The addiction crisis in Australia has taken a toll on Australian families, threatened public safety, eroded public health, and claimed thousands of lives annually.
Though the government has, over the years, implemented comprehensive measures to curtail the epidemic, Australia is still experiencing the devastating consequences of this powerful enemy. Some Lawmakers believe it’s time for Australia to take a fresh approach.
Efforts to Win the War on Addiction
Addiction has been a persistent concern in Australia. Findings by Healthdirect Australia show that one in every 20 Australians suffers from an addiction problem. Alcohol and tobacco dependence top the list of the substances fueling the addiction situation in the country.
A higher percentage of Australians are also indulging in cannabis, which is currently the most abused illicit substance across the country. Abuse of amphetamines, hallucinogens, cocaine, ecstasy, opioid-based drugs amongst Australians is growing at an unprecedented speed.
These alarming statistics give a snapshot of how serious addiction is in Australia:
- Australians spend approximately is worth $11.3 billion each year on illegal drugs
- Between 2015 and 2020, Australia’s highest rates of drug-related ambulance emergencies were linked to alcohol intoxication
- Overall, prescription drugs account for close to 69% of drug-related deaths in Australia
- According to a 2021 report on Australia’s overdose deaths, over 2,000 Australians die annually from overdosing on stimulants, opioids, and multiple illicit substances (simultaneously).
- Australia spends almost $1.5 billion every year on drug law enforcement
The addiction situation in Australia is almost similar to England’s in terms of severity. Research shows that abuse of cannabis, powder cocaine, opioids, benzodiazepines, Ketamine, and Ecstacy is at the highest record in England.
Alcoholism is also a significant problem in England — over 600,000 people suffer from alcohol dependence, and only 18% are in the treatment. In 2020 alone, the rate of alcohol-related deaths was at 13% per 100,000 people. Drug-related deaths in England are currently at the highest levels.
The state of addiction in Australia continues to threaten the nation’s economy. Addiction is to blame for the rising incidences of ill health and premature deaths in Australia, which in turn result in massive productivity losses.
The country is grappling with increased health care costs arising from the large number of Australians in need of addiction treatment.
Mass incarceration of drug offenders is placing a heavy burden on Australia’s state budget, as the costs of housing prisoners in state correctional facilities are increasingly high. Criminal justice expenses have gone up since more funds are being directed towards facilitating criminal investigations and prosecutions on drug-related crimes.
Where the Focus Is On
The economic and public health consequences of addiction have prompted the Australian law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies to remain relentless in enforcing drug crackdowns, with the aim of disrupting street gangs involved in selling illicit drugs and putting drug kingpins behind bars.
The major goal of this strategy is to significantly reduce the steady supply and easy accessibility of illegal drugs to vulnerable Australian populations.
Meanwhile, a section of parliamentarians, led by MP Fiona Patten, are pushing for the decriminalisation of illicit drug users, citing policies on arresting users found in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use have made little difference in reducing substance use and drug-related fatalities.
This group of lawmakers wants the Australian government to rethink its approach in tackling illicit substance use, emphasising that jailing addicted drug users is no longer an effective response to Australia’s worrying addiction problem.
The government has, however, maintained that the authorities’ response to addiction-fueled crime (e.g. possession of a small quantity of an illegal drug) isn’t entirely tied to a criminal justice-driven approach (e.g. immediate arrests and prosecutions).
The idea of approaching Australia’s addiction as a public health concern, as opposed to a crime and punishment issue, is evident in Australia’s harm-minimisation strategy, particularly its drug diversion approach to drug offences.
Instead of issuing arrests and criminal charges to minor, first-time drug–crime offenders, authorities connect these individuals with addiction treatment and recovery support services.
The Australian government is focused mainly on treating the country’s problematic drug use situation as a health problem, not a legal one. By prioritising harm-reduction interventions such as drug diversions, the government remains optimistic that it will make great strides in interrupting the cycle of addiction and drug-related crime.
Ending The World’s Greatest Public Health Challenge
The world has spent billions of dollars enforcing its drug abuse prevention and response policies. Still, the war against addiction is yet to pay off, with some policymakers urging governments to rethink alternative approaches to fighting addiction.
The fact remains, though — ensuring that more drug-dependent individuals are receiving the best treatment for addiction is the ultimate solution to a nation’s addiction tragedy.