11 December 2022

Forget the stereotypes, anyone can be an addict

| Ross Solly
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Not all junkies are scruffy, dirty and up to no good. Photo: File.

On Thursday I got a small insight into what life is like as a heroin addict.

It was the story of a man, let’s call him Bob, who told me he would often shoot up in his car, too ashamed to let family and friends know what he was doing.

Bob described himself as a father, a son, a husband, an uncle, and a former public servant who had basically blown everything on a habit he desperately wanted to kick, but had so far failed.

Every time he shot up he was petrified it would kill him. He knows it is only a matter of time before the fentanyl which has turned up in heroin in the United States starts appearing in Australian heroin, and that will kill him.

READ ALSO Lehrmann trial delivers no winners and a long list of losers

I heard this story because Bob wanted people to know anyone could be a heroin addict. The common feeling is that junkies are scruffy, dirty and up to no good. But in reality a heroin addict can be anyone.

Bob also wanted to throw his support behind a legal drug injecting room in the ACT. It’s a concept that is back on the table as part of a four-year ACT Drug Strategy Action Plan designed to minimise harm from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

Bob said a legal injecting room would make life safer for him, providing not just a safe environment to shoot up, but also to provide him support to try to beat his habit.

I also spoke to former ACT health minister Michael Moore, who first started campaigning for a supervised injecting room in Canberra more than 20 years ago. His efforts back then ran into a significant roadblock in the form of two independent MLAs who could see no benefit in providing a legal and safe place for drug addicts to feed their habit.

Needless to say, Michael Moore had mixed feelings about the new four-year strategy. Of course he was very happy that finally the ACT might join Sydney and Melbourne in providing a safe injecting room.

READ MORE Supervised drug injecting room still years away in the ACT

But he was also very sad, and angry, that more than 20 years had been wasted getting to this stage, and the subsequent cost in human misery that had been inflicted on individuals and families.

He has continued fighting for drug reform right across Australia, and can feel the momentum changing.

There is still a little way to go before the injecting room, and other drug reforms, become a reality in the ACT. The plan is to have the service located in Civic, providing clean needles, medical supervision and access to counsellors etc. Importantly the centre will not provide the drugs, although Michael Moore is hopeful one day this will be considered.

By the way, Michael Moore was also the ACT minister who tabled the assisted dying legislation in the ACT back in the 1990s that led to the Andrews Bill, which took away the rights of the ACT to even debate such legislation.

Canberrans generally celebrated the demise of the Andrews Bill last month. It will be interesting to see how we deal with the ACT Drug Strategy Action Plan.

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The ACT is considered the most progressive of jurisdictions but holds the record for the highest number of drug-induced deaths per capita in the country. How shocking is that! Targeting and using stereotype language to describe drug addicts is designed to undermine them and their needs. ALL drug addicts are part of society no matter what side of the track they come from. These people all have families – the good, the bad and the ugly. Supervised drug injecting rooms are the answer. NSW and Victoria have displayed foresight, overtaking the ACT’s years of inaction by showing us how it can be done.

If you commit a crime, you are a criminal. If you are addicted to drugs you are a drug-addict. That’s the way English works.

Should we consider drug addiction a crime or a health issue? Well, it can be both.

Alcoholism is a health issue, but if you drink drive and in particular, if your driving results in the death of someone, you can expect the law to come down hard on you. As a society, we rightly expect that.
If a person breaks into your house to steal goods to buy drugs, in my opinion, they have crossed that health line and are now also a criminal.

I’m 100% in favour of rehab and injection rooms for people who want to get clean. We should do whatever we can do to help people who want help, but that doesn’t mean we should openly accept illicit drug use.

In your example the crime is breaking/entering and theft. Taking or using drugs doesn’t cause you to commit that crime.

The simple act of taking drugs only harms the user and drugs are only illicit because we make them so.

Capital Retro8:47 pm 19 Dec 22

In many cases the “user” then harms a third party and the police get involved as well as the health and legal system.

Who pays for all this?

Capital Retro,
In the vast majority of cases, they don’t harm a third party.

But is really irrelevant to the point being made regardless.

Try again.

Capital Retro8:38 am 20 Dec 22

The point was that drugs are made illicit because they are a precursor to crime. I thought you were intelligent enough to figure that out but I don’t mind spelling it out to you.

