May 9, 2018  |  Statements on reports

Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee: drug law reform

Mr Howard (Buninyong) (10:11:12) — I am pleased to speak on the report recently released by the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee on its inquiry into drug law reform, which was first brought down in March this year. I was pleased to speak as chair of the committee on a number of aspects of that report in the week that it came down. Of course it was a very detailed and very long report. One of the general themes was that we need to recognise that when people take drugs and use drugs through personal possession, it needs to be treated as a health issue and that we need to find ways of supporting those people to get onto a healthier path off drugs.

I also note that in the report we recognise that treatment — both day treatment and residential treatment — is very important. We recognise that the Andrews government has already in the last two years done a lot to increase the number of residential rehab beds for drug and alcohol support. I am very pleased to see in this budget a further $40.6 million allocated to establish another three new residential rehab units in regional Victoria.

I also pointed out an issue that many in the community will not be aware of — that in fact it is pharmaceutical drugs and not just illicit drugs that are causing many problems in our community. We heard as a committee from the State Coroner that pharmaceuticals contributed to approximately 80 per cent of overdose deaths between 2009 and 2016 — not illicit drugs but pharmaceutical drugs caused 80 per cent of the overdoses — a situation clearly not appreciated by most of the community. The committee therefore made several recommendations in regard to providing stronger guidelines and training for general practitioners in regard to prescription drugs, particularly opioid analgesics and benzodiazepines, and to supporting greater awareness amongst the broader community about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs like these.

We also recommended the broader appreciation of alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs for addressing chronic pain, anxiety and stress. Clearly the real-time prescription monitoring system being rolled out by the Andrews government is very important in this regard, but the rollout needs to be carefully monitored to ensure that people currently abusing prescription drugs are not pushed onto the illicit drug scene but are supported to perhaps get out of their drug habit and drug problems.

The report also canvasses the issues of cannabis regulation. Members of the committee visited Denver, Colorado, where cannabis has been legalised for some years. In visiting Vancouver we also saw that a range of medical or medicinal cannabis products are openly sold in stores. The committee therefore urged the state government to work closely with the federal government to improve access to medicinal cannabis, including exploring ways to ensure that the medical profession and general public can be informed on the most recent research in this area. We also recommended that an advisory council on drug policy be established, with one of its tasks to investigate international developments in the regulated supply of cannabis.

The committee also of course looked at keeping people safe at music festivals, which is clearly a contentious issue. I note that recently in Canberra we had Australia’s first official pill testing activities undertaken at the Groovin the Moo festival, which among other things did identify that although only 85 samples came forward, two of those samples were shown to be deadly. So it would appear that undertaking that test may have saved the lives of the people who would have otherwise taken those deadly substances. While the committee did not recommend that Victoria should establish pill testing at our music festivals, we did say that we should monitor this. We recognised as I saw in Britain that people who attend these pill testing facilities get advice about taking drugs.

No matter what the police can do, people will still take drugs at some of these festivals. It is a matter of giving them good advice and trying to keep them safe and alive. It is important that we monitor what is happening in this space. Clearly in this report there are a number of issues that I will continue to canvass that relate to keeping people safer in regard to the challenges of drugs in our community.