Category Archives:Drugs General

‘Lost’ 34 Bags of Cannabis? Police Want to Hear from You

By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim

Thousands of people are talking about a cheeky social media post by the NSW Police Force depicting 34 garbage bags of cannabis plants, found in bushland in a northern Sydney suburb.

Facebook post

Police published the post on Facebook after finding the cannabis over the weekend.

LOST & FOUND
Does this belong to you? Northern Beaches LAC – NSW Police Force are looking for the owner of 34 garbage bags full of cannabis found in bushland at Terrey Hills. Attend your local police station to claim ownership. We’d love to hear from you.

The post has received more than 30 thousand comments and over 6,000 shares.

A local man who regularly walks in the area said the bags appeared between Friday and Saturday. He originally thought someone had unlawfully dumped garbage, but contacted police after he looked more closely and realised it was cannabis.

Police arrived to find a mixture of mature plants and seedlings, along with some potting mix and other substances.

Ongoing investigation

The items have been seized for forensic examination. While the bags were only metres from busy Mona Vale Road, it is believed they were dumped from a quiet street behind.

NSW Drug Squad officers are appealing for anyone with information to come forward or to call Crime Stoppers.

Drugs on Sydney’s Northern Beaches

Illicit drugs have been prevalent on the Northern Beaches in recent years, with large hauls of cannabis and other drugs found over the past few months.

Two men were allegedly caught doing a drug deal involving cocaine just prior to Christmas, and the subsequent search of a home in Freshwater is said to have yielded more than $55,000 in cash and small bags containing white powder.

And last November, police reported finding a hydroponic set-up, 18 cannabis plants, cocaine, amphetamines, GHB and cash at a home in Narrabeen. They charged a man with 10 offences, including four counts of possessing a prohibited drug and three counts of drug supply.

In June last, year police allegedly seized nearly 1000 cannabis plants in simultaneous raids at industrial premises at Brookvale and Cromer, with an estimated street value of $3 million.

Beware – Ecstacy Pills May Contain Deadly Additives

By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim

On the same weekend that Victorian Footballer Riki Stephens took the drug that would kill him less than a week later, 16 others on the Gold Coast were hospitalised after reactions to what they thought was ecstasy.

Police originally suspected they had all taken the so-called zombie drug ‘flakka’, but subsequent toxicology reports told a different story, indicating the presence of a synthetic drug known as ‘N-BOMe’.

N-BOMe is also known as ‘N-Bomb’, ‘Tripstasy’, ‘green Mitsubishi’, ‘yellow Ferrari’ and ‘pink superman’. The drug has been linked to the death of young Australians Rye Hunt, whose body washed up on the shores of Rio earlier this year, and Henry Kwan, a Sydney student who jumped to his death from a third-floor balcony.

Party season has begun

Just two weeks after Riki Stephens’ family turned off his life support system, several people collapsed at the Horror Mansion Halloween Party at Moore Park in Sydney.

One patient was making bizarre facial expressions as he was strapped to a stretcher and wheeled into a waiting ambulance. NSW police went on to arrest more than 20 people for drug possession, with the drug GHB being suspected.

As we sit on the brink of summer – the season for schoolies, Christmas parties and music festivals around Australia – police, paramedics and hospital emergency department staff are gearing up for what they fear is going to be one of the deadliest seasons for drug overdoses in Australian history.

Along with the prevalence of flakka, NBOMe and GHB, emergency service workers are also bracing themselves for dealing with the adverse effects of super strength ecstasy pills, and the drug Fentanyl, which is said to be far more potent than heroin.

Police expect all of these drugs to flood the Australian black market this summer.

Failure of ‘zero tolerance’ approaches

In recent years, loading up on ecstacy pills is suspected to have claimed the lives of a number of music festival go-ers, including Sylvia Choi and Georgina Bartter.

Loading up, or pre loading, is where people take all of their drugs at once in order to avoid detection by police or sniffer dogs. It can be particularly dangerous where drugs are high in purity or contain other forms of drugs.

Those who deal first-hand with the frightening effects of drug overdoses argue that Australia’s ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drug use is naïve and dangerous, putting young lives at risk.

John Rogerson, the Chief Executive of the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation, says Australians have an insatiable appetite when it comes to illicit substances, and that ‘tough on drugs’ approaches do nothing to deter demand.

Studies suggest that we are world-leaders in drug consumption – the highest users of ecstasy, the third biggest amphetamine users, and second biggest opioid users per capita.

Mr Rogerson highlights the fact that the recent National Ice Taskforce Report found that the majority of people who taking illicit drugs, do so for recreational purposes.

“And that’s why we can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” he says.

Putting others at risk

Another important consideration is the safety of those exposed to adverse reactions: police officers, paramedics, hospital workers and innocent bystanders who might be the unwitting victims of the violent behaviour at the hands of those affected by drugs like NBOMe and ice.

Only last year, a Hunter Valley man engaged in a random and frenzied attack on a hospital security guard after taking NBOMe. The man couldn’t remember anything after snorting the drug, but collapsed and was taken to hospital where he leapt off a stretcher, over a railing and punched a security guard.

Pill testing

Considering the prevalence of deadly additives and fluctuating purity levels, many are calling upon the government to allow for the introduction of pill testing at festivals and other venues where drugs are going to be taken regardless of what the law says.

Pill testing allows drug users to receive information about the make-up and, in some cases, purity level of their drugs within half an hour, allowing them to make an informed decision as to whether to take the drug and, if so, how much of it to take.

Emergency room doctor and harm minimisation advocate Dr David Caldicott says, “Pill testing reduces consumption by 60 per cent at the point of consumption.”

Pill testing has been highly successful in reducing overdoses in several European countries, where it has been reported that users are unlikely to take drugs in cases where they are advised they contain deadly additives. Testing booths have the added benefit of facilitating education about the dangers of drug use, and studies suggests they have led to a drop in ‘bad batches’ of drugs on the market.

But despite 82% of respondents in a government survey supporting pill testing, Premier Mike Baird has so far rejected calls for the harm minimisation measure to be introduced in NSW.

President to Release Non-Violent Drug Offenders

US President Barack Obama recently commuted the prison sentences of 42 inmates as part of his push for criminal justice reform.

Most of the offenders are small-time drug dealers who have already spent many years in prison – some were sentenced to life-imprisonment under “three strikes and you’re out” legislation.

Obama has now commuted the sentences of 348 inmates – more than the previous seven US presidents combined.

US Prison Population

An estimated 2.2 million people are behind bars in the United States. This represents a quarter of the global prison population in a country with only 5 per cent of the world’s population.

A whopping one in 100 US adults are incarcerated, and two-thirds of released inmates return to prison within 2 years.

The direct cost to the US economy is enormous – US $60 billion per year, an increase of more than 300% over the past 20 years. The indirect costs are believed to be far higher than this.

Law Reform

The White House has released a statement saying the commuted sentences related to inmates affected by “outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws,” including mandatory life sentences for non-violent drug offences.

“The individuals receiving a presidential commutation today have more than repaid their debt to society and earned this second chance,” the statement said.

The President is expected to commute more sentences before he leaves office in January 2017. He has also proposed legislation which would reduce sentence lengths for small time offenders, and focus on alternatives to imprisonment and rehabilitation.

The President said of the current system:

“It’s not keeping us as safe as it should be. It is not as fair as it should be. Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it.”

Justice Reinvestment

Some US states have already seen the benefits of ‘Justice Reinvestment’, an initiative proposed by the US Open Society Institute in 2003.

Justice reinvestment recognises that a disproportionately high concentration of offending comes from a small number of communities, which are normally categorised by:

  • High rates of poverty, child abuse or neglect, alcohol and drug use, and mental health problems,
     
  • Insufficient social services such as housing and employment support, and
     
  • low education levels.


By channeling funds into programs which address these problems, justice reinvestment has been remarkably successful in lowering offending rates and overall law enforcement costs in a number of US communities.

A 2014 report by the Urban Institute found that 17 states are projected to save as much as $4.6 billion through policies designed to channel spending into community projects and otherwise control corrections spending.

Seeing these benefits, a total of 21 US states have now signed up with the Council of State Governments Justice Centre and other non-profit organisations to investigate or apply justice reinvestment in their jurisdiction.

Closer to Home

Australia certainly has its own problems – with a sharply rising prison population caused by tougher bail laws and harsh sentencing regimes, despite falling overall crime rates.

Our Indigenous communities suffer from hugely disproportionate incarceration rates, while our politicians seem intent on spending more and more on enforcement and imprisonment, while losing focus on programs which address the underlying causes of offending.

It is hoped government will start to recognise the real, long-term economic and social benefits of preventative and diversionary programs, and shift expenditure towards initiatives that deal with the problem at its source.

Victoria Leads the Way in Drug Reform

The Victorian Government recently announced the second stage of its program to tackle ice addiction.

State Attorney-General, Martin Pakula, unveiled the $57.6 million package – the centerpiece of which is an expanded Drug Court program based at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, allowing an additional 170 drug offenders to receive targeted support.

The funding breakdown is as follows:

  • $32 million to expand the Drug Court of Victoria,
     
  • $5.5 million for training and support for frontline workers,
     
  • $6 million for the 18 to 20 bed Grampians mental health facility,
     
  • $10 million to improve mental health, alcohol and other drug facilities, and
     
  • $4 million to address ice addiction in Aboriginal communities.
  • This funding builds on the $45 million pledged by the government last year, which focuses on expanding drug rehabilitation services in Victoria’s drug hot-spots and treating 500 habitual users each year.

    Need for Reform

    In announcing the plan, Mr Pakula acknowledged the failure of the current punitive approach to drug use. “The lack of effective sentencing options for serious drug-related offences has resulted in increased imprisonment rates, increased re-offending and a failure to address the underlying causes of addiction,” he said.

    Victoria has experienced a concerning spike in crime rates in recent years. The State’s Crime Statistics Agency has released figures for 2015 which suggest an 8.1 per cent rise in overall crime. Young repeat offenders were the main driving force for the increase.

    Assistant Police Commissioner Robert Hill said young people represented 90% of those arrested for theft, burglary and break and enter offences. The crime rates in each of those areas was by up 10% on the previous year.

    Deputy Police Commissioner Andrew Crisp believes that ice is behind most of the drug-related offending.

    Methamphetamine Use

    While a 2015 study of Australian drug use suggests that the number of Australians using methamphetamines has remained stable at around 2% since 2001, there are significant shifts in:

  • The number of users preferring ice over other methamphetamine, up from 22% in 2010 to 50% in 2013,
     
  • The proportion using at least weekly, up from 9.3% in 2010 to 15.5% in 2013, and
     
  • An increase in the purity of ice, up from an annual average of 21% in 2009 to 64% in 2013.
  • A recent report by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) expressed concerns about the damage caused by ice. “Ice is now the number one problem in terms of illicit substances,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan said. The drug is believed to be funding international criminal syndicates, with over 60% of Australia’s most wanted serious and organised crime figures believed to be involved in the methamphetamine trade.

    The Drug Court

    Drug Court programs seek to address the issue of drug dependency, rather than sending offenders to prison. They generally take referrals from Local and District Courts, and strive to tailor long term solutions which break the cycle of drug use and crime.

    Mental Health Minister Martin Foley recognised the effectiveness of Dandenong’s Drug Court program in diverting offenders away from the criminal justice system. “The support then leads to better outcomes as people both get their lives back together, get off the drugs and end their crime careers,” he said. “It’s had remarkable success and we intend to roll that model out around Victoria.”

    Participants in the Dandenong program were 30 per cent less likely to reoffend within 2 years than those sentenced in the regular court system. This has saved Victorian tax payers an estimated $3.8 million in enforcement costs. Drug Court Magistrate, Tony Parsons, has also highlighted the social and health cost savings of diverting low-level offenders away from prison.

    With the increased funding, the Victorian Drug Court is expected to deal with 240 people each year, up from the current 70.

    New South Wales

    A 2015 study by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics found that habitual users who commit drug-related crimes are less likely to reoffend when dealt with by the NSW Drug Court than when sent to prison.

    Participants in the NSW program were found to be 17 per cent less likely to be reconvicted for any offence, 30 per cent less likely to be reconvicted for a violent offence and 38 per cent less likely to be reconvicted for a drug offence at any point during the follow-up period -which averaged 35 months.

    The study adds to a growing body of evidence that Drug Courts are more effective than prisons when it comes to reducing reoffending rates and the costs associated with enforcement.

    It is hoped that our state will also capitalise on the long term economic and social benefits of diversionary programs by increasing investment to our own Drug Courts.

    ‘Legalise it All: How to Win the War on Drugs’

    In a recent piece for Harper’s magazine titled ‘Legalize it all: How to Win the War on Drugs’, Dan Baum, a staff writer for The New Yorker and Wall Street Journal, released a frank quote from John Ehrlichman, a policy advisor for Richard Nixon and chief instigator of the war on drugs. The quote sparked controversy worldwide, shining new light on the reasons behind the Government’s war on drugs.

    While writing a book on politics and drug prohibition in 1994, Baum had the chance to ask Ehrlichman a series of questions during a book signing. He recently revealed the details of their conversation:

    “I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” Ehrlichman asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect.

    “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

    The War on Drugs was a Nixon invention but it’s been useful for political figures around the world, and its function as a political tool hasn’t changed. Being seen to fight drug crime is a great way for politicians to win votes, regardless of what the evidence tells us.

    In New South Wales, the law and order auction that happens during each electoral season has seen ever-increasing penalties for drug offences, and more people sent through the criminal justice system. Last year, the Federal Government’s ‘Dob in a Dealer’ anti-ice campaign was widely criticised for being used as a political distraction to take attention off the Abbott-Government’s failing legislative agenda.

    The Failed War On Drugs

    Someone smart once quipped that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. This would seem to hold true in most places, except drug policy, where the Government is happy to continue burning tens of millions of dollars a year fighting a war on drugs – despite mounting expert opinion telling them to change tact.

    The $1 million annual cost of the dob-in-a-dealer campaign would almost cover the $1.3 million needed to run a 10-bed rehabilitation unit, so a few more addicts don’t have months longer, often in custody, for a proper shot at beating addiction and getting their lives back-on-track.

    According to Victoria’s former chief commissioner Ken Lay, this is where the Government should be looking to spend its resources:

    “For social problems like these, law enforcement isn’t the answer. Unless you get into the primary prevention end, unless you stop the problem occurring you simply won’t arrest your way out of this,” Lay said last year.

    “Ice has been on the scene for over a decade and we’ve had a really strong law enforcement approach and it hasn’t resolved the problem. The time’s right now to look at the other options.”

    Mountains of research support this view. The Australian Medical Association has pointed out the obvious: “reducing drug addiction reduces demand for drugs, reduces crime, reduces harm to addicts and their families and reduces the burden on our health system – not to mention the courts, prisons and police.”

    However, in New South Wales, the police and Government continue to treat drug use just like every other law and order problem – arrest and sent more people to prison for longer and the problem will vanish. Guess what, it hasn’t worked.

    So what could work?

    On July 1st, 2001, Portugal decriminalised the possession of small amount of every drug imaginable, from marijuana, to cocaine, to ice and heroin. Some thought the country would become a drug tourist haven, others predicted that usage among youths would skyrocket. Fifteen years later, neither of those things have happened.

    Instead, Portugal has seen a drastic reduction in drug addiction. The number of addicts, at 100,000 before the policy was enacted, was halved in the space of 10 years. Portugal’s drug usage rates are now among the lowest of EU member states.

    This happened because Portugal moved from treating drug use as a criminal law problem, to a health issue. Possession and use was moved out of criminal courts and into special tribunals where each user’s unique situation is judged by legal experts, psychologists, and social workers. This is an important step to make – no-one chooses for drugs to overwhelm their lives and place them on the wrong path. Providing users with pathways outside the traditional justice system is a win-win for all involved.

    This idea isn’t as farfetched as it sounds, and is beginning to affect drug laws around the world.

    An international commission of medical experts, set up by the Lancet medical journal and Johns Hopkins University in the United States, recently called on the United Nations to back global drug decriminalisation, arguing that current policies lead to violence, deaths and the spread of disease, harming health and human rights.

    In a report published on the eve of a special session of the UN’s General Assembly devoted to illegal narcotics, the group urged Governments around the world to begin decriminalising minor, non-violent drug offences involving the use, possession and sale of small quantities.

    “The goal of prohibiting all use, possession, production, and trafficking of illicit drugs is the basis of many of our national drug laws, but these policies are based on ideas about drug use and drug dependence that are not scientifically grounded,” says Dr Chris Beyrer of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a member of the commission.

    “The global ‘war on drugs’ has harmed public health, human rights and development. It’s time for us to rethink our approach to global drug policies, and put scientific evidence and public health at the heart of drug policy discussions.”

    While politicians win votes, and private prison companies and criminal lawyers get rich, the hardworking taxpayer will continue to foot the bill for the failed war on drugs, and users who want to reach out will not only fail to get the support and assistance they need, but will be labelled as criminals in the process.

    The Most Dangerous Drugs in the World

    What is the most dangerous drug in the world?

    If you’re thinking ice, heroin or crack cocaine, you’d be off the mark.

    In fact, the most dangerous drugs in terms of addictiveness and harm are those which are not frequently reported on in the media – but are gradually developing a following across the world.

    Here are some of the most dangerous – and relatively unknown – drugs in the world.

    1. Krokodil

    ‘Krokodil’, also known as desomorphine, is a form of morphine derived from codeine. It was first synthesised in 1932 and intended as a painkiller – but it was outlawed once its potential dangers were reported.

    Krokodil remained under the radar for many years – but in the 2000s, doctors in Russia began noticing an increase in patients appearing with sores on their bodies, resembling the scaly skin of a crocodile.

    It was reported that heroin users, unable to afford the high cost of the drug, were manufacturing their own desomorphine substitute – purchasing codeine from chemists and combining it with poisonous chemicals including paint thinner and the red phosphorous found on matchboxes. The drug gives users a high that is similar to heroin – at a much lower cost.

    But the side-effects of using the drug are concerning. The toxic chemicals used to produce the drug damages the skin and vital organs – causing skin and flesh to rot off and exposing the bone underneath. In many cases, users have had to have their limbs amputated, as the surrounding tissue became so infected. Organ failure and permanent brain damage can also occur, and most users reportedly die within two or three years of becoming addicted to the drug.

    The krokodil crisis became so severe in Russia that in 2012, the government introduced new restrictions on the purchase of over-the-counter medications. Since then, the number of people using the drug has declined – but not stamped out altogether.

    2. Devil’s Breath

    Devil’s Breath, also known as scopolamine, is a dangerous new drug emerging in South America.

    Derived from the beautiful flowers of the Borrachero tree, it has the potential to wipe a person’s short term memory, and is administered by simply blowing a white powder in the unsuspecting victim’s face.

    According to police, this method has been used by street gangs to drug unsuspecting tourists – before robbing, sexually assaulting, or, in one horrifying case, removing their kidney. High doses can cause coma and even death.

    Those who have felt the drug’s effects say they have no recollection of their ordeal – with one woman saying she had no memory of helping thieves ramsack her own house.
    Scopolamine is so powerful that it was previously trialled by the CIA during the Cold War as a method of interrogating prisoners of war.

    3. Bath Salts

    ‘Bath salts’ are a drug resembling the crystalline substance dissolved in bathwater. It is a type of synthetic cathinone, which is increasingly being used as a substitute for other drugs, including MDMA, LSD and cocaine.

    Bath salts refer to a wide range of drugs known by various names, including Flakka, Bloom, Cloud Nine, Lunar Wave and Vanilla Sky.

    Side effects include paranoia, sleeplessness, hallucinations and panic attacks – and some users have experienced effects so severe that they have brutally attacked other people.

    In one case, a Miami man was shot dead by police after attempting to bite off chunks of another man’s face.

    What’s more, bath salts are notoriously addictive – with a recent study suggesting that the drug is more addictive than ice.

    4. Whoonga

    In some African communities with high incidence of HIV/AIDS, a deadly new drug has emerged – called whoonga.

    Whoonga is created by mixing drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS with other toxic substances, including rat poison and tobacco.

    The drug is provided in a white powder, which is then smoked. Side effects include anxiousness, aggression, and heart and lung problems, and even deadly heart attacks.

    The drug is so addictive that many become hooked after using it just once. And at just $3 a pop, whoonga is one of the cheapest drugs around.

    Another concerning aspect of the spread of whoonga is the devastating indirect impact on HIV/AIDS sufferers – with manufacturers robbing sufferers of their live-saving medications.

    5. GHB (Fantasy)

    GHB is a depressant drug which has recently grown in popularity, especially in the nightclub scene – with users taking the colourless, odourless liquid to relax.

    GHB’s effects are often compared to ecstasy (MDMA) – and for this reason, it is sometimes called ‘liquid ecstasy.’

    But the highly addictive drug comes with a long list of dangerous side effects – including memory loss, blackouts, seizures, respiratory problems, coma, and even death.

    Because of its sedative properties, GHB has been nicknamed the ‘date rape drug’ – used to spike the drinks of unsuspecting victims before sexually assaulting them.

    So there you have it – five of the most harmful and addictive drugs around.

    Court Acquits Driver Who Tested Positive to Cannabis

    Late last year, we published a blog about the NSW Police Force’s controversial plans to expand roadside drug testing across the state.

    The announcement received a mixed reaction – with police claiming that an increase in drug testing is necessary to reduce fatal collisions attributed to drug driving – while others, including Greens MP David Shoebridge, arguing that the effectiveness of roadside lick tests is questionable because they only detect the presence of illicit drugs – rather than the amount.

    As Mr Shoebridge point out, this means that drivers who take drugs days or weeks before driving could potentially test positive – despite not being under the influence at the time of driving.

    Mr Carrall’s Case

    This was the exact predicament that NSW man Joseph Ross Carrall found himself in when he tested positive for cannabis in June 2015 – nine days after consuming the drug.

    Mr Carrall was charged with drug driving and his case proceeded to a defended hearing in Lismore Local Court last week.

    During the hearing, Mr Carrall testified that he last used cannabis nine days before driving – and had followed the advice of a police officer who previously told him to wait one week after using the drug before driving.

    Mr Carrall raised the defence of ‘honest and reasonable mistake of fact,’ arguing that he relied on the advice of the police officer and only drove after he honestly believed the cannabis had cleared his system, and that his belief was reasonable in the circumstances.

    Honest and Reasonable Mistake

    In ‘strict liability’ cases – such as drink driving, drug driving and driving whilst suspended or disqualified – a person must be found ‘not guilty’ if they are able to establish that they ‘honestly’ believed that they did not commit the offence (eg have drugs in their system) and the belief was ‘reasonable’ in all of the circumstances.

    The first requirement of ‘honesty’ is not normally difficult to establish; for example, in drink driving cases, a person who drives the ‘morning after’ may honestly believe the alcohol in their system is gone.

    The more difficult part is proving that the belief was ‘reasonable’. It may, for example, be reasonable if a person’s drink was spiked and they thought they were tired rather than drunk, or if they relied on specific information from an expert or person in authority before engaging in the otherwise illegal conduct.

    The Verdict

    Lismore Local Court Magistrate David Heilpern accepted Mr Carrall’s defence and found him not guilty.

    Such a finding is rare in drug driving cases – with just 4 drivers out of 3043 being acquitted between January and September 2015.

    In terms of ‘reasonableness’, the Magistrate took into account the police officer’s advice that Mr Carrall could drive a week after smoking cannabis. He also considered the fact that it is difficult for people to know when drugs are no longer in their system.

    Whereas in drink driving cases, there is a wealth of information about the fact that alcohol can remain in your system for over 24 hours, there is little information about how long different types of drugs remain in the system.

    What Does This Mean for Drug Driving Laws?

    Some argue that the decision opens the floodgates to contesting drug driving cases.

    However, it should be noted that the defence of ‘honest and reasonable mistake’ has always been available in drug driving cases, and the facts of Mr Carrall’s case are quite helpful – especially the advice from police that he would be able to drive after a week. No doubt that if police have any sense, they will cease giving such advice to motorists.

    Having said that, the lack of information about how long different drugs stay in a person’s system makes the defence of ‘honest and reasonable mistake’ a viable option where drivers are tested a significant period of time after having taken the drug, especially if they have received advice from a doctor or information through independent research that the drugs would no longer be present in their system.

    Antidote to Heroin Overdoses Now Available Over the Counter

    According to National Coronial Information System data, heroin accounts for about 30 per cent of deaths from drug overdoses in Australia and the number is increasing.

    People dying from heroin overdoses are usually young. Those who are fortunate enough to survive can face lasting mental and physical effects.

    But as of February 1, the heroin antidote ‘Naloxone’ has been made available over the counter from pharmacists. The injectable medicine was previously only available with a prescription.

    Naloxone reverses the effects of opioid overdoses by blocking the opioid from affecting the brain and nervous system, and reversing depression of the respiratory system, which causes people to stop breathing.

    The move by the Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA) to reschedule Naloxone, making it available over the counter, has been welcomed by the drug reformists and medical practitioners.

    The TGA received 97 submissions about the proposal to make Naloxone more easily available – every one of which agreed that the drug is safe to use, finding it has no effect on anyone without opioids in their system and has low to no potential for abuse. The TGA’s final decision was that the benefits of Naloxone outweigh any harm it might cause.

    Angelo Pricolo runs a pharmacy in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. He spoke to the ABC’s The World Today program about what he has learned through providing an opioid replacement program to his community. Mr Pricolo said he made an application to the TGA after seeing the impact of heroin on his community and the ability for Naloxone to save lives.

    “Australia will be seen as a little bit of a pioneer in this area and hopefully this decision will influence other jurisdictions to make a similar change to their drug policy,” he said.

    Chief Executive of health research organisation the Penington Institute, John Ryan, cited a study which found another person (who could administer the Naloxone) was around for over half of opioid overdoses resulting in death. He said that sometimes, there was no time to wait for an ambulance or a prescription. Mr Ryan believes that if people are able to get a hold of Naloxone, it could mean the difference between life and death.

    He told the Guardian:

    “People should always still also call an ambulance if they or someone with them is suffering from an overdose.

    But increasing the availability of Naloxone beyond emergency departments and ambulances is all about trying to prevent fatal overdoses, because it is the quickest and best way to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.”

    Dr Alex Wodak is President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and recently retired from his position as Director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, St Vincent’s Hospital. Dr Wodak is not convinced that making Naloxone more freely available is the answer.

    He believes there are other proven interventions that are plausible alternatives. In 2013, when the idea of making Naloxone available without a prescription gained momentum, Dr Wodak pointed out in his article published by The Conversation that:

    “Although methadone and buprenorphine maintenance treatments reduce overdose deaths by about 80%, for instance, they are difficult to access in many parts of Australia.

    And the payment required by patients in some programs makes them ridiculously unaffordable, especially for low-income people.

    Providing more of this treatment in prison, especially for inmates close to release, is particularly important as recently released inmates have a very high rate of death from overdose in their first weeks back in the community.

    But in most prisons in Australia, it is even harder to enrol in this treatment than in the community.”

    Dr Wodak said more recently that while he welcomes the increased availability of Naloxone, this action does not address Australia’s problem with increased misuse of opioids. He told the Guardian that:

    “Drug overdose deaths are rising at totally unacceptable levels, and while Naloxone might make some difference, getting more people who are addicted to drugs into treatment would make a much bigger difference.

    Treatment is too limited in capacity and too inflexible in its design, and too much shaped by a drug prohibition environment.”

    However, most agree that the increased accessibility of Naloxone is a step in the right direction when it comes to reducing deaths through heroin overdoses.

    Getting High, Legally

    Being caught with drugs like marijuana, ecstacy and cocaine can result in heavy penalties and a criminal conviction – but did you know there are intoxicating drugs you can buy and consume legally?

    Most of these ‘legal highs’ are traditionally used by ethnic groups as part of their social customs, rather than partying and having a good time. And unsurprisingly, while they have physical effects on the user, they are generally milder than most illicit drugs.

    Here we discuss some of the ‘legal highs’ that you can get in Australia.

    Khat

    Khat is derived from the leaves and buds of the flowering Khat plant, which grows mainly in African and Middle Eastern countries. It is used in some Muslim, Somali and Yemeni cultures, in which users either chew the leaves and buds of the plant, or smoke, chew or drink dried product.

    Khat is a stimulant drug, and short-term effects include accelerated heartbeat and breathing, high body temperature, increased sociability and reduced appetite. Some users compare the effects to coffee, in so far as it creates mild euphoria and excitement, and can even induce hyperactivity.

    Khat can have unpleasant and even dangerous side effects – including constipation, dilated pupils, mental health problems, impotence and mouth sores. Long term use can lead to addiction, and users who stop suddenly can experience withdrawal symptoms including tiredness, trembling and problems functioning in everyday life.

    Drug laws do not apply to khat in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania – but it is illegal and regulated under drug laws in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT.

    Although the Australian government previously allowed up to 5 kilograms of khat to be imported for ‘personal use,’ the law was recently changed to prohibit importation except for medical or scientific purposes.

    Kava

    Kava is a depressant derived from the kava shrub. It is used in many Pacific Island cultures, including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu – as well as many Indigenous communities.

    Generally, the root and stump of the shrub is ground and soaked in water to produce a kind of tea, the consumption of which creates a sense of relaxation, sleepiness, reduced appetite and numbness in the mouth. Long-term effects include breathlessness, chest pains, malnutrition, skin problems and exacerbating mental health issues.

    Current laws allow people to bring up to two kilograms of kava into Australia, but there are calls to prohibit importation due primarily to the drug’s impact on Aboriginal communities.

    Kava has already been banned in Western Australia and the Northern Territory amidst fears that it is causing social destruction within Aboriginal communities.

    In New South Wales, kava is classified as a Schedule 4 drug under the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act, meaning it is legal to possess with a written prescription from an authorised practitioner.

    Alcohol and Tobacco

    Many people do not classify alcohol and tobacco as drugs – but a staple of modern life. Yet in reality, these ‘legal drugs’ can be even more harmful than illegal ones.

