Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 8 Hansard (26 June) . . Page.. 2275 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
activity certainly plays a role. But I do not think they are the most significant of the roles played.
It is good that this important issue is raised from time to time, and I support it being raised today, allowing us to continue to discuss it.
MS TUCKER (4.05): There are three aspects to this issue worth picking up in the discussion on treating drug dependence as a health issue: where drug dependency fits on the spectrum of substance use and abuse, the support we offer people dependent on drugs and the organisations that work with them, and the forging of a common community-based understanding of the changes we need to make in law and policy.
Many substances we consume damage our health-from fat to tobacco, from prescription drugs to illicit drugs. Of those, it is probably only tobacco that inevitably damages our health, although drug dependence creates its own health issues. The fact is, however, that we do not really make an uncluttered choice about what substances create problems for us or whether or not we become dependent on drugs. It is a much more complex social and psychological process.
One of the first steps in addressing these issues lies in education. We cannot just label some substances good and some substances bad and encourage children to say no to the bad ones. Such an approach misses the point and does not work. It is only through providing less judgmental and more informative material that young people will be able to have a realistic appreciation of the impact of their actions. In that context, the approach encouraged by our Prime Minister, while popular in the eyes of some, is undoubtedly counterproductive.
The other starting point is early intervention: realistic support for young people and their families, not in regard to drugs specifically but in areas such as employment, housing and mental health. It is through such community support and by encouraging resilience through community engagement that people will develop the capacity to steer away from substance problems such as drug dependency.
In regard to supporting people dependent on drugs, there is a lot more we can do in Canberra. Obviously, the supply of clean needles has a dramatic health impact, and we should be grateful that we live in a country which was sufficiently progressive when AIDS appeared to deal with the disease as a public health issue and not a moral issue.
At a more fundamental level, however, people dependent on drugs face a wide range of very basic health care issues. The shortage of bulk-billing doctors is a very clear case in point. While the problem stems from the Commonwealth health policy, the onus remains on the ACT government to provide better access for people without the capacity to pay to see a GP or, of course, to see mental health counsellors if that is necessary. Dual diagnosis is a major feature of the incidence of substance abuse.
The Civic-based program of free food for the most marginalised people in Canberra, including those with drug dependencies, is run by charities with inadequate facilities. If members spend any time with services that provide free food, they will find that there are quite a number of people using that service who have a mental health problem as well. This is the case right across Australia. The de-institutionalisation of people with mental