Wars on drugs failing: DPP

This article originally appeared in The Australian on 9 November 2010. It can be viewed in its original context here. NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nick Cowdery QC has released his own legislative agenda. It includes legalising drugs and abandoning the war on terror. Mr Cowdery would also free more people on bail, enact a charter of rights and give judges more discretion over sentencing by abolishing standard non-parole periods. The DPP’s policy “wish list”, which clashes with the government’s approach on key issues, was unveiled at a weekend conference hosted by the Rule of Law Institute. His criticism follows a series of clashes between the DPP and Attorney-General John Hatzistergos over management and resourcing of the Office of the DPP. Mr Hatzistergos was last night considering Mr Cowdery’s remarks. Mr Cowdery said the current approach to illicit drugs was “ineffective, wasteful and inconsiderate of the human rights of those concerned”. “I would decriminalise drug possession and use and small-scale trafficking,” he said. Mr Cowdery believes the only area of drug use that should remain a crime should be large-scale commercial enterprises. On terrorism, Mr Cowdery said he would stop waging a war on what he described as “abstract nouns such as terror or even terrorism”. Instead, he would rely on traditional laws to deal with terrorism crimes. He would divert resources into addressing the “underlying social and political conditions that give rise to threats of terrorism, rather than into combative means of addressing the symptoms”. Mr Cowdery, who retires in March, criticised the effectiveness of the state government’s changes to the criminal justice system and accused it of being...

NSW Government to Remove “Trial Status” from Kings Cross Injecting Centre

The NSW Government will remove the “trial status” of the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre and formalise the facility. As a trial, it has been subject to extensive evaluations and over the last nine years, it has been the subject of a number of independent evaluations, including by BOCSAR, KPMG, UNSW and SAHA International. To read the media release, click...

Hal Sperling & Alex Wodak: ‘Need to think outside the cell on crime’

This article was originally published in The Age on June 17, 2010. It was written by Hal Sperling & Dr Alex Wodak (President, ADLRF) (click to access) It isn’t smart to hold election auctions on tougher penalties. IN THE run-up to the next state election, Victoria has started a law-and-order auction. Until now, unlike New South Wales, Victoria has avoided such things. Law and order has been an election issue since the 1980s in NSW, yet for the 2008-09 financial year, the state had an imprisonment rate of 184.8 per 100,000 adults, nearly double that of Victoria at 103.6 per 100,000. Crime rates are lower in Victoria across nearly all categories. And, worldwide, there is no clear positive relationship between the severity of prison sentences and the crime rate. The law-and-order auction assumes that people want tougher sentences. Some do. For victims of crime and their families, no sentence is heavy enough. They want revenge. That is understandable, but it is not an objective response. Retribution is a different sentiment. It is a response to wrongdoing shared by the community at large. It explains why people used to take their children and a picnic lunch to public hangings. We have gone past that now, but retribution is still there. It is the chord that politicians strike when they call for tougher penalties. It cannot be assumed, however, that retribution is now the prevailing attitude in the community. Recent studies in Britain indicate that a lot of people are more interested in offenders making recompense than in punishment for the sake of punishment. That would suggest that the community would...

Brendan Bolger: ‘Community figures honoured’

This story originally appeared in SX News on 18 June 2010, and was written by Brendan Bolger (click to access). Several key LGBT community figures have become members of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s birthday honours list. Two pioneers in HIV transmission prevention, a champion squash player who came out at 14 and a former Jesuit priest who could no longer live “a lie” have become members of the Order of Australia in the annual Queen’s birthday honours list. Dr Alex Wodak from the St Vincent’s Hospital Alcohol and Drug Service was recognised for “service to medicine and public health”, most notably through his work in raising the profile of HIV transmission among injecting drug users. He said he was “delighted” to receive the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) but “also conscious as anyone in public health … all my work is a member of another team”. “The crux of the problem is the drug laws. It’s the drug laws that forced me to break the law to try and protect the health of all Australians,” he told SX. Wodak began issuing syringes to injecting drug users when it was becoming evident there were large numbers of people at risk of HIV infection in the inner city, which until a needle exchange program was approved by the government was still illegal His groundbreaking work has ensured that HIV infection through shared syringes remains very low in Australia when compared to other “rich” countries. Kirketon Road Centre director Ingrid Van Beek was honoured for her service to “public health and community medicine through the promotion and provision of...

Dr Alex Wodak appointed a member of the Order of Australia for services to medicine and public health.

This article was written by Kate Benson, and originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on June 14, 2010 (click to access). BY HIS own admission, Alex Wodak’s stellar career has been little more than a series of accidents, most serendipitous. But now 64 and being appointed a member of the Order of Australia for services to medicine and public health, he clearly remembers the day it almost slipped through his fingers. ”The 12th of November, 1986,” he says. Wodak had been the director of drug and alcohol services at St Vincent’s Hospital, in Darlinghurst, for four years. The AIDS epidemic had cut a swath through Sydney, making its presence felt in the streets around the hospital where thousands of young gay men and injecting drug users lived. Colleagues had predicted about 3500 men living in inner Sydney had been infected with HIV in about 18 months in the early 1980s, and many were drug users. ”I saw a terrifying cascade and I was really frightened. I didn’t know what to do.” He wrote submissions to the federal government, pushing for permission to run a pilot needle-exchange program. When permission did not come, Wodak launched one anyway. ”I knew it was illegal but I also knew the law was wrong and the only way to change that law was through civil disobedience. I could see a cataclysmic epidemic taking place and I just had to do it. ”My colleagues thought I had taken leave of my senses. I knew I was taking a hell of a risk – for myself, my family and my [medical] registration, but I was...

David Nutt: Lessons from the mephedrone ban

This article was originally published by The Guardian on 28 May, 2010 (click here for original context). Mephedrone was banned on the basis of limited evidence and media hysteria. We need a new approach to drug classification, writes David Nutt. On 17 March I was giving a lecture in Barcelona when I received a call from CNN. They wanted my reactions to the international press conference that the Lincolnshire police were holding on the deaths of two young men that they claimed had taken mephedrone (the new synthetic drug also known as “meow meow” or “M-cat”). At that point I realised that all sense had left the ongoing debate on the question of the harms and control of this drug. Why were the police holding a press conference when they had no idea if the men had taken any drugs? Why implicate mephedrone when the only established facts were that deaths occurred in the context of a heavy alcohol binge that went on into the early hours of the morning? As a stimulant, mephedrone is likely to reduce not increase the risk of alcohol-related respiratory depression (suppression of breathing). There was little evidence at the time of serious harms from mephedrone use, despite it having become almost as widely used as MDMA (ecstasy). Moreover, the earlier epidemic overdose use in Israel had not revealed significant harms and few if any mortalities. The “media madness” that followed the Scunthorpe event probably tipped the balance in the decision to ban mephedrone which was enacted by a depleted ACMD in an intemperate and rushed manner, and which lead to the resignation of...