Chapter 1


Illicit drugs1 have been a major cause of concern for Australian policy makers, police and health authorities for many decades, because of the harms caused to individuals who consume illicit drugs, and also because transnational, serious and organised crime syndicates are involved in the production and trafficking of illicit drugs.
In order to better understand how public communications campaigns can assist in reducing demand for illicit drugs, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement (committee) resolved on 16 October 2019 to inquire into and report on public communications campaigns targeting demand for drugs and substance abuse.2 The formal terms of reference for this inquiry are included later in this chapter.

Drug-related harms

Worryingly, the amount of illicit drugs being consumed in Australia is increasing. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission reported that over the past decade, while the Australian population increased by around 13 per cent, the number of national illicit drug seizures increased 77 per cent and the weight of illicit drugs seized nationally increased 241 per cent, highlighting 'why illicit drugs continue to be a concern for law enforcement and the wider community, and the ongoing need to reduce demand'.3
The cohorts of people using illicit drugs are also changing. The latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey has found that 'the use of illegal drugs in Australia is not uncommon: one in eight people had used at least one illegal substance in the last year and one in 20 had misused a pharmaceutical drug'. Furthermore, illicit drug use has 'increased among people aged 40 to 49 and 50 to 59'.4
Submitters to this inquiry from the alcohol and other drugs (AOD) treatment sector almost universally described drug-related harms to this inquiry in terms of the harms that impact drug users. Their focus is, quite naturally, on minimising harms felt by their client groups.
However, the Department of Health takes a broader view of drug-related harm and states that '[h]arm minimisation considers the health, social and economic consequences of AOD use in relation to the individual and the community'.5 The National Drug Strategy identifies drug-related harm as including 'health, social, cultural and economic harms among individuals, families and communities'.6
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates the harm-related economic impacts of the use of alcohol and other drugs as:
$17.76 billionOpioid use (illegal and off-prescription)
$14.35 billionAlcohol
$4.5 billionCannabis
$5 billionMethamphetamine (201314)7
The above $5 billion cost estimate of methamphetamine use is for costs such as harm reduction and treatment, health care, crime, premature mortality, road accidents, workplace accidents and productivity. This $5 billion does not include the estimated cost of up to $12.2 billion in harms to partners and children of people who use methamphetamine.8
Drug Free Australia submitted that the increased incidence of child abuse and neglect was of particular concern, and cited National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that '[a]pproximately 50% to 80% of all child abuse and neglect cases substantiated by child protective services involve some degree of substance abuse by the child’s parents'.9
In addition to these harms to the Australian community are the harms caused in countries with drug manufacturing and trafficking. Dr John Coyne told the committee:
I've seen firsthand in the last 12 to 18 months the net effect of 28 clandestine labs producing dual lines of tonnes at a time of methamphetamines in the far-flung jungles of Myanmar and the impacts that that has had on the rule of law and local communities all the way from there through places like Thailand to Australia.10

Policy setting

The National Drug Strategy 2017–2026 (National Drug Strategy) is the overarching government drug policy and is discussed at relevant points throughout this report. The National Drug Strategy is aimed at 'preventing and minimising alcohol, tobacco and other drug related health, social and economic harms among individuals, families and communities'.11
The aim of the National Drug Strategy is:
To build safe, healthy and resilient Australian communities through preventing and minimising alcohol, tobacco and other drug-related health, social, cultural and economic harms among individuals, families and communities.12
The Police Federation of Australia submitted that it supports the current National Drugs Strategy and its underlying National Drugs Campaign, and advocates for a multi-pronged approach of strong law enforcement strategies alongside a ‘comprehensive communications arm, with specific focus on younger people'.13
Until recently, the Ministerial Drug and Alcohol Forum (MDAF), a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) body, oversaw the work on Australia's national drug policy framework, including the National Drug Strategy. The MDAF was chaired by the Commonwealth's Minister for Health and Minister for Justice, with members comprised of two Ministers from each state and territory, one from the health or community services portfolio with responsibility for AOD policy and one from the justice or law enforcement portfolio.14
With the disbanding of COAG and its subsidiary fora, the new National Cabinet and its various committees do not include a specific forum that brings together health and policing bodies to discuss illicit drug issues.15

