On Tuesday evening, we saw the Government hand down the 2022/23 federal budget. AIVL welcomed the $19.6 million investment for the expansion of the ‘National Take Home Naloxone Program’, with its focus on reducing opioid-related overdose deaths. Be that as it may, this announcement left AIVL with more questions than answers. No reference was made at all to any investment in Harm Reduction- which includes investment in things like peer-to-peer support, implementation and education, and ensures that life-saving medicines, particularly Naloxone get into the hands of the community.
Australia has an alarming rate of overdose-related deaths, with illicit drug overdose killing TRIPLE the number of people in Australia in the last 3 years that COVID-19 has. The Take Home Naloxone program is only a portion of the measures needed to address this problem, given that Opioid overdoses only make up around a third of the overdose-related deaths in Australia. Naloxone only works on overdoses caused by drugs known as opioids, it has no effects on drugs that are classified as psychedelics, cannabinoids, dissociatives, empathogens, stimulants or depressants.
Whilst we hold the position that the investment in Naloxone is better than nothing, there seems to be a continual deficit in strategy concerning Australia’s Overdose crisis. The Federal government released a National Heroin Overdose strategy in 2002 – yet nothing since, despite repeated calls from AIVL and its network over the last 20 years to put something more formal in place.
The Federal Government has touted that its [financial] focus has been on ‘saving lives and livelihoods’ over the past 3 years. Whilst we know that is in the context of COVID-19, one would think that even modest investments in Harm Reduction which we do not see, would be an ‘easy win’ for any government seeking to ‘save lives’.
Australia continues to fall behind other parts of the world on the Harm Reduction front, even though evidence supports that investing in Harm Reduction interventions has significant economic benefits- with each $1 spent on Harm Reduction interventions and Activities saving the health system between $4 and $27.
On 1 March 2022, the US White House announced that the Biden-Harris Administration has prioritised funds for Harm Reduction, acknowledging that Harm Reduction is a significantly cost-effective measure for addressing the deadly overdose crisis in the United States.
This announcement followed the first Harm Reduction Summit that was held in Washington in December 2021.
These announcements from the US pose the question: ‘How has Australia, being a country that embraced Harm Reduction in the context of the HIV/AIDS breakout in the 80s, when countries like The U.S.A. were not (and has reaped the dividends of this including the almost negligible transmission of HIV among People Who Inject Drugs) has found itself in a place where Harm Reduction does not even warrant a singular mention in the Federal Budget?’
AIVL acknowledges the continuation of the ‘National Ice Action Strategy’, being an annual investment of $343.6 million. Although, with very little funding coming from that to support Harm Reduction services seen in recent years, and no transparency in the budget indicating where exactly that money will be invested in the 2022 budget papers. Consequently, there is very little optimism that we will see a change from the focus being primarily on supply reduction rather than being allocated to supporting the impacted community.
AIVL hopes to see the Australian Federal Government make both the Overdose crisis and Harm Reduction a bigger priority moving forward. 1500+ people losing their lives to illicit drug overdose each year is simply unacceptable.
31 March 2022
Media release by Jake Docker (Chief Executive Officer, AIVL)
AIVL is the national organisation representing people who use/have used illicit drugs and is the peak body for the state and territory peer-based drug user organisations.
Jake Docker, CEO, AIVL – email email@example.com