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...

Dr. Alex Wodak: “Want to stop police corruption? Start taking drug and alcohol issues seriously”

This text was originally published on Crikey.com in an article compiled by Melissa Sweet on May 3, 2010. Dr Alex Wodak, President of the ADLRF, writes: “Critics lost no time pointing out that the brand new hospital reform package includes only a derisory and last minute new funding component for improving mental health services. But at least there is some new mental health funding. In contrast, the notion of increasing funding for alcohol and drug services has not even been considered. Yet patients with severe alcohol and drug problems, like patients with severe mental health problems, contribute to a great deal of the workload of general practice, community services and hospitals. At present, only about half the heroin users in Australia who want methadone or buprenorphine treatment and meet the approved criteria are able to enter treatment. Once in this treatment, they will have to front up with about 30% of the costs. This is the highest co-payment for any chronic health condition in Australia. The people required to pay this co-payment almost invariably have low incomes. So, with a heroin shortage and a treatment drought, our would-be heroin users turn to prescription opiates. Australia’s consumption of prescription opiates is increasing rapidly and has now reached the equivalent of 60 kg of morphine per million per year. The USA reached a consumption of 60 kg of morphine per million per year in 2000 and that was when the proverbial starting hitting the fan. Since 2000 in the USA, overdose deaths from prescription opiates have outnumbered heroin overdose deaths and cocaine overdose deaths. And the gap continues to widen. Also,...

QLD LA Inquiry into addressing cannabis-related harm in Queensland

Legislative Assembly of Queensland Social Development Committee Issues Paper Inquiry into addressing cannabis-related harm in Queensland General Comments: Alcohol and tobacco are responsible for 97% of drug-related deaths in Australia and are legal drugs. The fact that they are legal has enabled commonwealth and state governments to reduce the harms resulting from these drugs. Alcohol consumption in Australia per head of population is now about 25% less than it was 30 years ago. The prevalence of tobacco smoking in Australia has fallen dramatically in men and women over the last 40 years. In contrast, cannabis consumption in Australia increased from the 1960s until the 1990s but has since declined slightly. Concerns about health and other complications from cannabis should be matched by concerns about the harms from and costs of cannabis prohibition. As President Jimmy Carter said ‘Penalties against the use of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of a drug itself; and where they are they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against the possession of marijuana …’. The total costs of cannabis law enforcement in Australia are unknown. They are likely to be considerable. While identifying benefits from cannabis law enforcement is difficult, significant unintended negative consequences are all too obvious. The adverse consequences of unsuccessful attempts to enforce drug prohibition include significant police corruption documented in several Royal Commissions (e.g. Costigan 1985; Fitzgerald 1995; Wood 1997; Kennedy 2004). There is growing support for the view that the least-worst option is the taxation and regulation of cannabis. The following comments are responses to the...