The Survey, which canvassed over 26,000 people aged 12 years or over, found that the number of people who had used illicit drugs in the survey period rose to 14.7%, compared to 13.4% of people surveyed in the 2007 Survey.
The Survey showed a drop in rates of teenage drinking, and a continuing downward trend in tobacco use amongst people aged 14 years and over.
Source: Herald Sun, AIHW
US Drug Deaths Outnumber Traffic Fatalities
Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the United States as a result of an increase in prescription narcotic overdoses.
Drugs as a cause of death in 2009 accounted for at least 37,485 fatalities, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The death toll has doubled in the last decade, claiming a life every 14 minutes. By contrast, traffic accidents have been dropping for decades because of huge investments in auto safety.
This is the first time that drugs have accounted for more fatalities than traffic accidents since the government started tracking drug-induced deaths in 1979.
Source: Los Angeles Times
In Vietnam, Rehab Means Torture
According to Human Rights Watch investigators, Vietnamese drug rehabilitation centres, funded in part by the Australian government, detain and hold tens of thousands of people who use drugs against their will, in some instances for years.
The centres, set up supposedly to treat people who use drugs, are little more than forced labour camps where detainees work six days a week processing cashews, sewing garments or manufacturing other items, according to a report from the organisation.
The report says detainees who refuse to work are subjected to punishment or torture that includes electric shock treatment and weeks of isolation.
Surprise, Surprise: Pharmacotherapy Helps to Keep People Out of Jail
A study from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) of heroin-dependent inmates in NSW found that 84 per cent were back behind bars within two years of release, compared to the average return rate for all NSW prisoners of 45 per cent.
However, recidivism dropped by one fifth if inmates left jail on opioid substitution therapy and continued treatment in the community. Staying on a community methadone program also reduced former inmates’ death rates by about 40 per cent.
Researchers based their findings on a study of 375 inmates who had used heroin over a decade.
Lead researcher Kate Dolan stated that the prison methadone program should probably be doubled in scope to accommodate the current shortage of pharmacotherapy
Queensland Joins the Call for Safe Injecting Centres
Following the stalemate in Victoria over a medically supervised injecting centre, Queensland community groups have called for a safe injecting room to be put back on the agenda for Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley area.
QUIVAA president Danielle Coade said “We’re in a situation where [users] can go to needle exchanges to get drug equipment but they can’t use it in a legal way. It’s a Catch 22 situation.”
A spokesperson for Health Minister Geoff Wilson said medically supervised injecting centres were not on the Queensland Government’s agenda.
Source: Courier Mail
Problem Gambling: Mo’ Problems
A news study has uncovered evidence that criminal networks are recruiting problem gamblers into the drug trade.
A study of the parole records of drug offenders in Sydney’s south-west has revealed nearly three-quarters of them blame problem gambling for their crimes.
The investigation by the ABC’s News Online Investigative Unit found criminal networks actively recruit problem gamblers playing poker machines at pubs and clubs, to traffic heroin and cultivate cannabis.
600 drug offenders with a Vietnamese background were surveyed. 72 per cent said they were enticed into the drug trade to pay their gambling debts.
Standen Delivered: Top Cop Behind Bars
Former NSW Crime Commission Assistant Director Mark Standed has been found guilty of attempting to import 300 kg of the speed precursor pseudoephedrine.
Standen’s conviction has prompted the NSW Government to announce a special commission of inquiry into the Crime Commission.
The five-month trial also led to Standen’s conviction of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
Playing Our Part: Users Help in the Search for Hep C Vaccine
A team of Australian researchers from UNSW, the University of WA and Murdoch University have enlisted the help of people who inject drugs in their search for a vaccine against hepatitis C.
The researchers, led by UNSW’s Professor Andrew Lloyd, have identified two “bottlenecks” or “Achilles’ heels” that people infected with the virus have in common, one at the point of transmission, the other occurring in the body three months afterward. These events may lead to an effective vaccine against the virus.
For the first time in the history of hep C study, researchers were able to obtain blood samples only weeks after the participants became infected.
