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Legal drug use may save lives By EVE LAMB August 13, 2004
DECRIMINALISING illicit drugs saves lives and reduces drug use and crime a keynote speaker told the Rural Victorian Alcohol and Drugs Conference in Warrnambool yesterday.
Melbourne-based psychologist and human rights activist Helen Barnacle, herself a former heroin addict whose habit led to her serving more than seven years in jail, said the Swiss heroin prescription trial had shown many benefits.
"The prescription trial under closely supervised conditions of about 1000 severely addicted persons, for whom all other treatments had failed, brought positive results for themselves and for society," she told the conference which continues today.
"The street market shrank because the removal of only 1000 dependent users from the black market reduced the profit incentive to sell and reduced the number of dependent users funding their use by selling to others.
"We should be carrying out such a trial in Australia to see if it brings better results for individuals and society than when heroin is supplied by criminals.
"If this trial works it could be made a treatment option for people who do not respond to anything else.
"There is also a good case for following the same idea for a trial of amphetamine prescription." Ms Barnacle said the decriminalisation of heroin in Italy and Vancouver and the provision of safe injection sites, in a move to treat drug use as "a health issue rather than a criminal issue", had reaped similar positives with drug deaths, drug use and drugs' street presence also falling.
Ms Barnacle said that in nations which had "declared war on drugs" such as Sweden and the US, drug use and overdoses were increasing.
"Eighty to ninety per cent of women in prison have drug addiction issues and 80 per cent of them have suffered sexual abuse and\/or domestic violence,'' she said.
"It is costing more than $50,000 a year to keep prisoners in jail and many keep returning again and again.
"We need further discussion about decriminalisation of drugs and legally supervised injecting rooms."