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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1448

Senator JESSOP —I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. In view of the large profits being made through the organised illegal trade of heroin and the related financial and social costs to the community which lead to house break-ins, hold-ups and gangster style murders, has the Minister or the Department given any consideration to making heroin available to medically registered addicts free, or at a minimal cost, either through public hospitals or special clinics with the objective of rehabilitating these unfortunate victims of murderous drug pushing? I am informed that this system is being used with some success overseas. Does the Government consider that such action could be helpful in reducing the problems of heroin addiction to the community and to the victims themselves, and could lead to more effective control being exerted on this tragic social problem?

Senator GRIMES —I know, as does Senator Jessop, that from time to time in Australia there is a body of opinion that believes that the best way to handle the problem of heroin addiction would be to do as he says, and that is to supply heroin to registered addicts. This is a method that was used in England and for many years seemed to be more effective than the more prohibitive methods which were used in other countries, although in recent times it seems that it has broken down there. I know from my experience on the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare that this matter has been continually under discussion in Australia. I think one of the great difficulties in introducing such a system in Australia is, first, the doubts about its ethics, and, secondly, the large number of jurisdictions we have in Australia, State and Federal, all of which would have to agree entirely on that process if it were to be successful. I think that is unlikely. I do not know of any recent consideration by the Department of Health of this sort of method of treating addicts. Certainly the Government has not had this method under consideration recently. I will refer the question to the Minister for Health and find out the latest details.