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The ABC's 'Ice Wars' Is Exploiting Vulnerable Addicts

Surely the best interests of your patient must always be paramount.

13/02/2017 11:11 AM AEDT | Updated 13/02/2017 11:12 AM AEDT
ABC
"It is a sad day when you have to call out the public broadcaster on an emerging trend within its documentary unit of sensationalising drug issues."

After watching the ABC 'Ice Wars' last week we believe there is no option but to call for the rest of the series to be halted from being broadcast if the unethical practice of identifying and exploiting people in the throes of dependence continues.

We also believe that if the information provided after the first episode continues then there is also no option for the ABC other than to review the way its documentary team reports on drug issues.

It is a sad day when you have to call out the public broadcaster on an emerging trend within its documentary unit of sensationalising drug issues and paying little regard to people's privacy and the struggles this creates within their families.

To put it simply, we were absolutely appalled at the breach of ethics displayed on this latest venture of the ABC into the use of the drug 'ice'.

There is a need for governments and the public to understand that investment in treatment and support provides far better economic, health and social outcomes than policing, courts and prisons.

Having no qualms in clearly identifying a young man and his struggle to deal with his drug and mental health problems was inexplicable. How the Blacktown Hospital's Acute Mental Health Team could be so complicit by involving one of their clients in this way also demands an explanation.

Any response by the ABC or Blacktown Hospital that his involvement is based on the young man giving permission to be involved is unacceptable given his vulnerable state and history. As we watched it, we were in disbelief at the distress this voyeurism would have caused his family and friends, not to mention the potential long-term harm to the person. It is the policy of NSW Health that no personal health information should be released to a media agency without the consent of an "authorised representative" if the patient is lacking capacity to do so. Regardless, surely the best interests of your patient must always be paramount.

It is also concerning that in the myriad interviews given by law enforcement after the episode aired, there was such a high level of misinformation provided.

Some of the more concerning statements from law enforcement experts on other ABC media outlets, such as ABC Breakfast, included claims that it takes 18 months to 'get off' methamphetamine, while heroin only takes 10 days. The public have no reason not to believe this is true given the authoritative nature of the source from which it came. However, it is simply untrue and seems to have compared, or confused, physical and psychological withdrawal to reach such a conclusion.

Another law enforcement official being interviewed on another ABC outlet claimed that the answer to the 'ice problem' is reducing supply. The evidence is overwhelming to suggest otherwise. There is and will always be a place for supply reduction strategies in any proper national drug strategy. However, such a strategy also requires investments in prevention, treatment, support and harm reduction. It also needs to be far greater than the levels that are currently being allocated to these areas in comparison to law enforcement.

There is also a need for governments and the public to understand that investment in treatment and support provides far better economic, health and social outcomes than policing, courts and prisons. The same is true when comparing prisons, hospital emergency and hospital ward stays to the outcomes achieved by effective residential treatment programs. The ABC series appears to be failing badly on reporting the evidence.

The ABC is a public broadcaster with a huge reach and it's about time it understood that it has a role to inform and educate the community about drugs not exploit and sensationalise vulnerable people for a ratings win.

For families struggling with ice, the reality of what they face can be difficult enough. What they don't need is the ABC piling even more pressure on them with stories and interviews that are ethically and factually questionable. The focus on the extreme individual situations in these programmes are likely to fill families with despair rather than hope. We have witnessed many successful treatment outcomes from ice and this needs to be included in any realistic depiction of what is happening with ice in our communities.

The ABC is a public broadcaster with a huge reach and it's about time it understood that it has a role to inform and educate the community about drugs not exploit and sensationalise vulnerable people for a ratings win.

Perhaps the last word should go to Dr Marianne Jauncey, the Director of the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, who was quoted this weekend as saying: "There's a lot of myths about methamphetamine and I'm not saying it's not associated with a wide range of problems or encouraging use, but to say everybody who uses methamphetamines is suddenly some wild violent axe-wielding maniac is just laughable."

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