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Roundtable sees red over war on drugs

Members of community group REDWatch have taken aim at drug prohibition and its negative effects on the Redfern Waterloo area at a roundtable event.

Problems with prohibition and the state’s current methadone program were discussed by fifteen attendees at The Factory Community Centre, Waterloo on Thursday August 6.

City of Sydney Greens Councillor Irene Doutney said new strategies were needed regarding drug usage and police presence.

“We have such an intense war on drugs in Redfern that I think it’s very important for us to be discussing it and trying to come up with other alternatives to just “the war [on drugs]” and the constant police harassment of people,” she said.

Gideon Warhaft, who co-founded Unharm, an organisation which campaigns for decriminalisation of drug use, said that drugs should be regulated in the same way alcohol and tobacco is.

“They [drugs] should be taken out of the criminal economy and they should be brought into the real economy,” he told the meeting.

“It [prohibition] is incredibly expensive and it criminalises a whole class of people for no other reason than they have an addiction to a substance, which I think is morally indefensible,” he said.

A main area of concern on the night was the one-size-fits-all approach to tackling drug addiction.

Clr Doutney said each person needed to be dealt with individually in order to find out what their problems actually were and not just treated as a “cohort of addicts”.

“We should be nurturing and trying to help these people, not criminalise them more which then locks them into a cycle in which they can never get out,” she said.

Mr Warhaft also found evidence of this approach in the enforcement of drugs.

“Why is the penalty for being caught using methamphetamines exactly the same as being caught with MDMA [Ecstacy], which most drug experts state is probably the safest recreational drug that is widely used?” he asked.

He suggested that the regulation of illicit drugs would allow the government to change the demand and to apply restrictions based on the type of drug rather than drugs as a whole.

The majority of speakers present also demanded a better NSW Opioid Treatment Program, a heroin-substitution treatment consisting of methadone and buprenorphine.

Clr Doutney said the huge does supplied by the treatment came without social help.

“They’re not supplying them with any counselling, any community support, any advice about hepatitis and things like that. You just get your dose and that’s not enough,” she said.

The Factory Community Centre Executive Michael Shreenan said that criminalisation of drugs was not helping combat social issues of drug use.

“I have seen the social damage caused by over consumption of legal and illegal substances and I have seen responsible consumption causing little, if any damage. However, it’s clear to me that the demonising and criminalisation of people’s social habits is doing little to reduce harm and bring more harm than solutions,” he said.

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