In what’s often referred to as the “postcode lottery”, access to drug treatment programs for Australians varies widely based on their location. People in major cities such as Sydney tend to have a comparatively easier time of finding a program, while in regional Australia, people have to travel hundreds of kilometres to their nearest treatment centre. Even in the thriving Central Western capital of Dubbo, demand for services far outstrips supply.

This is the subject of a recent documentary by Uniting, the advocacy and social change arm of the Uniting Church, and an affiliate of SMART Recovery Australia. To raise awareness for this vital issue, and place pressure on Australia’s politicians, a relay team of pastors, workers, and those with lived experience of addiction walked from Dubbo to NSW Parliament House on Macquarie St to hand deliver an urgent handwritten message from Uniting Church Moderator Rev Simon Hansford, calling on the NSW government to take personal drug use out of the realm of criminality and make effective treatment accessible to people struggling with problematic drug use.

SMART Recovery Australia Executive Director Ryan McGlaughlin attended along with Liam Whelan and Dr Angela Argent. Also in attendance were several prominent Australian politicians, and a collected gathering of Uniting’s key leadership and partners. SMART’s attendance at this documentary premiere marks the first joining of SRAU and Uniting since SMART Recovery Australia’s official endorsement of Uniting’s Fair Treatment campaign . Put simply, this campaign urges Australia for:

  • Increased investment in treatment,harm reduction and demand reduction strategies, and
  • Further measures to decriminalise individual possession of small amounts of illegal drugs (not to decriminalise the illegal supply of drugs).

SMART Recovery Australia does not encourage harmful drug consumption. However, a sensible, person-first approach fully aligns with our organisational values, and the global evidence in favour of decriminalisation of currently illegal drugs supports this claim. Hundreds of thousands of Australians need urgent support for their addiction issues, and this campaign aims to help those who need it most.

Also featured in the film was SMART Recovery Australia ambassador and former AFP Commissioner Mick Palmer, whose experience as a police officer led him to his current harm reduction position:

Despite the fact that police are probably more effective and better resourced now, than at any time in our history, law enforcement strategies clearly have had – and continue to have – little effect on illicit drug availability. Additionally, they are, unavoidably, discriminatory in that only a very small percentage of total users fall foul of the legal system. The damage caused to the careers of those unfortunate enough to be apprehended may, however, be very substantial. As a consequence law enforcement outcomes are frequently counter-productive and operate to increase harm rather than reduce it.”

Immediate change to drug legislation and increasing the accessibility of treatment facilities will save lives and, in the words of narrator Dr Marianne Jauncey, save the government money. It is, in other words, a no-brainer.

You can see the documentary for yourself here:

https://www.dendy.com.au/movies/half-a-million-steps