Page 3700 - Week 10 - Thursday, 14 September 2017
Pill testing also provides public data for public health or law enforcement purposes, as well as an opportunity to reach a population of users that would otherwise be unlikely to engage support services. At the moment, health and law enforcement authorities in Canberra know little or nothing about the presence of harmful drugs available at any particular time in the ACT. We do not have a coherent, real-time, early warning system about what drugs are circulating in the community, but the data collected through a pill testing trial could help fill this gap.
This is an issue the Greens have consistently advocated for over recent years, in the face of significant opposition, but we will always advocate for policies supported by the evidence. This is an area where we must listen to those experts who have been on the front line and are calling for a different approach. This is best articulated in the Canberra declaration on illicit drugs, which was released last year. It says:
We call personal illicit drug use what it is, a health issue, not a criminal issue. Regardless of what we may think about this issue, some Australians, mostly younger Australians, take drugs.
Whether in the pursuit of a good time, as a result of peer pressure, or to ease pain and hardship, drug use will continue in our communities.
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre reported that Australian governments spent approximately $1.6 billion in 2009-10 on illicit drugs. Of this spending, $1 billion or 64 per cent went on law enforcement, 22 per cent on treatment, 10 per cent on prevention, and two per cent on harm reduction.
Despite the overwhelming bias in funding towards law enforcement, or perhaps because of it, we continue to see deaths, overdoses, accidents, illness and addiction in our communities.
A new approach is needed.
That Canberra declaration was signed by a range of eminent experts, community organisations and academics from around Australia, but in particular the Canberra declaration recognises that pill testing presents as a potentially valuable option for reducing harm at public events and calls on governments to enable trials to be implemented as a matter of priority. It is clear that a pill testing trial has strong support from health and drug addiction experts.
I understand that over recent months Minister Fitzharris has been engaging with stakeholders in ACT Health, ACT Policing and across the community to consider regulatory, legislative and other issues associated with a pill testing trial, and I thank her for undertaking that work. We know that the law and order approach to drug use is not working, and people are getting sick and dying because of it. Already this year we know of at least three young people who have died in Melbourne from drug overdoses and 20 who have been hospitalised. We need to act to make sure that we do everything we can to prevent these harms occurring here in the ACT.
The Greens are strongly committed to an evidence-based and health-focused approach to drug law reform, ensuring that Canberra’s young people can make informed