Senator Richard Di Natale spoke about the Greens new drug policy at a Curtin student event which would follow Portugal’s lead in seeing drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal offence.
“The argument is criminal penalties serve as a disincentive which isn’t supported by evidence,” said Di Natale. “Portugal took away a lot of the stigma [of drug use] and as a result a lot of people were coming forward and seeking treatment, and having more honest conversations about their drug use—and among young people it saw drug use drop and harmful drug use [drop], reduction in crime, reduction in overdoses, increased number of people in treatment and young people [in treatment].”
“people will continue to use drugs, and so responsibility of policy makers is to try to reduce harm associated with that drug use, and that means when it comes to drugs like ecstasy and other pills that are often associated with the club scene, festivals and so on; we need to have pill testing.”
The new approach focuses on pill testing for party drugs, providing medically secure injection facilities, needle exchange, and no criminal sanctions for users.
“The evidence is very clear on pill testing—people don’t consume drugs that might kill them, and if they’re given the option to make an informed choice they’ll do that,” Senator Di Natale said.
“One of the big things pill testing does is provide access, along with other sources, to what drugs are actually circulating in the community, and through that you provide individuals with a searchable database of drugs that are circulating in the community, things to stay away from, an early warning system for new stuff that comes into the market.
“That allows us to monitor what’s available and to warn people of risks. In Victoria we’ve had some overdoses at a club recently where one person died; we had twenty odd people who were hospitalised only last week, and until we provide people with those tools we’re going to continue to see it.
“My view is, while governments continue to resist, they’re being negligent, because they’re preventing people from accessing information that could save their lives. Our responsibility is to make sure people don’t lose their life—that’s what we should be doing as lawmakers.”
Under the policy, secure injection facilities would connect drug users with health professionals and social services, and have been shown to reduce overdose deaths.
“We led the world with needle and syringe exchange in the 80s, we were one of the most successful countries in responding to HIV transmission among people who were using injected drugs, and it’s through those evidence based public health interventions,” said Di Natale
Education is the final component of the campaign, but has to be “honest and based in real life experiences,” according to Senator Di Natale.
“What happens with educations is it often makes parents feel better, it might make older people who are worried about drugs feel better, like something’s being done, but it just doesn’t connect with the experience of the individuals who use drugs.”
“Until we acknowledge that people are using drugs for a reason and engage with them at that level rather than trying to stigmatise drugs, rather than saying the consequence of using drugs, it doesn’t reflect the totality of the experience of drug use. Until you engage across that totality you’re not going to connect with the experience of individual drug users.”