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Thursday, 18 May 1972
Page: 1787

Debate resumed from 11th May 1972 (vide page 1635) on motion by Senator Marriott:

That the Senate take note of the paper.'

Senator DameNANCY BUTTFIELD (South Australia) (12.9)- Mr Deputy President, I rise with great pleasure to support the recommendations contained in the report of the Senate Select Committee on Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse. As a member of that Committee, I learned very quickly the double value of Senate committees. The first value is the amount of knowledge that members of committees gain. The second value is the good which is done in the community through the publicity given to the witnesses who give evidence before a committee and the findings of thai committee.

In inquiring into drug abuse, this committee was studying the psychotropic drugs. In studying that we were not by any means recognising that they were the most important drugs of abuse. Certainly alcohol and tobacco would either be as dangerous or much more dangerous. But that was a separate subject. It was because of the growing abuse of psychotropic drugs in Australia that there was an urgent need to examine the degree of abuse and the way in which these drugs were being abused and to publicise to the community just what was happening.

The important thing about psychotropic drugs is that the first experiment needs to be prevented. Although people tend to think that it cannot happen to them very often the first dose can be fatal and they can become hooked. There is no quick remedy for anybody who is accustomed to abusing such drugs. Our great concern in this Senate and, certainly, on the Senate Select Committee on Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse was with the young people who make up a very large proportion of the drug abusers. Perhaps the largest section are between the ages of 15 and 25. Certainly there are responsibilities with the community, the Government, parents and individuals to try to help prevent this experimentation which is going on among young people.

Very often, in fact almost invariably, when one talks to a young person who is addicted to drugs he will tell a sad story of broken family life and the generation gap as a result of which he is not able to talk to his parents or may have parents who are loo inflexible, treat abuse as a crime and cast him aside. We must realise that drug abuse is not a criminal offence, lt is a sickness and should be treated as such, lt is hard to define exactly which drugs are difficult or dangerous. There are such a complex range of them and they perform so many functions. If we think of a drug as something which alters the structure or the function of the body then we realise that it is the psychotropic drugs which work on the central nervous system which are being so much abused today, particularly by young people. They seem to be trying to escape from a world which, maybe, we have created. They are seeking to escape from honors, from war, from depressions and they try ' to find their escape in this new way. It is a way which does away with their cares and responsibilities. They are able to find among others who are abusing drugs some form of subculture where they gather together and hold things in common.

I had a very sordid experience of going out with the drug squad in Sydney. U amazed me to find the number of young people who were abusing drugs and who were living in crowded areas around Kings Cross and Paddington in disgusting conditions. They were living in what they called their 'pads'. This consisted of one room with practically no toilet facilities. There was nothing to hold rubbish. In one small kitchenette f saw a heap of rubbish which must have been a home for rats. They had nothing in which to put it. They had no furniture. They were sleeping on dirty, filthy mattresses on the floor. Everything which seemed to make life not worth living was going on in a very extensive area.

Certainly, drugs can be used with some value. They can be a crutch if they are used properly under a medical prescription with careful supervision and according to directions. The abuse comes when people do not follow medical directions and use drugs by injecting, inhaling or in other ways in which drug abuse is carried out. Drug abusers find that they have ruined their liver, kidneys, heart or brain. When these symptons of degeneration come it is too late to do very much to help them.

However, I shall digress for a moment to tell about a letter which 1 received last week. 1 think that this stresses the value of Senate committees. In South Australia, because it was reported in the newspapers that I was a member of the drug committee, I received a letter from a young girl who had been consigned to a closed ward of the Hillcrest Psychiatric Hospital by the court. In other words, she was virtually imprisoned. She wrote to me and asked whether I would go to see her and see for myself the disgusting conditions under which she was compelled to live. I did so.

First 1 rang the drug squad to hear what ils members felt about my visit, and they encouraged me to go. I rang the psychiatrist in charge of the hospital, who welcomed me and accompanied me while I spoke to the girl. He told me beforehand that it would be useless to try to relieve her .situation. He said: 'She has absolutely no desire to be withdrawn from drugs. She is in a closed ward because she would attempt to take her own life if she were not confined there. She is in a desperate situation. There is nothing we can do. We have appealed to every sense we can, but she will not help herself or allow us to help her".

When I saw the girl J said to her: 'You write extremely well; your letter was extremely well put together. Wouldn't you like to try to write?" She replied: 'Well, I would; but how can 1 do so in this place?' I saw that there was no place to which a person could go to write, paint or read in privacy. She was in a ward with elderly, senile women and people who were mentally deficient. I did my best and talked with her. She has written to me in these terms:

I don't know whether you will remember me about 1 i years ago when I appealed to you about the conditions in the security ward of Hillcrest Psychiatric 11,,:ni,al

She goes on to say:

I am a little vague abou) details of that time. I was almost oblivious to things around me or. as most people do, have automatically blocked out unhappy memories. However, some time after you visited, i he ward did become more open; most of the younger ones were given a certain amount of freedom daily 10 wander the grounds.

