22 February 2023

RACGP backs Queensland drug law reform

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has today backed the Queensland Government’s proposed drug law reforms.

Under the proposed changes announced yesterday, a person caught carrying a small amount of a dangerous drug for the first time will be given a warning. The offer to complete a drug diversionary program will be made on the second and third occasions. These changes will come into effect as a result of expanding the police drug diversion program to those found in possession of personal quantities of all illicit drugs and unlawful pharmaceuticals. The current program is only offered to those in possession of small, personal quantities of cannabis.

It follows the college previously speaking out on the importance of approaching alcohol and other drugs policy from a health-based perspective.

RACGP Queensland Chair Dr Bruce Willett backed the Queensland Government’s reforms.

“The RACGP backs this common-sense measure that will help people address their drug use rather than being punished in the criminal justice system,” he said.

“Alcohol and other drug use should be seen through a health lens, and little is gained by throwing the book at people and putting them in the ‘too-hard basket’. Ask any alcohol and other drug expert and they will tell you that a health-based approach benefits the person involved and also the entire community. By helping people rather than punishing them we can reduce stigma and drug-related deaths and get more people the help they need to turn their lives around.

“This is not about endorsing illicit drug use. It’s important to keep in mind that under these proposed reforms the manufacturing and trafficking of illicit drugs will remain a criminal offence and that the changes have actually been requested by the police service.

“I certainly hope that these proposed changes encourage more people in Queensland to think carefully about their drug use, seek help if needed, and improve their lives for the better. Remember, your GP is always there to turn to when you are ready to discuss your problematic alcohol and other drug use. We can help you get the help you need without any judgment or recrimination, so please reach out.”

RACGP Specific Interests Addiction Medicine Chair Dr Hester Wilson also backed the changes and called on the Government to go even further.

“As a GP I know all too well that people with substance use disorders need help with social integration and a sense of belonging rather than a criminal justice approach that often only reinforces their behaviour and gets us nowhere,” she said.

“Diversion and early intervention programs can make all the difference for many people. I will say it until I am blue in the face, problematic alcohol and other drug use is, primarily, a health issue that should be managed by health professionals, including GPs. Ask anyone in your life and they will be able to point to someone who has been affected by alcohol or other drug use.

“By declaring a ‘war on drugs’ and treating all drug use as a criminal justice issue rather than a health issue you are effectively declaring war on people who need help and support. Remember, alcohol and other drug use doesn’t discriminate, it could be your loved one, partner, friend, family member – this isn’t something that only impacts ‘other people’.

“The proposed measures announced by the Queensland government are really promising and, in time, I would like to see leaders go even further. It’s vital to keep in mind that some people using drugs have a chronic substance use condition that is very challenging to address. They made need many attempts to turn their life around and change takes time. Just imagine if we only allowed smokers one try at cessation. Very, very few people would successfully quit smoking, and I strongly believe we need to apply that same thinking to illicit drugs.

“You only need to look at the evidence overseas to see that a health-based approach makes sense. For example, Portugal’s decriminalisation model introduced more than 20 years ago has achieved particularly strong results. The Transform Drug Policy Foundation has found that the proportion of prisoners sentenced for drugs in that country has fallen from 40% to 15% and rates of drug use have remained consistently below the European Union average. So, let’s look to the systems that work and follow the evidence-base. These measures in Queensland are a positive step forward and I encourage the Government to go even further in the years ahead.

“As I have said many times before, people who have a problematic relationship with alcohol and other drugs need help and compassion, not a punitive approach that may well lead to a further deterioration of their health and life trajectory. Every person’s life matters.”


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