Meanwhile, French scientists are independently developing an experimental hep C vaccine that has been tested successfully on mice and monkeys, showing a strong response from the test subjects’ immune systems. A spokesperson for French company Epixis, which holds the commercial rights for the vaccine, was hopeful that human trials may commence as early as next year.
Sources: The Australian, Reuters
Krokodil: Russia’s New Deadly High
Desomorphine, a synthetic opiate manufactured with stolen headache tablets, is poisoning the users of Russia. Nicknamed “krokodil” because of its skin-decaying side effects, desomorphine is cheap and deadly.
Russia has up to two million people who inject heroin, according to unofficial estimates. Due to successful police crackdowns on imports of Afghan skag, up to 100,000 users in Russia may have resorted to using the cheaper, highly addictive desomorphine.
Source: The Independent
Letters: A Warning
This is an open letter to all the men who read User’s News. October marks the second anniversary of the death of my partner from prostate cancer.
Michael was 54 when he died. When the doctors first diagnosed cancer, they gave him ten years. But it was much more aggressive than any of us expected and he lasted about 18 months.
When Michael died, his daughter seemed to handle it well – too well. After about six months she quit her job; if she’d stayed she might well have been sacked. She became agoraphobic. She’s only now starting to pick up the pieces. Michael’s death was just so awful for his mother; she lost Michael’s father in an accidental OD years before. So sad.
I was so annoyed when Michael first told me. He’d had trouble going to the toilet for a long time. The doctor said if he had come in when he first had trouble, it would have been spotted. I asked him why he didn’t go and he said “oh, I thought the trouble pissing was just age.”
But I believe the real reason he didn’t go was he didn’t want a digital examination. In other words, he simply didn’t want the doctor putting a finger up his arse. The doctor would’ve known straight away he had prostate trouble. Michael left it too long and he died.
So guys, no one likes a finger up the arse. But hey, if it’s going to save your life, isn’t it worth it?
Guys, if you’re having problems taking a piss, go and see your doctor. It honestly could save your life. Don’t put your family and friends through the horrors of watching a loved one slowly die.
Take care, guys. This one’s up to you. Make the right decision.
Obituary: The Man from the Health Department - Owen Westcott 1946-2011
“Is it at all possible to NOT talk about the needle and syringe program in this car?”
These were the desperate words uttered by my 13 year-old son, trapped as he was in with his stepfather and me in the middle of New Zealand. Put a NUAA worker and Owen Westcott together and this is what you got. Owen loved the needle and syringe program as much as any drug user did; after three weeks driving around the South Island with us, my boy could quote policy like an analyst at the Health Department.
Owen was the manager of the Health Department’s Harm Minimisation Unit until 2008, and had in his care the organization I worked for, NUAA. He was a champion for the NSP and prepared briefings for several Health Ministers. If there was a terrifying event in the paper that threatened to close down the MSIC or an outlet for syringes, it was going to be Owen’s job to defend it. He loved it. Making an argument was his great strength and he made watertight and evidence-based ones that also made economic sense. He was never afraid to fight for the program; never afraid to shake his head and say “no” either, if a promotion or article had potential to threaten the status quo. He used to say he had one belief: “that there should be a Needle and Syringe Program”.
I first met Owen in the 1980s. The Newtown Needle Exchange delivered, and so through a quirk of fate he became my outreach person and my best mate’s boss. I will never forget the vans parked up in Reiby Street in Enmore or on the Block at Redfern and the amazement I felt at being welcomed in to have a full range of equipment offered. Ringing for a delivery was a far cry from sidling up to the pharmacy counter and hoping for the best. This kind of thing made avoiding blood borne viruses very easy. Owen held that time so dear. The people he worked with – Miles Rooke, Sean Davies, Anne Marie Weatherall (now Apanski) – he still thought of them as his team twenty years later. He had his young family, two kids, Matt and Andrea. I think it was one of the happiest times of his life.
