Today in Canberra, a huge, progressive, very goddamn important and overdue conversation went down about drugs – particularly Australia‘s attitude to them, and our policies around them. 

The Parliamentary Drug Summit was co-convened by Greens leader Richard Di Natale, Labor‘s Melissa Parke, and Liberal MP Dr Sharman Stone. Great, right? The idea of a bunch of progress-lovin’ politicians sitting about chatting about why our current drug policies aren’t fkn working was at one point described as someone as ‘a wet dream’. 

Richard di Natale prefaced the summit with a really passionate article published by The Guardian, in which he explains that Australia was once a progressive frontrunner on the issue of harm minimisation with drugs, particularly with our clean needle/syringe programs to minimise HIV: “Back then, there was courage and vision among our politicians and policymakers to try a new way, and police worked with health officials to make it a reality. And it worked.”

“There are three immediate steps that governments can take in partnership with non-government organisations, police and health authorities to save lives. The first is to enable a trial of pill testing at public events such as music festivals.

The second is to remove drug sniffer dogs from public events because we know that they frighten people into taking their drugs in one hit and are contributing to overdoses rather than preventing them. 

The third is in recognition that police and other government agencies hold data and information on the composition of street drugs gained through seizure and hospital presentations.”

Pill-testing was heavily discussed, which included hugely inspiring input from Dr Alex Wodak, the president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation (and the guy who said #ParlDrugSummit was his wet dream, just FYI). Wodak is the excellent human being who has announced that he and David Caldicott will be doing a privately-funded pill-testing trial, with or without the Baird government’s approval:

“I am prepared to break the law to save young people’s lives,” Wodak told Fairfax earlier in the week. Today, he spoke of pill-testing being the first step towards minimising fatalities and harm from drugs by regulating the industry:

He will conduct pill-testing at an Aussie festival (it’s looking likely to be Stereosonic, who have publicly backed it), in order to show drug-takers whether their drugs are ‘talcum powder or highly toxic’. What a badass, right? Well, it’s not his first bloody rodeo: in 1986, he and his team introduced the first needle syringe program. In 1999, he actioned this country’s first medically supervised injecting centre after thousands of deaths due to heroin. Premier Bob Carr said supporting it was one of his highest career achievements despite originally opposing it. Wodak just gets shit done. 

However, the panel also discussed the fact that many international and Aussie police officers agree with pill-testing, and have openly spoken of their support for it. The panel included former officer Frank Hansen, and his public support for pill-testing was met with praise from current members of the force on social media:

Another active voice in the panel’s discussion was (SHOCK HORROR) someone who actually takes drugs. While their name hasn’t been published yet, their statement about the stigma and lack of care for people’s welfare struck us deeply. Di Natale also acknowledged how important it was that these discussions include drug users, because they are the greatest resource to the conversation:

According to polls conducted by the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) found that a sub-total of people who supported decriminalised actions such as health support and warnings for drug users ranged from 64% – 88%, depending on the drug in question:

The realistic expectations of the panel was truly outstanding, with most participants openly stating or acknowledging that people will always take drugs, and suggesting that people ‘just stop it’ is a redundant thing to suggest as a solution:

But our favourite part about this summit was the focus on people’s welfare. You can clearly see that the speakers at this event, particularly executive officer of the Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL), Annie Madden, cared deeply for the wellbeing of Aussie citizens who happen to take drugs. It shouldn’t be about punishment, our government’s primary focus should be on the health and wellbeing of citizens:

While the entire summit was not televised, you can watch the press conference led by Richard di Natale on Periscopewww.periscope.tv/w/1lPJqjERlXbxb

And, you can see more info and discussion via the summit’s official hashtag, #ParlDrugSummit on Twittertwitter.com/hashtag/parldrugsummit

Source: Twitter / NDARC / SMH

Photo: Periscope.