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Existing drug strategies - what are they and are they working?

By Fred Nile - posted Saturday, 15 May 1999

We need to consider existing strategies, their strengths and limitations. What are they? Are they working? What is working in New South Wales, Australia and overseas? It seems that there are really two basic strategies. One is the approach described as harm minimisation; the other is zero tolerance. These are my personal views and I know that some of the experts here will probably disagree with what I am going to say, but I have a right to say it.

Harm minimisation was introduced in 1985 and initially involved the so-called needle exchange program. Parents, even though uneasy at the prospect of thousands of needles being distributed to drug addicts, went along with the program as dirty needles would be exchanged for clean ones - with counselling, they were told - and it would stop the spread of HIV-AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and so on. I believe that parents were duped, as it was actually a needle distribution program. As we now know, last year more than 9.8 million heroin needles were distributed in New South Wales.

The harm minimisation advocates also wrongly claim, I believe, that the prohibition-zero tolerance model has failed. What has failed is the harm minimisation model. So we need new strategies. Yet since 1985 I do not believe we have had any real, genuine commitment to prohibition or zero tolerance in New South Wales. It was replaced with a harm minimisation approach, particularly by government agencies. We are sharing in this Drug Summit this week because the harm minimisation policy has failed. Now the vocal minimisation lobby and those who are here representing it are trying to take us along to the next stage: legal heroin shooting galleries. I understand that "shooting galleries" is a term used by addicts; officially they are called "sanitised injecting rooms."


Last week the Wayside Chapel was used to put emotional pressure on members of Parliament and delegates to this Summit. I understand that, tragically, a drug-overdose death occurred in the toilet at the chapel. The so-called shooting gallery, or sanitised injecting room, provides initially a clean injecting kit. I noticed from the television coverage that the Wayside Chapel had asked potential drug users three simple questions but provided no counselling, or follow-up. After answering those questions the addict is allowed to inject any chosen drug of any quality or quantity. Obviously if this Summit endorses legal shooting galleries they would eventually be established in every town, in every suburb and, dare I say, in every large high school and university and, perhaps, even in Macquarie Street. They would have to be as accessible as the drug dealer.

The next argument put by the harm minimisation lobby, after one or two drug overdose deaths in a shooting gallery, would be the need to supply heroin, so that addicts would be guaranteed quantity and quality. That would be the so-called heroin trial. I note in this debate that no-one refers to "distribution of heroin" but to "heroin trial". As with the needle exchange program that will be used to help lull public opinion into accepting the proposition that the Government becomes, in fact, the drug pusher. It was never intended to be a simple trial, but a way of convincing public opinion to accept it. I forecast that once a heroin trial is commenced, irrespective of its success or failure, no government or politician would have the courage to scrap it because of the outcry by drug addicts. It would take a very brave politician to scrap a heroin trial.

We have seen all the facts and figures given over the past two days about the expense to the community of the increase in robberies, and about addicts who have died from a drug overdose. I have some suggestions which may be radical to those who support harm minimisation. I suggest, firstly, the setting up of a compulsory residential rehabilitation drug centre for all heroin-dependent addicts in New South Wales in co-operation with the Drug Court. I suggest, secondly, that these centres should supply free naltrexone treatment for all addicts. Naltrexone treatment has changed the focus of the heroin debate and provides, at least, a solution. I suggest, thirdly, the establishment of medical panels to assess each addict and recommend to the Drug Court their treatment and length of time in a residential centre and follow-up treatment, supervision and counselling. Fourthly, I suggest co-operation with parents of addicts who report their sons or daughters for treatment in residential centres. Fifthly, I suggest the Health Department medical officers and selected trained police officers be given the legal power to conduct random drug tests on suspected drug addicts who first go to the medical panel, then the Drug Court, then a residential centre.

People might ask where the drug centres are to be located. I have been approached by parents who want to put their child into a drug centre, into a rehabilitation program, and have been told that they had to wait six months. I could relate story after story, so I know that there is a problem. The Federal Government was able to adopt a solution to the Kosovar problem by using Army barracks. Perhaps they could be converted into residential drug centres. Perhaps Army Reserve doctors and Salvation Army staff and others could be used to staff drug rehabilitation centres. Let as have courage to face the future and follow the examples of Sweden and Singapore, not Holland or Switzerland.

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This is an edited extract from a speech given by Rev Fred Nile MLC at the NSW drug summit on Tuesday May 18, 1999 at the morning plenary session.

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Rev Fred Nile was a participant of the NSW Drug Summit.

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