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Push for drug reform on the agenda: UC discussion

Marcus Butler

28 July 2017: Two decades after the Federal Government blocked a heroin trial in the ACT, a panel of experts will examine the need for progressive drug reforms in Australia as part of a Canberra Conversations series event TOMORROW.

Next month marks 20 years since the Howard Government aborted the proposed scientific trial to evaluate the effectiveness of prescription opioids as a treatment for heroin dependence.

But the issue will be revisited by experts wanting to start a conversation about progressive drug reforms again, particularly around heroin use.

Heroin Prescription: The Need For Rational Policy will bring together two leading experts in the field, Director of Social Research & Evaluation David McDonald and Marianne Jauncey from the Sydney Medical School and the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre of UNSW.

Mr McDonald worked on the report that recommended the Government undertake the heroin trial. He said the proposal was rejected despite strong backing.

“The nation's health and policing ministers supported the proposal, but in August 1997, Federal Cabinet rejected it,” Mr McDonald said.

“At the time it was asked, 'Where is Australia’s commitment to evidence-based medicine?' The same can be said today.”

Watch the full Canberra Conversations public seminar

Dr Jauncey is the Medical Director at the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Sydney’s Kings Cross. She also represents the advocacy campaign of the Uniting Church in NSW and ACT, which calls for evidence-based drug harm reduction and treatment programs.

“We have successfully supported many patients on standard available treatments, like methadone and buprenorphine, and have referred many into residential rehabilitation,” Dr Jauncey said.

“But we have also seen that for a small number of patients the available treatments are ineffective. To do more for them we need to be able to offer more. Carefully supervised treatments, including injectable medicines, should be considered.”

The discussion will be moderated by former ACT Minister for Health and Community Care Michael Moore AM.

“The evidence is clear that heroin prescription works in reducing both health harms and criminal behaviour,” Mr Moore, who is an adjunct professor at the University of Canberra, said.

“The work done in the 1990s was not implemented locally, but has informed successful heroin prescription policies in Switzerland. The program running in Switzerland was even tested through a referendum with overwhelming support.

“The evidence is there. The only question is why would Australia not adopt something that we know improves health outcomes and reduces criminality?”

The Canberra Conversations public seminar series is hosted by the University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis. This Seminar is organised with support from the Families and Friends of Drug Law Reform. The event is jointly convened by Professorial Fellow Jon Stanhope AO and Adjunct Professor Dr Khalid Ahmed PSM.