Drug and alcohol expert chosen for special UN General Assembly

Drug and alcohol expert chosen for special UN General Assembly

Psychologist campaigns for worldwide focus on treatment rather than incarceration for drug users.  

Associate Professor Lynne Magor-Blatch will argue for a policy shift away from law enforcement and prohibition to treatment and harm reduction for drug users when she attends this month’s United Nations General Assembly Special Sitting (UNGASS).  This will include a focus on treatment rather than incarceration and a partnership model which would result in the establishment of more drug courts in Australia. 

“Australia, like many countries around the world, is filling its jails with drug users when these people should really be in treatment. 

“Substance use, while sometimes involving activities that place people within the criminal justice system, is fundamentally a health concern,” Professor Magor-Blatch, from UOW’s School of Psychology said. 

A practicing psychologist with almost 40 years experience working with people with alcohol and other drug issues, Professor Magor-Blatch is one of eleven experts selected from across the world to represent the non-government alcohol and other drug sector in roundtable discussions at UNGASS. 

Minister for Rural Health Senator Fiona Nash will lead the Australian delegation at the event, which will take place in New York from 19-21 April and will focus on world drug issues. 

Professor Magor-Blatch, who has been called upon for her significant grassroots experience as a practitioner and psychologist, said she plans to push for a stronger focus on demand and harm reduction, which includes increased support to treatment, early intervention and prevention measures. 

“In Australia, we have a national drug strategy which emphasises the three pillars of demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction. 

“While supply reduction remains an important part of the Australian strategy, there is concern within the sector that there is currently not enough emphasis on harm reduction strategies.” 

Professor Magor-Blatch said 66 per cent of Australia’s drugs budget is spent on law enforcement but just 21 per cent spent on treatment, 10 percent on prevention and two per cent on harm reduction. 

“Combating the shame and stigma, and providing support to families, reducing fatalities and increasing partnership models between health and justice systems is of paramount importance.” 

While drug courts operate in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australian, Victoria and Western Australia, their formation, process and procedures differ across jurisdictions. 

The Drug Court of NSW is a specialist court that sits in Parramatta, Toronto and Sydney, however Professor Magor-Blatch says we need more specialist drug courts. 

Professor Magor-Blatch is part of a small group in the Illawarra concerned with the establishment of a Drug Court in the region. Associate Professor Mitch Byrne, also from the School of Psychology, and lawyer Renata Matyear are members of the group who have been working for a number of years on this initiative.  

According to 2013 statistics from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Wollongong recorded a deal/traffic amphetamine incident rate of 103.2 per 100,000 of population, compared with a state average of 21.7. 

The only local government areas with worse rates were Bourke, Albury, and Queanbeyan. 

Wollongong’s use/possess amphetamine incident rate was 100.3 per 100,000, also above the state average of 70 per 100,000, while Shellharbour scored a use/possess rate of 118 per 100,000. 

Professor Magor-Blatch also believes the establishment of a Family Drug Treatment Court in Melbourne, as a three-year pilot program in the Children's Court of Victoria, is an important initiative that could also be adopted around Australia and the rest of the world. 

The aim of the Family Drug Treatment Court is to help parents stop using drugs and alcohol and to promote family reunification. 

“An estimated 40 per cent of children in out-of-home care have a parent who is experiencing problems of substance use. This places enormous strain on families and on community resources,” she said. 

“If we are going to break the chain of intergenerational substance use, we need to be starting with the family system”. 

Professor Magor-Blatch said she was honoured to represent Australia at UNGASS. 

“I feel very honoured to have been chosen to participate, and hope that we will be able to bring forward issues and concerns of importance to Australia and our region.”