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Rockliff Should End the Liberal War on Drugs

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 30 August 2022

Tags: Health, Drug Policy, Preventative Health, Pill Testing

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP | Greens Health spokesperson

The latest National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program report shows an increase in use of fentanyl in Tasmania - a highly dangerous opioid - as well as other drugs. It’s clear we critically need more harm minimisation services, widely used elsewhere, to reduce the risk of fatal overdoses. 

The Liberals’ war on drugs mentality is a manifest failure. What is required is a health-based response, informed by expert advice and evidence, not ideology.

Of course we must keep cracking down on illicit drug trafficking and manufacturing, but arresting people for personal drug use is no solution to a health crisis. 

The Liberal Government continues to deny Tasmanians access to proven life-saving drug testing services, such as pill testing. Not only do these keep people safe, they help police understand what drugs are circulating in the community - and help educators inform people about how to keep safe.

In the first month of the ACT’s pill testing service, 30% of people discarded their drugs when presented with evidence of what they contained. 

It’s laughable and offensive to families of victims for the Liberals’ hard right to continue insisting pill testing is ‘quality assurance’ for drug pushers. Denying people information that could save their life with this rhetoric is reprehensible.

It should be noted, however, the Rockliff Government has done some good.

Access to the overdose reversal drug, naloxone, through a free take-home program became far easier in the last few years - largely after former Health Minister, Michael Ferguson, left the portfolio. 

Since 2018 various regulatory changes have occurred to improve naloxone access, and most recently in 2021, Health Minister Jeremy Rockliff approved ongoing funding for this program. According to the Illicit Drug Reporting System since these changes started in 2018, the crude rate of unintentional opioid-induced deaths has almost halved. 

In the last two years, there have been 75 reported reversed opioid overdoses in Tasmania through the take-home naloxone program. These are 75 lives saved by changing to a harm minimisation approach to drugs – and we urge the Premier to continue.

The government needs to better use, and properly resource, existing diversionary programs. Further investment is also needed in alcohol and drug treatment and rehabilitation services to properly meet demand.

We urge Premier Rockliff to expand his good work on tackling drug abuse in Tasmania. The best way to do that would be to introduce pill testing services, expand alcohol and drug treatment services, and improve utilisation of drug diversion programs.