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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 485


Senator TATE —Has the Minister representing the Minister for Health seen figures prepared by the Commonwealth Department of Health for the drug summit to be held on 2 April which indicate that, in 1983, some 200 deaths of Australians could be related to the abuse of opiates, 20,000 deaths could be related to the abuse of alcohol and tobacco and up to 30 per cent of hospital beds are filled with people suffering illness, either directly or indirectly related to alcohol? Will the Minister give an assurance to the chamber and to the community that the drug summit will look at the abuse of both legal and illegal drugs, not only in order to deal properly with the great cost in illness and death throughout the community from the abuse of all drugs, but also in order to assure young Australians in particular that society is not being hypocritical in singling out particular groups of drug abusers for attention?


Senator GRIMES —I have seen the figures quoted by Senator Tate. Those figures are familiar to me and to many other members of the Senate who, at various times, have served on the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare which has looked at the drug problem. It would be wrong if the Government or the drug summit ignored the very real problems demonstrated by those figures and ignored the problems of alcohol and tobacco abuse and other licit drug abuse in this country. Therefore, I am happy to assure Senator Tate that these matters will be under consideration by the Department of Health, the Government and the drug summit.

I think everyone who has examined the problem of drug abuse in this country accepts that the problem of alcohol and tobacco abuse, if judged in sheer numbers of deaths or morbidity as recorded, indicates the fearful toll on our community which is undoubtedly the reason why one of my colleagues on my right never stops telling us that he gave up smoking several days ago. But by the same token I think we must remember that the problems associated with the abuse of opiates and other drugs of this type, apart from those demonstrated in the mere morbidity and mortality figures, are considerable and the social costs are considerable. Therefore, because of the relatively small numbers quoted by Senator Tate we would not want to ignore them. They will not be ignored either. I can assure honourable senators that the Government, and I hope the drug summit, will take a balanced view of drug abuse in this country.