09 April 2015

MELINDA JAMES:I'm joined now by the Member for Throsby and the Shadow Assistant Minister for Health, Stephen Jones, good morning to you.



JAMES: Now would you agree with the Prime Minister that this is a drug epidemic way beyond anything that we have seen before?

JONES: The problem is more acute than we have experienced with any other drug but as all the experts will tell you some of the traditional drugs, in particular alcohol, are more prevalent in the community. The problem we have with ice is the dramatic effects - it is highly addictive, you can become addicted much more quickly than with other drugs and the dramatic effects it has on health and the way people behave once they are on the drug. That is something that I agree with the Prime Minister on, we can't be left alone. It doesn't mean that we drop our attempts to deal with the impacts of all the other drugs that I've mentioned.

JAMES: There has been some criticism of singling out this drug ice, it is probably important to talk about why we do make this distinction because people like -

JONES: Jeff Kennett came out yesterday and said that alcohol is a bigger problem, he is particularly concerned about the impact on depression, mental health and all the rest. But look we don't need to make dealing with alcohol the enemy of dealing with ice, they are both important. We need to deal with both of them.

JAMES: Some people have raised the fact that law enforcement alone isn't going to help, that this taskforce is primarily focussed on the supply of the drug and how it reaches people and the law enforcement side of things. Shouldn't we also be looking at what is driving the demand for this drug? Because throughout the past several decades when recreational drug use has become more commonplace throughout all tiers of society, you see one drug replaced by another constantly as the newest drug hits the streets -

JONES: You are absolutely right and that is what we saw with meth amphetamine when there was a heroin drought in the early 2000's, we saw a jump in the use of people injecting meth amphetamines. Then people transferring from meth amphetamines to ice, which a different form, indeed a more pure form of meth amphetamines. If you look at the most stubborn correlation - it is people living in poor areas and the increase in the use of hard drugs. That is not to say that everybody who is poor or everybody who is on ice comes from poor areas, clearly that is not the case. We do know that there is a stubborn correlation between poverty, lack of hope, lack of opportunity and people using hard drugs, in particular ice. In fact the use of ice itself has remained pretty stable throughout the majority of the country but the areas where it has increased and where the growth in use has increased is in rural, remote and regional Australia. That is why we have a particular problem -

JAMES: So the level of use has actually stabilised or plateaued in city areas -

JONES: It's been pretty much stable in metropolitan areas, where it has jumped - and this is based on the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare research is in rural, regional and remote areas. We don't know the reasons for that but we do know that there is a stubborn correlation between poverty, lack of hope, lack of employment opportunities and people using hard drugs like ice. That is something that we have to deal with, that is what we are going to have to focus on as well.

JAMES: I guess when you talk about the area of growth being in regional areas, we have talked about this a lot particularly in relation to the Shoalhaven, when the drug does reach regional areas it is much less likely that they will have enough rehabilitation facilities or enough treatment centres to cope with it, since it is a regional area -

JONES: That is absolutely right. It is harder to detect the manufacture of it in these areas, it is also much harder to get people the appropriate sorts of services in place because the rehab services just aren't there. What we know works and there is some hope - if you look overseas at some of the areas where they have had some success in dealing with this, Hawaii is singled out as one. They have a very innovative program where they align the justice services with the health services, they have diversion programs that work and we know that if we align all of those things up we do have the capacity to turn peoples lives around. As somebody quite wittily said yesterday though, there is no way you are going to be able to arrest your way out of this problem. Even if you take the Prime Minister's figures at face value, there is about 100,000 people in Australia who are using ice and you can't put all of those people in gaol and think that you are going to deal with the problem. It simply will not work.

JAMES: I guess even if you deal with the supply chain, once one drug dealer is behind bars someone else usually steps up to fill their place given the amount of money that can be made?

JONES: That is absolutely right Melinda and it is why I get back to this issue - we've got to look at the reasons why people think that their lives are so desperate, so without opportunity, that they are going to take up a drug that is so terrible to your health, that does such dramatic things in such a short period of time to your health and wellbeing. It seems like a viable option if there is nothing else going on in your life, people will do these sorts of things.

JAMES: So just finally, we have talked a lot about what the problem is, why it is difficult and what needs to be addressed, you as the Opposition's Assistant Spokesperson for Health - what is the answer? What would you be putting forward if you were in government to try and tackle this problem?

JONES: Number one, tell the truth. That is that dealing with this as a law and order issue, that needs to be dealt with, but that on its own won't work. Locking more people up won't work. We need health and rehab services in place to deal with the current generation of people who are addicted but we also need to deal with the social drivers that lead people to addiction and that means creating more opportunity and hope in these areas where drug addiction is so high.

JAMES: Stephen Jones, thanks very much for talking to us this morning.

JONES: Great to be with you.