Responsibility for communications campaigns

Responsibility for developing public communications campaigns in relation to illicit drug use is a joint responsibility of the federal and state or territory governments under their health and law enforcement functions.
The overall responsibilities of the Federal Government in relation to illicit drugs include:
national policy management and coordination, which would include communications campaigns;
drug use treatment via medical and hospital treatment and pharmacotherapy maintenance programs using Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme;
coordination of any national schools based drug education strategy (none current);
monitoring adherence to international treaties, and policy development and implementation in the areas of crime prevention, money laundering, extradition, mutual assistance and illicit drug supply reduction and law enforcement;
investigating offences related to, and disrupting, the international supply of illicit drugs; and
collecting and analysing crime-related intelligence and investigating organised criminal activities such as illicit drug dealing.16
The responsibilities of state and territory governments in relation to illicit drugs include:
drug policy development, implementation and evaluation within their jurisdiction, which would include communications campaigns;
controlling the supply of illicit drugs and enforcing laws through the relevant Police service;
public information and education prevention programs;
drug treatment services via public sector health services or funding for community-based organisations;
managing the criminal justice system including police and court drug diversion programs;
establishing an appropriate public policy framework to deal with drug use and drug-related harm; and
analysing and monitoring patterns of drug use and drug-related harm.17

Key issues raised

In evaluating whether or not public communications campaigns are effective to reduce demand for illicit drugs, a number of key issues were raised throughout this inquiry, which highlighted the very different perspectives of stakeholders concerned with this issue. These different perspectives are, at their essence, a continuation of the perennial debate over whether illicit drugs are a health or law enforcement issue, which then determines the preferred approach of either harm minimisation (health issue) or supply-side reduction (law enforcement approach).
Inquiry participants from the AOD treatment sector argued that the primary focus should be on reducing drug-related harms by supporting drug users to voluntarily halt or reduce their drug intake.18 The argument put forward was that as 'shock advertising' campaigns would likely result in stigmatising drugusers, this would reduce the numbers of people who will seek AOD addiction treatment due to the shame associated with their drug-use, and would therefore be counterproductive if the goal is to reduce overall drug demand.
The position of policing organisations and anti-drug campaigners, however, is to view drug-related harms in a much broader sense by including harms felt by the entire community. These harms, outlined earlier in this chapter, include road accidents, child maltreatment, victims of crime, impaired work performance and increased staff turnover, the cost of tax-payer funded health and harm reduction services, border protection and the judicial system.
Other serious harms are those caused by organised criminal elements which traffic illicit drugs, both within Australia and in drug–source countries. The argument put forward by policing and anti-drug stakeholders is that a primary focus on minimising the harms felt by individual drug-users would likely increase these other harms felt by the broader community, therefore a public communications campaign would be one effective mechanism to reduce overall drug harms.
Another key issue raised is the efficacy of a purely law enforcement approach to reducing the impact of illicit drugs in the Australian community.
The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's Illicit Drug Data Report 2018–2019 stated:
The risk and harm posed by illicit drugs to the Australian community is ever-growing, which underscores the need for law enforcement and health agencies to work collaboratively to combat both the supply and demand for illicit drugs in Australia.19

Report structure

This report examines the many different facets of the illicit drug problem in Australia, including the different approaches that can be taken towards minimising the considerable harm that illicit drugs cause for everyone–individuals, families and the broader community–and presents the committee's findings and recommendations:
Chapter one: introduces the issues and outlines the structure.
Chapter two: investigates the efficacy of public communications campaigns to reduce drug demand, different types of campaigns, and the potential negative outcomes.
Chapter three: looks at the needs of different audiences and examines best practice approaches.
Chapter four: briefly discusses the alternatives to a public campaign proposed by some stakeholders.
The committee's recommendations are found across chapters two, three and four.

Conduct of the inquiry

The terms of reference for the inquiry are:
Pursuant to subsection 7(1) of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Act 2010, the committee will inquire into and report on public communications campaigns targeting demand for drugs and substance abuse, with particular reference to:
the efficacy of different approaches to such campaigns, including:
'shock advertising', informational campaigns and the use of social marketing;
the use of campaigns aimed at various audiences, including, but not limited to, children at an age before they would typically become illicit drug users, Indigenous communities and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse groups; and
international approaches;
research and evaluation methods used to plan, implement and assess the effects of such campaigns;
identifying best practice approaches to designing and implementing campaigns, including social media, digital channels and traditional advertising, to guide Australia's approach to drug demand reduction;
the efficacy of the current and past National Drug Strategy in achieving demand reduction through public communications campaigns; and
any related matter.20
The committee advertised the inquiry in The Australian and on the committee's webpage. The committee also invited submissions from interested organisations, individuals and government bodies. The committee received 22 submissions. A list of individuals and organisations that made submissions, together with other information authorised for publication is provided at Appendix 1.
The committee held two public hearings in Canberra for this inquiry. These hearings were held on 14 and 15 October 2020. The transcripts are available via the inquiry website21 and the list of witnesses who appeared before the committee are listed at Appendix 2.
The committee thanks the organisations and individuals that made written submissions and those who gave evidence at the public hearings.

 |  Contents  |