Wednesday, June 1, 2022
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Open discussion on drug use and misuse

The community in Redfern-Waterloo, including the local area Police Commander, community groups and the City of Sydney’s Safe City unit, had been requesting a forum where harm minimisation and the use of drugs, mainly methamphetamine, which is making up the larger percentage of drug arrests in the area, could be discussed openly.

The forum, which included representatives from Oasis Youth Services, Redfern Local Area Police Command, St Vincent’s Stimulant Treatment Program, St Vincent’s Gorman House Detox Unit and a recovering methamphetamine addict, provided a space for that long overdue discussion – a space for community members to ask questions about the role of harm minimisation programs like needle dispensing machines and the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre. It was an opportunity to discern fact from fallacy.

On the question of the decriminalisation of drugs, the Police Commander said he did not accept that the police were losing the war on drugs but it wasn’t winning either. “Success would take a collective approach across government departments, police, and non-government agencies and residents working together to address the issue of substance misuse, and within Redfern-Waterloo this is already happening.”

A recently released survey showed over 75 per cent of Australians are against the decriminalisation of drugs and this indicates our attitudes haven’t changed in over 13 years. “Regional Council would suggest our attitudes haven’t changed as there has been no informed public debate or discussion on this topic,” said Charmaine Jones, the Executive Officer of IRC.

Mike Shreenan concurred: “It appears those that are experts on the subject or medically qualified to contribute to the debate of decriminalisation are frightened to share their honest views because of policy and political concerns. Despite the fact they are the best people placed to contribute to an open debate and inform future practice, which is long overdue. There is evidence of successes with the current strategies but it is woefully inadequate, and drugs continue to destroy individual lives and are affecting the quality of local residents’ lives. There has to be a more concentrated and coordinated effort to review how we tackle the issue of substance misuse and a debate should be held that is un-defensive, honest, informed by fact. I congratulate IRC for taking the lead in initiating this forum and we hope many more will follow.”

The opportunity for discussion was timely because of the polarising community debate on the Needle Dispensing Machine soon to be installed outside the Redfern Community Health centre on Redfern Street. It appears that, unlike needle dispensing machines in other areas of the inner city where much community consultation and education took place, the Redfern needle dispensing machine was approved over five years ago and will be installed with inadequate engagement by NSW Health. Panel members generally agreed that the needle machine in Surry Hills had caused little problems since it was installed and in fact had reduced problems.

The highlight of the night was Josh, who shared his personal story of beating addiction and spoke openly about how he was lured into the trap and discussed the challenges he faced in breaking that addiction. “Life is good and people need to know that a life on drugs is not; I turned my life around and am now going to dedicate my life to helping others,” he said.

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