The National Crime Authority has recently re-ignited the heroin debate by saying that we are losing the war against drugs. The NCA says that too many illicit drugs are entering the country, and that organised crime is spiralling out of control. It says, therefore, that it is time for a rethink on the drug issue. It says we should consider a number of radical new measures, including heroin trials. It is basically saying the war has been lost, and it is time to raise the white flag of surrender.
It is a good thing we do not take such a defeatist approach to other social issues. Imagine saying we have lost the war on rape, so let’s legalise it. Imagine saying we cannot win against drink driving, so let’s set up controlled drink driving trials. Imagine saying the battle to end pollution is over, so let’s scrap our environmental legislation.
Interestingly, when we debated a proposal to set up 5 heroin injecting rooms in Melbourne recently, there were voices saying if we did not get these rooms, overdose deaths would skyrocket. Just the opposite has happened. Thanks to strict policing and drug seizures, heroin deaths are way down from previous years.
Consider the figures. In the first seven months of last year there were 214 heroin deaths in Victoria. During the first seven months of this year there were just 29. While even one death due to heroin overdose is too many, 29 is far better than 214.
Another figure shows that we are far from on the losing side in the drug battle. In 1997-1998 there were 25 heroin seizures by the Federal Police, netting 192 kilograms. In 1999-2000 there were 75 seizures, netting over 500 kilograms.
Not only is heroin becoming more scarce, but cocaine is becoming even harder to find. Furthermore, the price of a cap of heroin has more than doubled, while purity has radically plummeted. All this means fewer heroin deaths. These facts mean, as Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty has said, that we are winning the war, not losing it.
Now is not the time to surrender in the drug war. We are clearly making progress. John Howard, Peter Costello and Michael Wooldridge are all right to reject the foolish and reckless remarks of the NCA.