Criminalising drugs has done little to stop the opioid crisis. Perhaps it's time for a new approach. Photo/Rehab Center Parus
Criminalising drugs has done little to stop the opioid crisis. Perhaps it's time for a new approach. Photo/Rehab Center Parus

OPINION: It’s time to rethink how we deal with drug addicts

IN A landmark decision last week, Oregon became the first US state to decriminalise the possession and personal use of all drugs.

This means the possession of small amounts of hard drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine will no longer be punishable by jail time, but instead amount to a small on the spot fine, similar to a traffic ticket.

While I was a bit taken aback by the concept on first glance, it appears there is method to this madness, and has been the subject of rigorous debate for many years now.

With drug use in the South Burnett going through the ceiling and each year the same names standing before the magistrate, charged with their latest relapse, I'm inclined to ask whether persecution is actually helpful in every case. This of course applies to those charged with minor possession, and not dealers, traffickers, drug drivers etc - those putting others lives at risk. They're a whole other kettle of fish.

While there's definitely something to be said for deterrence, we cannot ride off people struggling with drug addiction as a cautionary tale for others, rather than a human being who needs help to get their life back on track.

This merely results in people who've been dealt a poor hand in life being cast into a vicious cycle of unemployment, imprisonment, debt, and inevitable reoffending.

In his youth, my grandfather volunteered at Riverbank juvenile prison, where he helped troubled youths get their lives back on track.

During this time, he recalled conversations he'd had with some of the young offenders, with some admitting to deliberately reoffending because life in prison was better than what they had on the outside.

What this indicates to me is a misunderstanding of addiction by our legal system, which attempts to threaten people into good behaviour using their quality of life as collateral - fines, jail, and a criminal record.

However, if a person has no quality of life to begin with, this method isn't helpful.

Don't get me wrong, something needs to be done, but we need to take a moment to re-evaluate what is working and what isn't and change the system accordingly.

If a rise in drug crime is indicative of a deeper problem, such as poverty, unemployment, or mental illness, than the root of the issue is where we should begin.