model that has been adopted overseas and has been proven to save lives without increasing drug use.
“Australia was once a world leader when it comes harm minimisation but sadly most politicians lost the courage to take this issue on. The Greens are not afraid to stand up for the right policy. As a doctor who has worked in this space, if I don’t show leadership on this issue, who will?”
A National Drug Summit, to be hosted by Senator Di Natale and his co-convenors of the cross-party parliamentary group on drug policy and law reform, will take place at Parliament House in Canberra on March 2.