NEWS: National spotlight on drugs & mental health 2006

hoptis

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In latest news, it looks like Family First may win balance of power in the SA Upper House. While some of the articles in this thread have looked at the initiatives put forward by the SA Liberals leading up to this election, little has been written about Family First and their approach to drug policy... which is zero-tolerance and no room for any alternative.

Mr Hood said Family First's policies included the recriminalisation of marijuana, life sentences for drug dealers and the elimination of poker machines.
From The Age
 

hoptis

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A big stick is no way to fight drug use
By Rob Moodie
March 20, 2006

Prevention, education and treatment are the way to tackle cannabis.

What is the real dope on cannabis? Over the past year, the Prime Minister and other federal ministers have been calling for a tougher criminal approach to cannabis. The PM talks of "tolerant and absurdly compromised" attitudes towards marijuana use, sayingmarijuana had "caused a rise in mental illness and was a classic case of chickens coming home to roost".

The South Australian cannabis laws, using civil rather than criminal penalties, were an issue in the weekend's state election, with the Opposition reported as saying it will re-criminalise the growing or possessing of cannabis for personal use.

On the other hand, the Australia Institute's recently released report Drug Law Reform: Beyond Prohibition calls for a shift from law enforcement to treatment and prevention strategies, claiming that far too much of the funds for illicit drugs such as cannabis are spent ineffectively on law enforcement at the expense of treatment and prevention.

Are we right to be concerned about the harms of cannabis in our community? Absolutely. And one thing we can be sure of is the polarised views about cannabis in our community. Myths seem to abound at both ends of the spectrum. These range from the notion that any use will result in certain mental illness, to others who say there is no harm whatsoever associated with any level of use.

Well, who is correct?

The truth, not surprisingly lies between the two. Approximately 10 per cent of those who try cannabis will become dependent on it at some point in their lives, while nine in 10 don't.

The earlier you start, the more frequently you smoke it and the more of the active ingredient (THC) you take in, then the greater the harms. Daily users, for example, have a one in two chance of becoming dependent and showing a diverse range of physical, psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and irritability, poor appetite and disrupted sleeping.

One in five teenagers have smoked cannabis in the past 12 months, with boys out-smoking girls. The good news is that recent use of cannabis among 14 to 19-year-old Australians has almost halved from 1998 to 2004, and has dropped from 44 per cent among 20 to 29-year-olds in 1998 to 32 per cent in 2004.

Regular cannabis use appears to increase the likelihood of psychotic symptoms occurring if the user also has a personal or family history of mental illness. Susceptible individuals who avoid cannabis have a 25 per cent chance of developing psychosis, whereas susceptible individuals who smoke cannabis have a 50 per cent risk.

But are the Prime Minister and others right when they say that cannabis has been the cause of rises in mental illness in Australia? While there was a marked increase in cannabis use among the Australian population from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s, there has been no change in the incidence of schizophrenia among the population during that time. Has it caused major increases in depression and anxiety? We simply don't know at this stage.

Is the Prime Minister also right to say that "re-criminalising" cannabis will result in decreased use?

The evidence, most recently reviewed by Associate Professor Simon Lenton, deputy director of the National Drug Research Institute in 2005, says no. Studies of 11 US states that decriminalised cannabis in the 1970s showed no increase in use nor more favourable attitudes towards cannabis. South Australia introduced the use of civil penalties, but the National Drug Strategy Household Surveys from 1985 to 1995 have shown that this approach has not resulted in increases in weekly use rates among young people any greater than in states that have not changed their laws.

So what approaches should we take to reduce harm? Last year in the Victorian Premier's Drug Prevention Council, we undertook research among 13 to 29-year-olds, both users and non-users. It showed that we should use graphic imagery and realistic situations to illustrate the physical side effects of long-term and heavy marijuana use. These include depression and anxiety, as well as the social downsides such as loss of friends and the effects on family.

And the research recommended against using the "just say no to cannabis" approaches, which stereotyped users with moralistic overtones. The research advised against saying using marijuana isn't fun or doesn't have upsides (because it can be and it does have upsides for many users), and said the messages shouldn't be delivered by medical professionals or government officials.

Our challenge is to ensure that the harm from drugs such as cannabis, just as with tobacco and alcohol, is reduced to the minimum possible. To do that we need broad prevention approaches focusing on the harms and links to mental illness.

These campaigns have to be credible, clever, and appealing. And they have to be repeated year in year out to have any effect. A "just say no" scare campaign every five years isn't good enough.

These broad approaches have to be complemented by targeted interventions that focus on vulnerable kids who are likely to drop out from school. We also need to ensure that people with a family or personal history of cannabis avoid use.

To be truly "tough on drugs" that is, to be effective in reducing harm, a lot more must be spent on prevention and treatment not just on law enforcement.

Dr Rob Moodie is chief executive of VicHealth and the chairman of the Premier's Drug Prevention Council.
From The Age
 

chugs

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well the ALP has retained SA so for the short time (till right wing ALP fuckers start weighing in for political point scoring) cannabis is "safe".
 

phase_dancer

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The article was fairly well balanced IMO.

To be truly "tough on drugs" that is, to be effective in reducing harm...
I like to see these terms referenced together. After all, the given reasons for a need to have a "tough on drugs" policy stem from the fact that drugs do cause harm to some people. If we have to have a tough on drugs basis for policy, then how about directing it more towards the fundamental aim; harm reduction.
 

hoptis

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Cannabis hotline to help teens
Patricia Karvelas
April 06, 2006

TEENAGERS will be targeted at high school in an effort to get to people with mental illnesses when they have their first episode.

The Howard Government also plans to launch a "cannabis hotline" as part of its mental health package in response to increasing claims of evidence linking drug use to psychosis, particularly among the young.

Parliamentary Secretary Christopher Pyne said the phone line would be widely promoted to provide information about the risks of smoking cannabis and the dangers posed by other drugs.

Many experts say there is now little doubt cannabis causes not only psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, but also depression and anxiety disorders, particularly when smoked by young people.

"We will fund public information and education activities targeting the general population as well as particular groups such as clinicians and professionals and frontline workers in indigenous communities," Mr Pyne said.

University of Sydney psychiatry professor Ian Hickie said the campaign had to be carefully constructed not to alienate those people it was targeting.

"There's definitely an issue of making younger people more aware of these direct links that a lot of the so-called common or party drugs are in fact dangerous for your mental health," he said.

Speaking about the Government's move to provide increased early mental health intervention, John Howard said an extra 8500 places would be created in the Youth Pathways program to help young people with mental illness get through school.

"Recognising that mental health problems often first occur in the 15 to 24-year age group, there will be a new range of supports for young people," the Prime Minister said.

"The Government will also provide funding to help parents and school communities identify and respond to children at risk of mental illness."

NSW Institute of Psychiatry director Louise Newman said she was pleased to see the focus on young people, but it was vital to look at even younger age groups.

"Common mental health problems start even before children turn 12," Dr Newman said. "It's still important to look at the younger age groups where problems actually start. In many cases there are earlier signs."

Mr Pyne said the program, which at the moment focused on helping children with drug and alcohol problems to get through school, would be overhauled.

"It's going to be refocused with a mental health aspect. A drugs-alcohol-mental health aspect, because most of the behavioural problems the program is seeking to help with are often related to drugs and alcohol and mental health," Mr Pyne said.

The Government has also promised to employ a number of frontline indigenous workers in Aboriginal communities.
From The Australian
 
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