Unless you've been living under a rock for the past several years, you would have noticed the media and community attention surrounding ice, the drug of focus in the 2010s much like heroin was in Sydney in the 1990s. There has been much debate and discussion about what to do, particularly as we heard about the damage ice was inflicting on regional communities.
Yet, a couple of months ago something emerged that -- in the wake of our collective hand-wringing --you'd think would be a cause for celebratory optimism, but has gone largely unnoticed.
The latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) was undertaken last year, and a summary of its key findings was released this June. Among them was an astonishing figure -- methamphetamine use has decreased by a full third. That's right, 33 percent. This is a huge figure, particularly when we consider what we've heard about the addictive nature of the drug, and its extremely resilient market.
In a political world dominated by constant opinion polls and a 24-hour media cycle, this is a piece of good news you'd think the government would seize upon and champion.
And yet, we've heard nothing. Not a peep.
The government commissioned the National Ice Taskforce, which recommended greater investments in treatment and support, particularly for regional centres. And a one-third reduction in use is perhaps a sign that this initiative has been effective at saving lives.
It should be stated that no single piece of data should be relied upon in isolation when it comes to drugs. However, the NDSHS is a piece of data that media and government regularly rely on.
The incredible thing is, these NDSHS figures come off the back of a piece of policy this government initiated, the National Ice Taskforce, and the argument can definitely be made that the efforts and recommendations of the taskforce have contributed to the reduction in use.
Another finding that has emerged from the NDSHS is that cocaine use has increased, with particularly high levels in Sydney's eastern suburbs. It's interesting that the population using ice is traditionally disadvantaged compared with a cocaine-using population that is usually advantaged, yet we are seeing rising levels of cocaine use alongside decreasing ice use.
Is this another indication that the government's plan to target welfare recipients with drug testing is class profiling? The NDSHS figures prove wealthy demographics are often bigger consumers of drugs.
When we were faced with the heroin crisis of the 1990s, we responded by increasing needle syringe exchange programs state-wide, and opening the first drug consumption room outside Europe. These initiatives are not only effective at saving lives and reducing the spread of disease, they're backed up by solid evidence both here and overseas and have the support of leading medical groups.
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Faced with growing ice-related problems in the past few years, the government commissioned the National Ice Taskforce, which recommended greater investments in treatment and support, particularly for regional centres. And a one-third reduction in use is perhaps a sign that this initiative has been effective at saving lives.
Now we are faced with the prospect of drug testing targeting some of our most vulnerable populations --those on welfare. And, in spite of the positive NDSHS results that they could very easily attribute to their own taskforce, the government continues to champion a policy that has failed in other jurisdictions and has been widely condemned by experts.
You'd think that in a year plagued with domestic political turmoil, they'd be looking for some good news. It's baffling that they've let this slip through the cracks.