Assistant Commissioner Rick Nugent addresses illicit drug use within Victoria
Throughout history the debate one the use, misuse, prohibition or control of drugs has been topical and at times divisive. Recently, the discussion has again been enlivened discussing peripheral issues to reduce potential harm to those in our community who choose to use illicit substances.
While the debate is very welcome and harm minimisation is one pillar to reduce the effects of drugs on our society, the key conversation we should be having as a community is to challenge the attitudes of many who consider the concept of perceived recreational drug use as being ‘okay’.
For me, and those who see the damage caused by drug usage, discussing these peripheral issues takes us away from the serious drug harms occurring privately and publically every single day.
Although simplistic, the basic reality is the only way people can avoid drug harm to themselves, their family, loved ones and the community is by not using drugs.
We must remember all drug harm, no matter how serious, started somewhere, in the family home, at a nightclub, the pub or the local sporting club.
As part of the Victorian community, police members spend their time dealing with people affected by drugs and the wider drug harm that ripples throughout the community.
It is not only the obvious tragic situations where police and ambulance staff are called to locations where people have accidentally or intentionally overdosed on drugs. Our police members also deal with drug affected people who commit assaults, engage in family violence, drug driving, thefts or other aggressive antisocial behaviour daily.
More broadly, you don’t even need to use drugs to be touched by the damage they cause. Anyone who has had their car or home broken into knows the feeling of violation which accompanies these crimes, and we know all too often the proceeds of these crimes have been on sold to fuel a person’s habit for another day.
On a far too regular basis, our police members also have to inform families their loved ones have died in connection with their drug use or where an innocent person has died because of the reckless actions of a drug affected person.
Back in the day, as a homicide detective, I had the unfortunate responsibility of meeting a family irreversibly crippled by drugs. It had been a happy home, right up to the day the youngest boy took his first puff of cannabis.
All drugs have the capacity to cause harm and this occasion was no exception, the cannabis triggered a psychosis, warping the young man’s brain, a not uncommon occurrence.
Eventually, the ‘voices’ won out. The boy took a knife to his parents, killing his father and seriously injuring his mother.
His sister, unharmed physically, was left to pick up the pieces.
An entire family shattered in the blink of an eye.
While the media is awash with similar tragic stories, the daily harm and scale of that harm is not. However, if your family is affected by drug use then the impact is very real.
While we welcome discussion on drug issues we cannot move away from the core issue of the harm these substances cause in our community and the best way to manage harm is to reduce or eliminate it. But as police we cannot do this on our own.
In response to challenging issues we often see reactive messaging such as “getting tough” or “declaring war”. However, I would challenge any notion “declaring war on drugs” has been successful. This is suggestive of two opposing positions and by simply through rigorous and sustained enforcement the righteous will prevail.
If only it was that simple. Drug usage in our community is complex and there is no such thing in Victoria as the war on drugs, and the concept of a ‘war’ is certainly not the approach Victoria Police uses to address drug harm.
While we make no apology for targeting those who profit from drug transactions at the expense of the community and we will always continue to play our part by disrupting and arresting those people who possess and use illicit drugs, we also recognise the criminal law is only one mechanism to reduce this harm.
Victoria Police has a long standing and recognised use of drug diversion and referral pathways for low level offenders, providing early interventions before the harms associated with drug use become more problematic.
So we know drugs in our community are not just an issue for police. Education, treatment and support services are all vital and intermesh to provide a complete response.
While this minimises ongoing harm, as I have said, we need to eliminate the causes of drug usage and this starts with conversations at home, in pubs and sporting clubs to educate everyone, and to provide ongoing support to those at risk.
These important conversations should not be left to others. They are the responsibility of every politician, police member, community sporting club member, parent and person.
It is time for every Victorian to challenge the attitudes of illicit drug use that infiltrate and negatively affect every part of our community.