#FairTreatmentAU Launch

Our very own Marion McConnell starred at the launch last Friday morning of the drug policy reform campaign of the Uniting Church of the New South Wales and ACT Synod  – https://nswact.uca.org.au/social-justice/the-social-justice-forum/drug-law-reform-campaign/.

Sir Richard Branson did the honours. The launch took the form of a moderated discussion between Branson, Dr Marianne Jauncey, the medical director of Uniting’s King’s Cross medically supervised injecting room and a third person, Dr Khalid Testi, the Executive Secretary of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/). In the course of it, three beautifully produced videos were shown of the stories of each of Marion, Liz and Shantall . Please make the time to look at the Facebook link which includes those videos at https://www.facebook.com/fairtreatmentau/videos/330197397753983

A man speaking with a microphone

The entire video takes about 1 1/4 hours but the videos of each of the three stars including our Marion, are between just five and 10 minutes each. The Moderator, Rev. Simon Hansford, also spoke. To my mind it was a proud moment for the Uniting Church. It has dared to make a stand in the public square to right a long standing wrong. It is a bold step that has caught the public imagination. Moreover the launch demonstrated that it is conducting the  campaign in an impressive and professional way.

The other two videos shown at the launch were of Liz and Shantall. Liz had left home as a teenager and lived years on the street before her life was turned around after she got into contact with Uniting’s medically supervised injecting room in King’s Cross. Shantall is still struggling to exist with her kids and drug dependence in drought afflicted Dubbo where she lives, without a car, 400 km from the closest treatment service.

The testimony of Liz, Shantall & Marion and the comments of Marianne Jauncey provide a rock solid justification for the logo adopted for the campaign: #FairTreatmentAU. These two words encompass what the campaign is about.

They speak to the fact that:

*  There are only half the number of treatment places available as are needed. I suspect that the shortfall is probably even worse than that.

*  There is an almost total absence of treatment and support outside the capital cities and other large centres.

* Overstretched treatment services may require those seeking treatment to wait indefinitely (this in spite of the known fact that if the opportunity is not available for someone wrestling with addiction to secure help when they are prepared to avail themselves of it, the opportunity is likely to be lost).

* The vital need to remove the criminal law from the equation. As Richard Branson said, the criminalisation of drug use and possession interrupts treatment. It may get you into prison but that experience only makes it more likely that you will relapse.

*  Access to treatment is a question of justice, of the human rights that we all should enjoy to have access to the best available health services.

The focus on fair treatment is a very clever way to get the broader community behind drug law reform. There has been some reluctance to pin our sails to the treatment mast on the ground that treatment is only incidental to the main objective of securing drug law reform because treatment alone does not address the question of justice.

Adding fair to the call for treatment does bring in this other aspect. Everyone can get behind the need for treatment and of course access to that treatment needs to be fair.

We all now have a job to do to promote the logo #FairTreatmentAU among all our contacts, our Facebook friends and Twitter followers and at our kitchen table conversations. We want the call to resonate around the nation just as it resonated in Sydney Town Hall and will resonate in scores of country towns through which campaigners will take the Long Walk to Treatment from Dubbo to Parliament House in Sydney to demand fair treatment.

When you listen to the video, you will hear Richard Branson being asked his reaction to Marion’s call for getting the criminal law off the back of drug users. He replied that there are many countries now that have done that or are planning to do that and went on to talk about Portugal.:

The facts are when you look at countries that have done that they have got on top of the problem. I’ll give one example. Portugal in the year 2000 had a horrendous heroin problem and a very brave president went on television and said if you take heroin you will not be criminalised, and the state is here to help you, you can come forward and you will be able to inject safely and you can be supervised like you’re doing here and when you’re ready to go to a clinic we’ll arrange for you to go to a clinic and within three or four years it’d become a non-event in Portugal. People who had been on heroin had been weaned off. They were useful members of society again. If it can work in Portugal it could work in pretty well every country in the world.

The issues raised at the Fair Treatment launch will be front and centre of the annual remembrance ceremony of Families & Friends for Drug Law Reform  at our Memorial in Weston Park in Canberra on Monday 29 October at which Attorney General, Gordon Ramsay, and Caitlin Scott, Chaplain with Uniting Resilient Families and Communities will speak.

The campaign is timely. A perfect storm is brewing unless politicians summon the intestinal fortitude to tackle this problem:

* Deaths from drug overdoses and suicides of depressed dependent drug users after years of struggle to overcome their addiction are now skyrocketing to levels not seen since those awful days when Families and Friends got going in the 1990s;

* Deaths from overdose alone are now higher than the road toll;

* Large quantities of heroin are flowing back into the country or accessible through medically prescribed opiates;

* Many people are becoming addicted to opiate pain management medications; and

* Exceptionally dangerous fentanyl is turning up in laced pills consumed at dance parties.

In short, the very skilful promoters of the Uniting initiative have developed an unprecedented momentum in support of removing criminal sanctions from the back of drug users.

I’d like to think that we can now all get behind #FairTreatmentAU!

Bill Bush
St Ninian’s UC
Presbytery Social Justice Group
Family & Friends for Drug Law Reform