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Coercion not the way to reduce illicit drug use

Published: 23 August 2017

The Australian Government’s plan to drug test welfare recipients is flawed because it does not consider the complex nature of addiction experienced by addicts and their families, the President of the Australian Association of Social Workers, Professor Karen Healy AM, has said today.

“The experience of frontline service providers and evidence from medical and health research demonstrates that effective drug rehabilitation occurs by collaborating with the people who are affected, not coercing them,” said Professor Healy.

She says the plan to link drug testing to receipt of welfare payments will fail because it will further stigmatise people affected by addictions and their families, and this will create a barrier to voluntarily seeking rehabilitation.

“Linking drug testing to welfare will also drive people affected by addictions further into poverty and increase the risk of homelessness; those without incomes will be unable to pay for basic living expenses,” said Professor Healy.

She says the Australian Government’s plan is expensive and unlikely to produce the desired outcomes because of the current number of drug rehabilitation services.

“Drug rehabilitation services already struggle to meet demand from people who voluntarily seek to address their drug addiction,” Professor Healy said.

“There is little capacity within the rehabilitation system to respond to large numbers of people who may be forced by the government’s measures to seek these services.”

A key predictor of success in rehabilitation efforts, Professor Healy says, is when the person affected by drug use is personally motivated to create change. The government’s plan to force large numbers of people to rehabilitation services will over-stretch the system, reduce success rates and is likely to result in those who voluntarily seek rehabilitation services missing out.

The AASW is urging the Human Services Minister, Christian Porter MP, to move to a more effective policy that will reduce illicit drug use by encouraging people to seek support voluntarily and by investing nationally in more drug rehabilitation services.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers