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Berejiklian Bins: A Futile Move By a Failing Premier

NSW deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame recently recommended the implementation of pill testing and the removal of drug dogs at music festivals to prevent people from taking substances that can prove fatal, panic overdosing and preloading on drugs to avoid police detection.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian came out on Wednesday with her government’s response to these life-saving recommendations made by an expert charged with ascertaining why six young people died in drug-related circumstances at festivals over the last two summers.

And what did Berejiklian announce? She’s going to implement amnesty bins at festivals, which are designed to be an accompaniment to pill testing operations. They allow people – who’ve had their drugs tested to see if they could prove fatal – to throw them out.

The premier said the provision of bins will allow people that “see police or other activity” to not panic, but throw their drugs away. “Other activity” is presumably code for drug dogs. And as well, Gladys saw fit to declare that she’s “closing the door” on pill testing.

What is she on, anyway?

Respectfully, Ms Berejiklian has never taken any drugs, neither does she have a medical background, and further, she ignores the evidence-based recommendations made by the experts, so she has no idea how ridiculous and harmful what she’s saying in regard to these issues actually is.

Although, the premier could consider a couple of things before she gets more blood on her hands, such as people have pretty much always taken drugs and the fact that some die, hasn’t stopped this. Just in the same way that alcohol deaths haven’t prevented people from enjoying a glass of chardy.

When people go to the trouble of sourcing drugs and paying for them, they don’t expect to die, as the majority of them don’t. When they preload prior to a festival, or panic ingest, they don’t expect to die then either. They’re actually trying to avoid drug dogs and strip searching obsessed police.

If Ms Berejiklian followed the deputy coroner’s recommendations, young people could walk into a festival have their drugs tested, have a discussion with a health expert, avoid taking potentially lethal doses or toxic substances and they could even use her thoughtfully provided bins if they chose to.

And let’s face it, there’s always going to be that person who refuses to use their seatbelt, even though it’s provided, and ends up paying with their life because of it.

A veteran in preventing drug deaths  

The harm reduction programs Dr Alex Wodak has played an integral part in seeing rolled out have saved countless lives in this country. On whether the amnesty bin idea is going to save lives, he said “the answer, unfortunately, is a clear no”.

And as far as the president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation is concerned, the door is definitely still open on “further discussion of pill testing to reduce deaths”. He added that while “saturation policing, strip searches and sniffer dogs might be clever politics”, they don’t work.

“At some time in the future, state and territory governments throughout Australia will accept the overwhelming arguments for providing testing at youth music events and also at fixed sites,” Dr Wodak told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.

“Until policy changes, there will be more needless, preventable deaths.”

Medicinal Cannabis: Legal But Inaccessible

By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim

The Turnbull government passed the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill in February 2016. The ensuing legislation set up a licensing scheme to allow for “the cultivation and production of cannabis and cannabis resin for medicinal and scientific purposes.”

A handful of licences were issued within the first few months, and many more were in various stages of determination. Recognising it would be some time before locally produced cannabis-based products would be available, the Health Minister Greg Hunt set up an importation scheme.

But two years after the legislation was enacted, medicinal cannabis is still notoriously difficult to access.

Benefits of medicinal cannabis

The potential value of medicinal cannabis in treating a wide range of conditions has been confirmed by scientific research in a number of countries.

The medicine has been found to ease the discomfort associated with chemotherapy, to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis and to reduce seizures in cases of severe epilepsy. Cannabis medicines have also been widely recognised for their ability to provide relief for those living with chronic pain.

The problem is that doctors can’t prescribe the medicine unless they have been specifically authorised to do so. And even if they could, it is unlikely the local chemist would stock what you need. And on top of that, the limited availability makes the cost of the medicine beyond the reach of ordinary people.

In fact, the very same federal and state laws that made medicinal cannabis legal have such restrictive rules and regulations, that accessing the medicine is impossible for many.

Bureaucracy limits access

Medicinal cannabis campaigners such as Lucy Haslam are baffled – they say there are hurdles at every step of the process, from cultivating the plant and manufacturing the medicine, through to prescribing and dispensing it to patients.

Only one medicinal cannabis product has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) – the government department that allows medications to be legally distributed in Australia.

To legally obtain any other cannabis-based product, patients must apply to the government on an individual basis. If the product contains THC – the element that gives cannabis its dissociative effect – approval is required from both the state and federal governments.

Applications must be completed by a specialist medical practitioner, not a local GP, and the specialist must establish a case for why medicinal cannabis should be used instead of another drug that already exists on the TGA register.

Doctors and even politicians assert that the process is so complex and inconsistent that it is unworkable.

Of the 64 applications for access to medicinal cannabis made to NSW Health between August 2016 and October 2017, more than 40 were sent back for further information. Eighteen were rejected entirely.

Only a handful of people have so far been granted access to medicinal cannabis – roughly 150 people across the entire country.

As mentioned, another barrier is the high cost of treatment – making medicinal cannabis products unaffordable for many ordinary Australians, and is not covered by Medicare.

It is hoped that when Australia begins to actually establish its own local production, supply will increase and the medicine will be more affordable.

The black market is thriving

It has been reported that as a result, the unauthorised supply of cannabis medicines is thriving.

There are producers who are simply trying to do the right thing – to provide a medicine to chronically ill people which they cannot otherwise access.

They have seen the benefits of the drug first hand. But despite their goodwill, these suppliers are being raided, arrested, charged and sent to court to face the prospect of a criminal record or even imprisonment.

Meanwhile, the bureaucracy continues to fail those in need.