The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has today called on the NSW Government to follow the lead of every other Australian state and territory and act to institute sensible drug law reform measures.
It comes following Queensland Government becoming the latest jurisdiction to wind back the “war on drugs” and expand police drug diversion programs for people carrying small amounts of illicit drugs.
Every Australian jurisdiction, except NSW, offers police the discretion to send a person to a diversion program rather than pursue criminal charges for at least their “first strike” of minor possession of illicit drugs. Queensland will become the first to mandate a “three strike” system where on the second and third strike, police must offer that person the chance to participate in a mandatory drug diversion assessment program.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins called on the new NSW Government to finally act.
“We have a new government in New South Wales and a fresh opportunity to introduce common-sense drug law reforms,” she said.
“The example has already been set by Australia’s other states and territories and it’s high time our largest jurisdiction caught up. Earlier this year, I endorsed the Queensland Government’s drug law reforms and for good reason – this will save lives. Alcohol and other drug use, including illicit drugs, should be seen through a health lens. Ask almost any GP and they will tell you that we gain nothing from throwing the book at people, making their lives more difficult, and putting them in the ‘too-hard basket’.”
RACGP NSW and ACT Chair Professor Charlotte Hespe agreed.
“It’s time for the NSW Government to act and if they want to know what to do they can simply ask their counterparts in every other state and territory,” she said.
“My home state is lagging behind and it is not good enough. More than three years ago, Commissioner Dan Howard handed a report to the NSW Government recommending the introduction of a legislated police diversion scheme for use and possession of prohibited drugs including referral to health, social and education interventions.
“The previous Government responded by kicking the can down the road and saying that a decision would be made once they received more advice in June this year. Well, instead I say, ‘enough is enough’, we now have a new government and it’s time to act. We don’t need more inquiries or reviews, or advice provided to the Government or anything of the sort.
“We know what works because every other state and territory has gone before us. Enough talk, let’s act, because people across the state are having their lives turned upside down for no reason and coming into contact with the criminal justice system when really they need help for a health problem.”
RACGP Specific Interests Addiction Medicine Chair Dr Hester Wilson called on the NSW Government to go even further.
“Alcohol and other drug use, including illicit drug use, is a health issue and we will get nowhere prosecuting a misguided ‘war on drugs”,” she said.
“I have said it many times before and I will say it again - by declaring a ‘war on drugs’ you are declaring war on people who need help and support. Anyone in your life could be negatively impacted by alcohol or other drug use, it could be your partner, loved one, friend, or a family member – this isn’t something that happens to ‘other people’ in the community.
“Diversion and early intervention programs can make all the difference for many people and in addition to catching up to the other jurisdictions, I am calling on the NSW Government to go even further. Some people using illicit drugs have a chronic substance use condition that is very challenging to address. Instead of one ‘strike’ or ‘three strikes’ or whatever magic number you want to go with – we should instead simply aim for a health-first approach for personal consumption of illicit drugs. Ask anyone who has quit smoking how challenging that was and imagine if they were only given one, two or maybe three tries at quitting. They would laugh in your face and for good reason – changing substance use behaviours is extremely difficult and often takes time.
“It’s also vital for NSW and all states and territories to invest in drug and alcohol treatment programs, including those featuring pharmacotherapy services such as Opioid Dependence Treatment Programs. There needs to be increased capacity so that no one is left behind and unable to get the help they need.
“Let’s be grown ups about this, look at the evidence from overseas, end this pointless and punitive mindset that sees illicit drug use as some sort of moral failing and put in place the measures that work. People in NSW and across Australia who have a problematic relationship with alcohol and other drugs need help and compassion, not a criminal conviction that will lead to a further deterioration of their health and life trajectory. Every person’s life matters.”