In response to an epidemic of drug overdoses, Canada’s drug regulator recently approved a new approach to the failed war on drugs. Queensland-based alcohol and drug service provider QuIHN called for Australian authorities to consider similar reforms.
History records that humans used mind-altering substances since pre-historic times. The ancient Sumerians began getting their kicks from opium around 7,000 years ago. Occasionally, rulers made laws against drug use including — believe it or not — coffee drinking. (Personal note – what utter bastards!)
In the late 19th century, Australian states introduced the country’s first drug prohibitions. The race-based laws specifically targeted People of Colour. They criminalised the provision of opium or alcohol to First Nations peoples and indentured South Seas labourers (kanakas). They also banned the smoking of opium, a practice favoured by the Chinese. That left white Australians free to continue chugging laudanum, a popular cure-all consisting of opium poppy extract dissolved in alcohol.
From the 1920s, Australia consistently banned the use of any and all recreational drugs apart from alcohol and nicotine.
However, as academics Nicole Lee and Jarryd Bartle illustrate in research posted at The Conversation, the laws bear no relation to the risk recreational use of a particular drug poses to the user or wider society.
The biggest problem with the so-called Wat on Drugs of recent years is that it just doesn’t work. We all know anyone can acquire any drug they want in this country. Even in some of the most highly regulated spaces in the country like prisons and military barracks.
Canada and the War on Drugs
Over recent years, the Canadian province of British Colombia experienced an unprecedented epidemic of overdoses and drug-related deaths. The pandemic exacerbated the problem and in 2021, 2,200 people died from drug overdoses, a 20% increase on 2020.
Earlier this week, Canada’s drug regulator announced it would trial a new approach to the War on Drugs. British Columbia will decriminalize illegal drugs for personal use for the next three years.
The exemption will allow adults to carry up to 2.5 grams of opioids, crack and powder cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA/Ecstasy.
Instead of arrest, authorities will provide information on health and social services and assistance with those services if requested.
Criminal sanctions will still apply to amounts above that limit and to people trafficking drugs. Using drugs near schools, childcare facilities and airports will remain illegal.
QuIHN on the War on Drugs
Geoff Davey, Chief Executive Officer of alcohol and drug service provider QuIHN said that since 2014, drug overdoses outnumbered road deaths in Australia.
“The latest development in Canada supports the view and evidence that decriminalisation of drug use and possession of small amounts for personal use reduces the stigma and discrimination that creates barriers and hampers access to health care, harm reduction, social, and legal services.
“It is time for more countries, including Australian jurisdictions, to take brave steps towards saving lives by considering more progressive approaches to drug use.”
QuIHN provides a range of specialist social and medical services relating to alcohol and other drug use and mental health. QuIHN works from a harm minimisation framework with a particular focus on harm reduction and demand reduction.
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