She said that she had left the closed ward for more intensive treatment and had not been hack there, except for one night after a drinking celebration, so she could not give me accurate report on present or recent conditions, although the ward had improved after f had been there. After telling of other girls who had become permanent inmates, she wrote:

When you knew me, I was bitter, suspicious and determined not to accept help.

She did not like the first doctor, although she conceded that he had tried to heir her. She continued: 1 gol on far better with my new doctor, who was prepared to use trust. In truth, I trusted him and soon I was revising ray ideas on what 1 wanted from life. 1 have had a few slip-backs on drugs and drink, but caine through them and now can communicate feelings, face them and accept them as being a part of myself instead of smothering intense emotions I couldn't understand and feared.

There is no need for me to read any further from the letter. The point is that through care and attention that girl, who I was told was hopeless, is now able to respect herself. She has not been back on drugs for some time and she is about to try life on a kibbutz in Israel in an attempt to find understanding there. She says that she could give a long dissertation on the faults of Australian living. 1 will pursue that subject with her, for I would like to know what she means. One of the Committee's recommendations is that the living environment should be improved. Perhaps we can learn a lesson from cases such as the one I have outlined.

Some people do not understand the extent of the drug problem. I would like to give some figures that were given to the Committee over a year ago. They show the world situation. At every minute of every hour of every day and night, someone in the world is injecting one of the narcotic drugs, and every day one person dies as a result of an overdose. We were told at that time that the number was quadrupling each year, so now 4 people must be dying every day from overdoses. In New York alone there were 70,000 registered addicts; 200 of them were teenagers and several were under 12 years of age. lt is worth mentioning that, on a per capita basis, Australians are the biggest takers of pills in the world and the third biggest takers of analgesics.

Another aspect impressed me very much and explained to me why so much crime is allied with drug abuse. The report of the Committee defines drug traffickers, pedlars and pushers. In Turkey, opium is grown legally, but the growers are supposed to sell their product to the Government for $7 per lb. However, when growers do not send all their opium to the Government, $350 per lb is paid for it on the black market by big crime organisations come to Turkey, smuggle the opium out in one way and another and take it mainly to Fiance and Hong Kong where it is processed into heroin. That heroin finds its way through the smaller pedlars of drugs into various countries. Those big interests break up the original pound of opium into 45,000 packets of adulterated heroin, containing at the most only 5 per cent of pure heroin, and sell each packet to drug takers for $5. The packet contains a 'fix' which, when taken, lasts for 5 or 6 hours. Doing the arithmetic on those figures, one finds that the original pound of opium that costs the Government of Turkey $7 is exploited to earn $225,000 in the world market. In the light of figures like that, it is not difficult to understand why so many people are trying to get young people to experiment in the taking of drugs. They know that by pushing drugs to those young people they may make their fortune.

For those reasons I support the recommendations in this report very much indeed. We must tighten up on the laws. We must punish the trafficker or pedlar who though not a drug taker himself, tries to involve young persons and to make his fortune by doing so. We need to ensure that the law is not too hard on the first offender. Having served his sentence, he should not be penalised for life by having that prison sentence pinned to him and therefore prejudicing his opportunity to get back into the community and to lead a good life. More advisers and counsellors are needed to help young people who, like the girl I have mentioned, having gone through emotional stress and not finding anybody to help them, finally resort to drugs in an attempt to escape from their psychological difficulties. Certainly one of the first things we need to do is to spread education on drugs throughout the community, thus making everybody aware of the dangers of taking drugs. We must realise that education in a limited way will be of no value. The concept must be one of total education. In such a matter affecting social health, members of the legal profession, social workers and youth leaders must understand the problems so that they will be able to help both parents and young people in understanding them. The recommendation that bromureides should be available only on medical prescription is a good one. Certainly I favour the wrapping of individual bromureides and analgesics, which is also recommended by the Committee. Everyone knows how irritating it is to unwrap even one pill. It takes ages to undo the wrapping. It is unlikely that a person intending to take an overdose would spend the time necessary to unwrap all the pills needed to lead to abuse.

We need to help middle-aged women who find life depressing and lonely. Perhaps their families have grown away from them and they find themselves unimportant in life. It is in that category that we find the majority of abusers of mild analgesics. Such women get up in the morning feeling a little depressed so they take a handful of aspirins or whatever the drug may be. They find that this gets them through the first hour while they are getting their husbands off to work. Then they take another handful of some sort of drug. We even heard of cases of women taking as many as 150 mild analgesics a day. Certainly close attention needs to be paid to this form of abuse. It is very easy to buy mild analgesics. They are available everywhere. They can be purchased from chemists, from the greengrocer and from the garage. I am sure that if they were wrapped individually and were made difficult to get at there would be less abuse in this sense.

The recommendations that there be less advertising and fewer tax concessions for advertising certainly are worthy of notice. I think every one of the recommendations in this report are urgently in need of Government attention. Many of them now have been adopted, and in relation to those which have not I can only urge that the Government move swiftly to try to prevent the spread of drug abuse in Australia.

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