Un­til my son be­came de­pen­dent, drugs weren't part of my world. I hope they're never part of yours

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Tony Trim­ing­ham

Istill re­mem­ber the mo­ment I dis­cov­ered my son was a drug ad­dict. I’d just re­turned home from an over­seas trip. Here – the heroic son, a bril­liant ath­lete, loved by all – here he was on the front steps of our house, sob­bing un­con­trol­lably. He con­fessed there and then that he had been in­ject­ing heroin for some time. He was 21 years old.

I grabbed him by the col­lar and I said, “We’re go­ing to beat this. We’re go­ing to de­feat it.” I guess that’s what I then set out try­ing to achieve – pretty typ­i­cal of what peo­ple do.

Then of course I just got frus­trated. I rang a drug in­for­ma­tion ser­vice. Who­ever an­swered the phone told me that ev­ery­body was out to lunch. They said to go to the pub­lic li­brary or get on the in­ter­net to find out what to do.

Then I rang a few treat­ment ser­vices, be­cause like most fam­i­lies, I thought, “Just get him into treat­ment. That’ll be the thing to do.” That was just over­whelm­ing. Of course I know now why, but back then it just didn’t make any sense that no­body wanted to talk to me. Ev­ery­body asked: “How old is he?” When I said “21”, they said, “Can’t talk to you.” That made me re­ally an­gry.

There was noth­ing. What do you do? What do you do? The only thing I knew was, be­cause it was al­ready start­ing to hap­pen, that he would go into with­drawal. I didn’t know what that would mean, how I would be able to cope – just com­plete and to­tal ig­no­rance. But I had this very strong de­ter­mi­na­tion that I was go­ing to fix it.

Think­ing it could be fixed, I guess in my mind at that time I had Damien, who was quite strong, who had a lot of char­ac­ter, which had over­come other ad­ver­si­ties, so I knew that we could do it. That was how de­ter­mined I was.

Of course, this is how we all be­lieve we can fix the drug is­sue in Aus­tralia. By grab­bing it by the col­lar and forc­ing it to quit.

A bill will be de­bated in the

Se­nate in mid-Oc­to­ber. This bill, al­though hav­ing the best in­ten­tions, tries to do what I tried to do with my heroin-de­pen­dent son.

It’s try­ing to force young peo­ple into re­cov­ery.

Af­ter es­tab­lish­ing one of the coun­try’s only fam­ily drug sup­port ser­vices – Fam­ily Drug Sup­port – I know this will only make things worse.

If passed into law, the leg­is­la­tion will set out to drug test 5,000 young peo­ple on wel­fare. Why? Be­cause it stands to rea­son that young peo­ple us­ing drugs is a waste of tax­pay­ers’ money. How­ever, what if I told you that some of the high­est lev­els of drug use were among the wealthy in Can­berra? Why would drug tests only fo­cus on the poor? If we want to en­sure our money isn’t spent on drugs, let’s have all those on the tax­pay­ers’ dol­lar drug tested – the politi­cian and the poor alike.

Un­for­tu­nately, this will not work ei­ther.

How­ever, that is not the part that con­cerns me and the fam­i­lies I work with across Aus­tralia – the part that deeply con­cerns all of us is that, once tested and found to have a pos­i­tive read­ing, the govern­ment in­tends to quar­an­tine the money of a drug-de­pen­dent per­son.

When has this ever worked?

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ported that a drug ad­dict would con­tinue to use drugs de­spite the harsh­est penal­ties.

Let’s think this through. If some­one is ad­dicted to drugs and you take away their abil­ity to spend money on drugs, will they stop us­ing?

No, they will find other crim­i­nal ways to score, break and en­ters or deal­ing drugs. That’s why I’m nam­ing this bill “des­per­ate mea­sures”, be­cause that’s what it will in­duce in our com­mu­nity. That’s what our chil­dren will be forced into.

The fam­i­lies of those around the coun­try with loved ones who are ad­dicted to drugs will have fi­nan­cial and emo­tional pres­sures upon them that will lead to break­ing point.

This bill needs to be dropped or amended, oth­er­wise we will look back upon Septem­ber 2017 as the mo­ment we turned the clock back on the drug is­sue.

We will re­mem­ber this as the mo­ment we made it harder on our­selves, on our loved ones and on our com­mu­ni­ties.

How could this bill be amended? By drop­ping the drug tests and the in­come man­age­ment.

The job­seeker sys­tem al­ready sup­ports peo­ple be­ing open about their drug use, but it does noth­ing to help them into treat­ment.

The govern­ment wants to waste some $20mn on a trial and yet com­mit only half of that on what is des­per­ately needed – treat­ment and sup­port.

Nick Xenophon un­der­stands ad­dic­tion – he holds the key to stop­ping this bill and then work­ing with govern­ment to cre­ate bet­ter laws and in­crease treat­ment op­tions.

A law that is fair and a law that will help us see an end to our ice age.

Let’s trans­form this bill into some­thing that al­lows bet­ter ac­cess to drug treat­ment and doesn’t waste tax dol­lars on a des­per­ate mea­sure for the govern­ment.

Twenty years ago I knew noth­ing about drugs, noth­ing about ad­dic­tion. In­ci­den­tally, if you’d gone back a cou­ple of years be­fore all this hap­pened and asked me about drugs, my at­ti­tude to drugs would have been prob­a­bly dis­in­ter­est, be­cause it was never go­ing to en­ter my world. I didn’t re­ally have an opin­ion on any of this stuff. Drugs just weren’t a part of my world. I hope they’re never a part of yours.

Let’s make Aus­tralia safer for our com­mu­ni­ties and our fam­i­lies.

Tony Trim­ing­ham is CEO and founder of Fam­ily Drug Sup­port

Pho­to­graph: Lau­rence Mou­ton/Getty Im­ages/Canopy

‘I grabbed him by the col­lar and I said, “We’re go­ing to beat this. We’re go­ing to de­feat it.”’

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