Treating drug harm as a health problem
When my legislation to compulsorily extend existing Victoria Police’s diversion options to all people apprehended for use and/or possession of small quantities of drugs goes to a vote next week, my colleagues in the Victorian Parliament face a clear choice.
They can elect to continue to support a policy proven to kill people and waste taxpayers’ money.
Or they can elect to adjust the policy by introducing a measure proven to save lives and scarce public funds, curb crime, reduce illness and disability, slash incarceration and put people with problematic drug use into treatment and on the road to recovery.
Mirroring the approach that has proved so successful in the increasing number of jurisdictions adopting it around the world, my Bill treats problematic drug use as a health issue, not a something best dealt with by the criminal justice system.
Victoria Police has indicated support for this, as police have seen the benefits when they use their discretionary powers to divert drug users into treatment rather than court and, so often, prison.
Prohibition, the “war on drugs”, has proved a disaster over half a century. More people die of preventable overdoes than of road trauma. Many more lives are ruined.
Every lawmaker who sits in that place with me knows this change needs to happen – the evidence is so overwhelming and abundant that they cannot credibly claim to unaware of it. The case for change is won.
It now just needs politicians to do the right thing. They know, and privately admit, prohibition is one of the most dreadful failures in modern political history. But they are hesitant to support it, given the fear and misunderstanding that has accompanied prohibition.
The science is in; opposing my Bill would be like denying the climate science that has proved the need to act on global warming.
This change needs and merits bipartisan political support. It has the support of law enforcers, addiction experts, policy analysts, medical associations, doctors, nurses, other frontline service providers and an increasing number of people in the community. Almost half of the adults in Australia have taken illicit drugs. My Bill is about reducing harm.
It does not encourage or condone drug use. It does not send the wrong message – its message is clear; drugs are dangerous, and the current approach does not work to protect lives. It takes lives and enriches organised criminals.
The conscience of every politician in this place should compel a vote in support of the Bill to end this needless tragedy.
Fiona Patten MLC is Leader of the Reason Party