Until my son became dependent, drugs weren't part of my world. I hope they're never part of yours
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
‘I grabbed him by the collar and I said, “We’re going to beat this. We’re going to defeat it.”’