Owen’s Health career started in laboratories, after he completed his Bachelor of Science at Macquarie Uni. He did his first work in immunology and used to joke that he was experimenting on me. (I have an immune disease.) His mind was nimble and his way of assessing a problem thorough. The concrete parameters and measurements of science suited him and I think that the NSP and drug user politics at the NUAA Board of Governance combined that precision and love of evidence with his equal love of social justice and individual freedom.
Let’s not forget he was a young man in the sixties. He had a “hippie” period, though he hated that word, which saw him working during his twenties in a saw mill as the tailer-out (the guy who holds the wood to the saw). He left that job – as he told it – when a moment’s inattention sent a chunk of hardwood screaming towards the miller at high velocity. Before his Science degree there was time at Sydney Uni and a BA. Owen worked as an English teacher at a well-to-do Catholic residential college in Sydney. He taught classes using Beatles records and rode his Harley to work. His favourite poet was Andrew Marvell. He taught English at Tech too until he decided to retrain. He had a genius for reinvention, and was not the “suit man” he seemed.
The thing about Owen was he was brave. He believed deeply in justice and was prepared to break the law to get it. He had been to jail. He had a scar on his mouth and chin from being punched out in Coonamble during the desegregation efforts associated with the Freedom Rides. It was badly stitched up by the town doctor and even after forty years you could see it. His lawyer was the young Michael Kirby and they were still in touch years later. You can read about it in Ken Buckley’s book Offensive and Obscene: A Civil Liberties Casebook if you want to.
The earliest photo I have of him involved in a protest is sitting in a store window, playing a guitar on a hunger strike as an 18 year-old, to promote the then-new Freedom from Hunger campaign. He was one of Robert Askin’s “bastards”, laying down on front of US President Johnson’s car during the Vietnam protests, prompting the line attributed to Premier Askin, “Run the bastards over”. Owen joked that he was the Forrest Gump of Australian History, so often did he pop up at these events.
So this was the person who moved from outreach at REPIDU in Newtown and Redfern into the Health Department in 1997, where he took responsibility for the state’s needle and syringe program, the hepatitis and HIV responses, and of course the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre. I think he was made for the job. He shared so much with users that many blokes in suits do not and he translated it at the big tables, in the meetings that counted.
Owen worked for nearly twelve years as the boss of the NSP and I re-met him through my NUAA job. I nearly jumped out of my shoes the first time I went to a meeting at the Department of Health to find the Newtown Needle Exchange guy on the other side of the table.
After he stepped back from his job as Manager we became a couple and he moved to Newcastle into a part-time job with Hunter New England Area Health, plunging back into the hurly-burly with users up here. It was our joke that his move to Newcastle was a return home – when I researched his family it turned out they were from Cessnock. I drove him out there. He was thrilled to find a Westcott Street there; after that he called Newcastle the “ancestral lands”.
Leaving the bureaucracy was bittersweet for Owen but he relished his freedom to be an activist once again, campaigning for an issue close to his heart: the reintroduction of butterflies to the needle and syringe program. There are a number of people in Newie who have Owen to thank for buying their butterflies. He had both run a service that supplied them and written the brief in 1991 that banned them. It never sat well with him. He knew their removal was politically motivated and it bothered him enough to want to set it right.
He joined me and my successor on outreach, joined the Board of NUAA and got to know many users. People respected his experience. There could be few people with this breadth of knowledge and experience in NSP and users knew that you don’t normally run into them in the housing commission flats at Hamilton South. He was happy to tell people the ins and outs of how the government worked or the best way to get your complaint heard. He was generous with his time and took everyone as he found them. Owen was never a snob.
He campaigned on butterflies up to the day of his death. As ever, he went carefully through the evidence before making his argument.
While in the Department he penned this limerick:
Dark thoughts of the ten-ml syringe
On the minister’s dreams did impinge.
For the sake of election he would risk mass infection;
His conscience gave barely a twinge.
Owen felt it was better to be at the table and make your voice heard, even if you sometimes had to do things you disagreed with. He believed in honesty and evidence. He died working on something he believed passionately. And that, my friends, was Owen Westcott all over.