If former Chief Minister Kate Carnell had been allowed to finish her proposed six-month trial of a safe-injecting room in Canberra, there would be no need for a second prison in the ACT, according to drug decriminalisation advocate Bill Bush.
Mr Bush, a member of Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform, gave evidence today (14 July) to an ACT Parliamentary inquiry into youth mental health. He says the stigma around drug use and criminality adversely affects the mental health of struggling addicts. As an example, he cites the Prime Minister pulling the plug on a drug reform trial.
“There is no more stigma that you can put on someone than calling them a criminal for something that they do,” he said.
“If you are made a criminal there is this stigma, you are an outlier, you are a modern-day leper. It is like acid in terms of people’s mental health.
“If Kate Carnell had been able to continue with the heroin trial that she proposed … our situation in relation to unemployment, homelessness and so many other social problems would not have been as serious as they are now.”
Mr Bush wants to see reform to the judicial system that criminalises drug use. He says government policy should reflect the fact that drug use is a health issue, then the destigmatisation and removal of fear from drug users who are scared of going to prison will encourage people to get the help they need.
Legalisation or decriminalisation can help stabilise a user’s situation enough to help them address other major issues like mental health or homelessness in their life without the worry of going to prison, he said.
“From the drug policy point of view, it is getting treatment that is person-centric,” he said.
“You also have people with chronic pain who are not able to get pain relief that they need because of the restrictions on prescriptions and doctor shopping, and we know a number of them out of desperation resort to the illicit market.”
This kind of criminalisation of drugs directly feeds into the Black Lives Matter movement and the high proportion of Indigenous people in custody, he said, adding that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are also targeted for their drug use and fill Australia’s prisons.
“We need to consider the interplay between mental health policy and drug policy,” Mr Bush said, calling for more justice reinvestment to better fund health services as opposed to criminal justice systems.
It is a sentiment that is supported by Mental Illness Education ACT (MIEACT) in their submission to the injury.
“By investing in children and building their resilience we have the best chance of allowing them to thrive, reducing the growing burden on hospital emergency departments over time and other crisis service requirements such as mental health care plans, specialised mental health services, hospital admissions, alcohol and drug-related hospital admissions and mental health-related prescriptions,” the submission says.
The ACT recently moved to decriminalise cannabis in the Territory and a feasibility study into establishing a safe injecting facility for illicit drug users was given the green light in April.