Our Say: Is it time for Australia to decriminalise drugs?

For every overdose death, there must be dozens of people stuck in an endless cycle of addiction.

The St Vincent de Paul Society is doing an incredible job locally to fight and treat drug abuse – along with the Freeman House rehabilitation facility which has been running for more than 40 years in Armidale - it’s recently rolled out a sweep of new services.

However, Adrian Webber, who oversees the local facilities for Vinnies, said there is always room for more services, and more government funding.

Mr Webber also mentioned he wants to see more work done on reducing the stigma around people with a drug or alcohol abuse problem.

While more of a social issue than a medical one, he’s right. The social stigma around having a drug addiction is one of the biggest barriers to people getting the help they need.

People who abuse drugs are often treated like criminals – particularly by the justice system, but also by the wider community. However, the Australian Medical Association recommends drug addiction should be treated as a health issue, not as a crime.

Countries that have decriminalised drugs (not legalised) have seen a reduction in drug abuse. People caught with illegal drugs are sent to rehabilitation facilities, rather than to jail – or treated like patients rather than criminals.

Just five years after Portugal decriminalised drugs in 2001, illegal drug use by teenagers had declined, the rate of HIV infections among drug users had dropped, deaths related to heroin and similar drugs had been cut by more than half, and the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction had doubled – and drug use has not risen

It’s a dramatically different approach to one the nation is taking at the moment, but maybe it’s time to consider it, because the numbers don’t lie – under the current system, drug-related deaths are increasing not decreasing.

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