The National Drug Strategy 2017-2026 has recently been released. Ironically, in a time where members of the Australian Government were engaging in substantial rhetoric around being ‘tough on drugs’, particularly methamphetamine, the National Drug Strategy lapsed. The previous strategy expired in 2015 and the current strategy was originally drafted for 2016-2025 but it was then quietly finalised and released last month with a notable change to the dates it covers to 2017-2026! Now that it’s finally here, Encounter Youth and our Party Safe Education™ team are keen to see what the priorities are for Australia’s response to alcohol and other drugs in our communities.
What is the National Drug Strategy and why is it important?
The National Drug Strategy is the guiding document for Australia’s priorities around alcohol and other drugs. The strategy is a “national commitment to harm minimisation through balanced adoption on effective demand, supply and harm reduction strategies”.
The three pillars of harm minimisation; demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction, provide the foundation for the National Drug Strategy and have done so for decades. The specific focus on the ‘balance’ of these pillars is what I find interesting. Historically, the lions share of funding, especially around illicit drugs has been focused on law enforcement and other supply reduction approaches1,2. My hope is that the emphasis on balance will help to address this and that resources will be directed towards prevention, education and other demand and harm reduction strategies.
Another great element of the new National Drug Strategy is that young people are identified as one of seven priority populations. This is great as it recognises that young people are exposed to different risks than the general population from alcohol and other drugs due to the development of the brain, which continues well into early adulthood. This consideration will help to guide policy decisions which accommodate the different needs of young people.
How will the National Drug Strategy measure success?
Throughout the entire strategy document, there is a wealth of positive information highlighting that fewer people are drinking at risky levels, fewer people are taking illicit drugs and fewer people are placing themselves and others at risk of harm. The success of the National Drug Strategy 2017-2026 is based on continuing many of those trends; specifically, in five key areas:
- Increasing the average age of uptake for alcohol, tobacco (smoking), and illicit drugs
- Reduction of the recent use of any drug
- Reduction in arrestees’ illicit drug use in the month before committing an offence
- Reduction in the number of victims of drug related incidents
- Reduction in the drug-related burden of disease, including mortality
What does this mean for us?
For Encounter Youth, the new National Drug Strategy reaffirms that our programs fit well with the current best-practice in our field as they contribute to several of the key areas that will determine the success of the strategy. Our Schoolies Operation and Hindley Street Program will continue to reduce the risk associated with the misuse of alcohol and other drugs, thereby influencing a reduction in alcohol and other drug use and a reduction in the number of victims of drug related incidents, specifically among young people. Our Party Safe Education™ program will continue to focus on prevention and demand reduction amongst students, directly impacting the first two key areas that will measure success. We will continue to normalise the non-use of alcohol and other drugs and encourage young people to, at the very least, delay their use of alcohol or other drugs to a later age. We are excited about what the next 10 years will look like and we look forward to the positive impact that we will have over the life of the new National Drug Strategy!
1. McDonald, D., 2011, “Australian governments’ spending on preventing and responding to drug abuse should target the main sources of drug-related harm and the most cost-effective interventions”, Drug and Alcohol Review, 30 (1), pp. 96-100
2. Ritter, A., McLeod, R., and Shanahan, M., 2013, “Government drug policy expenditure in Australia – 2009/10”, Drug Policy Modelling Program Monograph 24, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, June 2013