There are a range of different kinds of treatments available for heroin and opiate addiction in Australia currently. These treatments include pharmacotherapies such as methadone, suboxone and buprenorphine. Detox and rehabilitation can be hard to access and rarely can someone get in on the day that they first apply, unless they can afford a private treatment facility (and is out of the reach of many people).
In 1898, the German Bayer company launched a new pharmaceutical called heroin that was promoted as a cough syrup. According to HistoryToday.com, heroin was prescribed in place of morphine and codeine. An early medical report by the Medical University Clinic of Berlin tested oral doses of 5mg and 10mg of heroin on 50 phthisis patients and found it was effective as a cough suppressant and for help with sleep.
Initially, heroin was recommended as an alternative to morphine addiction. However, by 1902, J. Jarrige had seen that withdrawals were worse from heroin addiction than from morphine.
There was not much government intervention or policy response to opium or heroin prior to Australian Federation. In 1899, the Victorian Premier’s Drug Advisory Council defined 3 main classes of users in Australia. These included:
• Middle Class: middle class women who used it as a pain medication and for menstruation pains as well as to treat depression.
• Health Professionals: doctors, nurses and other health professionals who used heroin and other drugs to alleviate the stress of their work.
• Chinese migrants: opium was mostly considered and used as a recreational drug.
The prohibition of opium was largely due to racism as many Anglo-Celtic Australians cited opium smoking by Chinese Australians as a danger to morality and public order. However, from 1905, there were many laws prohibiting the import of smoking grade opium. Even so, Australia had the highest per capita rate of heroin consumption in the world by 1930. Interestingly, a 1907 customs report noted that “it is very doubtful if such a prohibition has lessened to any great extent the amount brought into Australia.”(Hamilton, Margaret (2001) Australia’s Drug Policy… Our Own?)
Australia’s drug policy was based on that of the UK until the latter half of the 20th century. From the 1920’s – 1930’s on there was an increasing approach towards internationalist policy making and this was encouraged by the League of Nations (later called the United Nations). The US increased its power base within the United Nations through financial contributions to UN budgets and involvement in policy making. As a result, they have had a big influence in International drug policy.
Because of this influence and policy changes, Australia’s drug policies and treatment moved from a health focused approach to one of law and order and criminal justice. (Illicit Drug Policies: Using Evidence to Get Better Outcomes).
During the Vietnam War, US soldiers stationed in Australia brought heroin into the country. Heroin use became increasingly popular and was smuggled into Australia from South East Asia through criminal organisations in collaboration with the Nugen Hand Bank and the CIA. As drug use increased in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the laws prohibiting and criminalising drug use also grew. (Source: Wikipedia)
Following the HIV/AIDS crisis in the mid 1980’s, government policy in Australia focused on shock health campaigns, such as the Grim Reaper ads that were designed to increase awareness of the dangers of contracting blood borne viruses.
The first National Drug Strategy (1985) in Australia focused on 3 areas: demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction. This policy continues today despite studies that have clearly shown that this policy has failed as more drugs enter the country at the same time as funding for drug law enforcement rises. Funds are focused on law enforcement rather than prevention and treatment.
As a result, heroin addiction is now treated by detox and rehabilitation and pharmacotherapy programs such as methadone clinics. Heroin users, who are caught by law enforcement and go through the criminal justice system, are often, initially, given non-custodial sentences that require the person undergo rehabilitation rather than imprisonment.
It has been accepted that many people find it extremely hard, if not impossible; to completely quit their addictive behaviours and it has been found that being on a methadone maintenance program (this includes suboxone and buprenorphine) can assist people to live functional lives as a result of the changes in their lifestyle.
Prohibition causes a huge increase in cost for illicit substances and it is due to this cost that many heroin users find themselves involved in criminal activities to pay for their drug use. Methadone programs are far less costly and allow the person to feel well enough on a consistent basis to work and live a functional life with friends and family.
It is said that isolation increases drug use. The social stigma around illicit drug use and the cycle of constantly needing to find money to buy illegal drugs can result in a person being outcast from their family and friends. When a person is stable on a methadone program, they do not have to spend all their time earning money and finding illegal drugs. This leaves time for work, a social life and family.
Drug Treatment Programs in NSW
In keeping with the government policy on harm minimisation, a range of drug addiction treatments are offered. These include detox and rehabilitation in house and outpatient services. As well, methadone clinics and programs like this one at Kobi Clinic, offer methadone detox and maintenance programs for heroin and opioid addicted people.