Drug Policy and Results in Australia
This is not an official document of the United Nations. It has not been formally edited.
DRUG POLICY AND RESULTS IN AUSTRALIA
Only a decade ago, Australia had one of the biggest drug problems in the world. In 1998, 22% of the population took drugs at least once a year – a shockingly high figure, five times the global average. Today, ten years later, while drug use is still a problem in Australia, changes in policy have put the country on the right track. How has this happened, and what lessons can be learned by the rest of the world? Those questions are addressed in this report which reviews drug policy and results in Australia. In 1998, United Nations Member States met in a Special Session of the General Assembly and agreed to take tougher action to reduce both the illicit supply of, and the demand for, drugs before 2008. Australia has taken that pledge seriously. In 1998 it introduced a “Tough on Drugs Strategy” that aims to reduce drug supply, trafficking, and demand as well as the harm caused by drugs. This Strategy seems to be working: drug use levels have dropped significantly. Indeed, the turn around has been dramatic. To improve global efforts to contain the threat posed by drugs, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) seeks to increase the body of knowledge available to policy makers. That includes collecting success stories. If Australia continues to build on its recent progress, it too could become a success story and provide inspiration and valuable lessons for other countries. This report, following a similar UNODC study of Sweden’s drug policy (2006), aims to contribute to a growing body of evidence that will help countries bring their drug problems under control.
Antonio Maria Costa Executive Director United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
DRUG POLICY AND RESULTS IN AUSTRALIA
In response to increases in drug abuse in the 1990’s Australia implemented a vigilant drug control strategy. As this report makes clear, drug control has long been a priority of recent Governments and effective changes in recent years were due to pro-active, empirically-based drug control strategy, and a well developed system of services at the state and local levels. This report analyses the developments and changes in Australia’s drug policies over the last decades and their impact. Australia implemented a rather repressive drug control policy from the beginning of the 20th century. This worked well until the 1970s. Australia shifted to harm-reduction approaches as of the mid 1980s, with a strong emphasis on prevention and treatment. This helped Australia to avoid a large-scale injecting drug use (IDU) related HIV/AIDS epidemic. In contrast to alcohol and tobacco where Australia achieved remarkable demand reduction through prevention activities, drug abuse continued rising and reached alarming levels by 1998. In 1998 Australia introduced a National Illicit Drugs Strategy “Tough on Drugs” which strengthened the supply control aspects without weakening demand-side interventions or giving up harm-reduction approaches. In the case of heroin, the strategy focused clearly on a reduction of supply. There followed higher heroin prices, lower heroin purity and ultimately substantially lower levels of heroin consumption. Drug related deaths declined, as well as drug related crime. Use of other drugs also declined, both among the general population and among secondary school students- mainly due to improved prevention and treatment activities and more funds made available by the authorities to drug control in general. The Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) incorporated many of the leading drug experts of the country and strengthened calls for higher budgets in the fight against the drug problem. Australia's drug policy has been based on a broad policy mix of supply reduction, demand reduction and harm minimisation policies....
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