Capital Retro,
Seems I must repeat myself because the answer to your claim was already in my last comment:

“In the vast majority of cases, they don’t harm a third party.”

The entire point being that drugs are not an inherent precursor to crime. And a large proportion of the crime that is committed by drug users is far better addressed through harm minimisation and healthcare rather than criminal sanction.

I also think it’s cute that you believe drugs were made illicit for that reason, when after decades of strong criminal sanction and drug prohibition, the crime and health outcomes are so poor.

Almost like that approach has failed completely.

Do you ever stop whining? Canberra is parents wet dream. It is the finest example of a socially rich city, low crime, and very little to look at.

Marion McConnell8:50 pm 13 Dec 22

It is a pity that this article uses the stereotype language that the heading says to forget. It is the language used in this article – addict, junkie, shoot up that keeps the stereotype alive. Problematic drug users are more than their addiction. Society’s labelling them as ‘addicts’ (seeing nothing of value in their lives) is a big part of the problem. I realise Bob probably used this language about himself. But this just shows that we can become the labels thrust upon us. ALSO harm reduction is about reducing the harms from drugs (most of which are caused by handing over production, distribution and sale of drugs to drug cartels). Supervised drug consumption rooms keep people alive, are non-punitive and therefore their referrals to treatment are more likely to be taken up. The one in King’s Cross has certainly had positive outcomes for many people.

They’re still addicts

Marion McConnell7:58 am 14 Dec 22

Not all who use drugs become addicted and those who do are still more than their addiction. Evenso treating them as criminals is not productive.

Marion McConnell8:00 am 14 Dec 22

Not all people who use drugs become addicted and those who do are still more than their addiction. Treating them as criminals is not productive.

And yet there are many people in our society who have no ‘addiction’ problems. Studies show that young people who use drugs before age 21 are far more likely to get addicted to drugs. Encouraging young people to try drugs (by pretending drug use is acceptable) is not a good idea. As a community, we should not be viewing the use of drugs (and excessive use of alcohol) as acceptable. Nor should people who commit crimes while ‘under the influence’ of drugs or alcohol be excused for their violent and horrible behaviour.

Here we go again, back at square one. After 22 years of futile efforts from proponents of drug law reform for the establishment of a supervised and safe injecting room, advocates for change continue to bang their heads against the wall.

The ACT holds the record for the highest number of drug-induced deaths per capita in the country. Years of inaction, flip flopping and backdowns from the ACT Labor government on drug law reforms. And where are the Greens? Drug reform was first mentioned in the Labor/Greens governing agreement in 2016. Although vague in detail, the latest 2020 agreement commits the government to piloting a safe drug consumption site in this term of government. Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has now conceded that this is now unlikely to occur until after the next election. This is despite campaigning from health authorities and a 2021 government commissioned feasibility study recommending the establishment of such a facility.

Sydney and Melbourne have established their own supervised injecting rooms. These rooms have been in operation for a number of years and allow addicts to receive advice and treatment. These rooms save lives. This treatment is provided by health professionals in a positive, non-judgemental way so that addicts can inject safely. No-one has died since these facilities have been in operation.

Now we have the emergence of fentanyl laced heroin. This makes the establishment of such a facility essential. Unfortunately, our ineffective opposition with their conservative and negative approach to drug law reform will continue to rail against any drug law reforms.

“The ACT holds the record for the highest number of drug-induced deaths per capita in the country”
The Greens/Labor cartel have really accomplished something – the highest record. That’s an achievement – tick. Next record – greatest debt per capita – tick

Capital Retro7:42 am 13 Dec 22

It’s true that anyone can be a drug addict. It’s also true that addicts who stop seeing themselves as victims can beat their addiction if they really want too.

How many people have been addicted to smoking yet managed to give it away?

The difference between a smoker and a drug addict or alcoholic for that matter, is that usually the latter 2 have more major traumas that they are self-medicating. If our mental health system supported people when first they had problems, fewer would resort to drugs and alcohol to cope with their emotional distress. Smoking cigarettes is a totally different issue with many smokers not having emotional problems that make their lives intolerable without brain changing medications whether legal or illegal.

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