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Should ice users be given glass pipes in supervised drug rooms?

“Vast sums largely spent on criminal justice measures have only succeeded in making a bad drug problem much worse,” argue Dar Matthew Frei and Dr Alex Wodak (pictured). Attempts to restrict the supply of ice have failed, according to Dr Matthew Frei and Dr Alex Wodak. Photo: Supplied

Consideration should be given to providing ice users with equipment such as glass pipes in supervised drug consumption rooms, according to leading drug experts.

Dr Matthew Frei, clinical director of Melbourne’s Turning Point, and Dr Alex Wodak, from St Vincent’s Hospital’s Alcohol and Drug Service, suggest the measure as part of a harm reduction framework.

“Drug consumption rooms have the potential to offer information about harm reduction and treatment, to decrease the risk of overdose and other drug-related morbidity, and to reduce the negative impact on neighbourhood amenity,” they write in the online Medical Journal of .

n governments, however, are spending much more money on law enforcement than treatment and prevention, ignoring the advice of doctors, police and drug treatment experts, they said.

“Governments continue to define the issue as primarily a criminal justice problem, use pejorative terms when referring to people who use drugs, and generously support law enforcement measures while parsimoniously funding health and social interventions,” according to the authors.

A spokeswoman for Police Minister Troy Grant said the NSW government had pledged an extra $7 million on treatment services, and had provided an additional $4 million to the non-government sector to improve drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, especially in rural and regional communities.

“We realise that we cannot arrest our way out of the ice problem, which is why we remain focused on reducing the demand for this destructive drug,” she said.

The NSW government has also halved the quantity required to charge offenders with manufacturing or trafficking in a large commercial quantity of ice from one kilogram to 500 grams.

Dr Frei and Dr Wodak said the National Ice Taskforce, led by former Victorian police commissioner Ken Lay, emphasised drug treatment over criminal justice measures as a response to ice use.

But two-thirds of drug spending by the federal and state governments is directed to law enforcement, the authors write in Beyond ice: is progressing its approach to illicit drugs?

In contrast, 9 per cent was spent on prevention, 21 per cent on drug treatment and 2 per cent on harm reduction, they found

Attempts to restrict the supply of ice have failed, with the proportion of users finding it “easy” or “very easy” to obtain the drug increasing from 65 per cent to 91 per cent between 2009 and 2014, according to the authors.

“After decades of this approach, ‘s illicit drug market is expanding. Not only are illicit drugs easy to obtain but prices have fallen and many newly identified psychoactive drugs have appeared, often more dangerous than older drugs.”

The authors also argue that drug-related deaths, disease, crime, corruption and violence appear to have increased despite law enforcement efforts. Serving and retired senior police are now coming forward to argue that cannot arrest and imprison its way out of its illicit drug problem.

“Vast sums largely spent on criminal justice measures have only succeeded in making a bad drug problem much worse,” they write.

Not only are harsh measures ineffective, they often cause other problems, according to Dr Frei and Dr Wodak. “When access to treatment and sterile needles and syringes were restricted in some countries, HIV prevalence increased among people who inject drugs.”

Tackling ‘s ice problem requires harm reduction measures similar to needle syringe programs: “We need to evaluate the provision of ice-using equipment (such as glass pipes to attract and accommodate the significant proportion of marginalised users who inhale rather than inject methamphetamine) and encourage more disaffected ice users to seek health and social assistance.”

The doctors also point out the limitations of drug education, which they argue must be credible for the target audience.

“At worst, drug education may actually increase demand and too often ends up in embarrassment like the recent New South Wales anti-cannabis “Stoner Sloth” campaign, which attracted considerable ridicule.”

But the doctors also caution against hysteria surrounding illicit drugs such as ice: “The public health burden from crystalline methylamphetamine is still dwarfed by our favourite intoxicant, alcohol, and by tobacco.”

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