Drug summit proposes health-based solutions

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BY GRANT COLEMAN

PERTH — After months of media hysteria and political point-scoring, a community drug summit has come out in support of health-based solutions for the treatment of heroin use.

Despite a fairly narrow agenda, the 100 delegates, from a broad cross-section of the community, were able to come up with some positive proposals during the August 14-17 summit.

High among the issues tackled was drug use in prison. The Aboriginal Legal Service's Dennis Eggington said that in a recent NSW study it was revealed that 23.7% of women and 20.4% of men in prison used heroin. The study also claimed that the rate of overdose in prisons was 20 times higher than in the general community.

Among the summit's recommendations was for the state government to consider establishing supervised injecting services, delegates claiming that such a step would have positive effects on "the unsafe disposal of injecting equipment, overdose, blood-borne virus transmission, the public nuisance associated with drug use and the encouragement of users to enter treatment services".

Such services should be set up only if they had the support of the local community, delegates argued.

The majority of the groups at the summit were unhappy with the stereotyping of drug use by the media. One group described the exploitative practice of paying drug users to pose while injecting. The summit passed a resolution stating that the "government [should] develop a mandatory Code of Practice which aims to minimise sensationalism in relation to the reporting and treatment of drug issues in the media".

Greens WA state parliamentarian Christine Sharp invited the media to a drinking and smoking session to highlight that both alcohol and tobacco were left off the summit agenda. She said that out of every 100 drug-related deaths, 80 were a result of tobacco and 16 were a result of alcohol. Only four in every hundred are a result of illicit drug use.

Perth Socialist Alliance convenor Daniel Watson said, "Although the summit had proposed some positive steps forward, it remains to be seen whether the Labor government will actually implement the resolutions."

The summit passed a resolution stating that drug use should be reviewed primarily as a health and social issue and, according to Watson, "[Premier] Geoff Gallop should abide by this and end his cynical point-scoring tactic of treating drug use as a law and order issue."

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