05:43am Wednesday 16 October 2019

Do drug laws 'harm' drug users?

Margaret Pereira from QUT’s Law and Justice Research Centre has launched a PhD study into young people and illicit drugs and has appealed for Brisbane drug users to come forward and anonymously have their say on their lifestyle.

Ms Pereira said it was important to understand that people used drugs in a whole variety of different ways, some of which were more harmful than others.

She said charging young people for relatively minor offences, such as drug possession, could defeat the purpose of drug law enforcement as a strategy to reduce drug-related harm.

“There’s a common belief that young people who use drugs regularly have got a ‘drug problem’, such as an addictive personality, or some other biological or psychological problem,” Ms Pereira said.

“In reality, it is only a small number of illicit drug users who define their drug use as problematic to themselves or others.

“Most young people use drugs recreationally, for fun, pleasure or leisure, and often within nightclubs or rave cultures.

“This doesn’t mean that their drug use is completely free of danger, but it does mean that it’s important to understand how illicit drugs are being used, and design drug policies that directly target drug-related harm.”

Ms Pereira has already started interviewing young people aged 18 to 25 who use illicit drugs either recreationally or habitually.

She hopes to interview a fairly equal number of “regular” and “recreational” drug users. She is also interviewing the police, health service providers and youth advocacy workers to obtain their views about drug policies.

“Preliminary findings from my interviews suggest that when young people want to use drugs, they will, even after they’ve been charged with a criminal drug offence,” she said.

“It appears that criminalising drug users can change the way they use drugs, but it doesn’t usually stop them using drugs.

“This finding supports other study findings that criminalisation can have profoundly harmful, unintended consequences on the community and on young people. Charging them for relatively minor offences, such as drug possession, can defeat the purpose of drug law enforcement as a strategy to reduce drug-related harm.

“Another interesting finding from my interviews is the huge range of different drugs young people use and their choice of drug is often based on drug availability.”

Ms Pereira said she hoped her PhD research would help build a better understanding of illicit drug use and contribute to effective policy formation.

People willing to be interviewed for Ms Pereira can contact her on m.pereira@qut.edu.au or 07 3138 2896. Participants must be aged between 18 and 25 years and live in Brisbane. Data collected during interviews will be anonymous and confidential. All drug user participants will receive $20 Coles/Myer gift voucher as a token of thanks for their time.

Media contact: Mechelle McMahon, QUT media officer, 07 3138 4494 or ml.mcmahon@qut.edu.au

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