    A study published in 2010 found that alcohol was the most harmful drug when rated according to 16 criteria – including impairment of mental functioning, criminality, injury, mortality, dependence, economic cost, family adversity, and loss of relationships. Out of a 100-point harmfulness scale, alcohol scored 72, while heroin scored 55, and methamphetamine scored 33.

    Tobacco also ranked above illegal drugs such as GHB, ketamine, LSD and ecstasy, with a score of 26, primarily due to the high mortality rate of users.

    Incredibly, the least harmful drugs were those which are illegal, yet commonly used in the community. Magic mushrooms were found to be the least harmful drugs, with a score of 6, while ecstasy scored 9.

    PM Announces $300m Strategy to Treat Ice Addiction

    Many of our previous blogs have focussed on the current ice epidemic in Australia, with the highly addictive drug being blamed for spiralling rates of domestic violence and drug-related criminal activity.

    Unfortunately, much of the government’s response to date has focussed on measures which seek to punish ice users, for instance, by setting tough penalties for drug offences, while failing to address the underlying reasons behind drug use.

    This is contrary to measures successfully adopted in overseas countries such as Portugal, which aim to treat addiction as a health issue, rather than a crime. These countries have decriminalised drug possession; instead focussing on the rehabilitation of drug users as the primary concern.

    Now, there are indications that Australia may be moving towards addressing underlying issues, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledging $300 million in funding for the drug treatment sector over the weekend.

    From Policing to Prevention

    The package will see $300 million in funding distributed to drug treatment services across four years to curb drug-related activity.

    Announcing the package on Sunday, the Prime Minister said that strong law enforcement is ‘absolutely necessary’ in winning the war against ice use – but conceded that ‘we cannot arrest our way to success.’

    $241.5 million of the total package will be invested in the government’s Primary Health Networks, which include hospitals and other community health services. These networks will be tasked with developing tailored drug and alcohol treatment programs for particular regions.

    A further $24.9 million is pledged to help families and communities respond to ice, while $18.8 million will be allocated to drug treatment research, including the establishment of a Centre for Clinical Excellence for Emerging Drugs of Concern. $13 million will be spent on new Medical Benefits Schedule items to increase access to treatment.

    Rural and regional areas – which have long been dubbed ice ‘hotspots’ but lack access to treatment services – will benefit from a significant injection in funding, and indigenous-specific treatment services will also be prioritised.

    The announcement follows the government’s promise of a revolutionary new mental health care system, a system which is in dire need of greater resources. The latest announcement signals a greater recognition of the link between mental health and drug abuse.

    Minister for Rural Health Fiona Nash has discussed how the two systems would be integrated, saying:

    ‘Given the close correlation between mental health and drug abuse, we have closely aligned delivery of drug and alcohol treatment services with the delivery of mental health packages through PHNs.’

    A Fresh Approach

    Speaking to the media, Mr Turnbull announced that his government would be tackling drug addiction in a very different way to his predecessors.

    He acknowledged that ‘the responsibility for tackling this very complex problem can’t be left to the police alone,’ and stated that ‘medical and healthcare professionals, who are closest to the…people in need, are best able to determine how the money is spent.’

    The announcement has been warmly welcomed by Australian Drug Foundation Chief Executive John Rogerson, who said that a move away from the ‘one-dimensional approach to dealing with alcohol and drugs’ was much needed.
    Mr Rogerson told the media:

    ‘A heavy emphasis on law enforcement turned into something which is integrate, which has strong focus on treatment, on prevention and community…This is the major shift which needs to happen in Australia…we have got to get away from treating it as a criminal justice issue and treating it as a health issue.’

    The government’s fresh approach has also been welcomed by Former Chief of Victoria Police, Ken Lay, who prepared a report urging governments to focus efforts on treating, rather than punishing, drug users.

    He has previously criticised the government’s handling of the ice scourge, saying:

    ‘Ice has been on the scene for over a decade and we’ve had a really strong law enforcement approach and it hasn’t resolved the problem. The time’s right now to look at the other options…For social problems like these, law enforcement isn’t the answer. Unless you get into the primary prevention end, unless you stop the problem occurring you simply won’t arrest your way out of this.’

    It is hoped that this new approach marks a step in the right direction when it comes to treating drug addiction – and that the future will see an increased focus on treating our ice problem as a health concern, rather than a criminal law problem.