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MRS CARNELL (Chief Minister and Minister for Health and Community Care) (10.38): I present the Drugs of Dependence (Amendment) Bill 1995, together with its explanatory memorandum.

Title read by Clerk.


That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

Mr Speaker, it is important that, where the Government makes a law, it is clear and leaves as little room as possible for reinterpretation. It is for this reason that I present the Drugs of Dependence (Amendment) Bill 1995 to the Assembly today. This Bill provides a clear basis for the legality of the provision of takeaway doses of methadone to be consumed, as prescribed, elsewhere. The ACT methadone program is a major element in the range of treatment options for people with an opioid, usually heroin, dependency.

A key element of this program is fostering the customer's independence, through changing from a lifestyle which was characterised, for many, as being centred around the acquisition of drugs. The methadone program provides a means to support opioid-dependent people getting on with their lives, knowing that withdrawal symptoms will be largely eliminated by methadone. The takeaway element of that program enhances that independence through eliminating the need to call every day to the clinic for a dose. Methadone is currently provided through two public clinics - at Woden Valley Hospital and the City Health Centre - and four community pharmacies. About 200 people on the program receive up to three takeaway doses each per week.

Given the public interest in the program, it is essential that the legal basis for this program be watertight. The ACT Government Solicitor advised earlier this year that, in the current wording of the Drugs of Dependence Act 1989, the word “treatment” could not necessarily be interpreted to include the provision of takeaway doses of methadone for consumption elsewhere. It was further advised that the current program could continue. But, as a definitive interpretation could not be made, action should be taken to amend the Act to avoid a finding - say, in a court case where takeaway methadone was involved - that the program was somehow illegal.

Mr Speaker, the Bill that I table today clarifies that the definition of “treatment” includes the supply of methadone to a patient for self-administration at the centre or elsewhere; that this can occur both at public clinics and at non-government treatment centres, such as pharmacies; that nurses can supply methadone for later consumption; and that the wording of the Act as it currently stands cannot be taken to make the provision of takeaway doses of methadone illegal. The last element is essential to ensure that the ambiguity of the current wording does not provide a basis for considering the takeaway program to be illegal. Mr Speaker, I commend the Bill to the house.

Debate (on motion by Mr Connolly) adjourned.

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