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'Tough love' denies that drug dependence is a health problem

MEDIA RELEASE - Tuesday 23 February 2021




On the eve of International Family Drug Support Day (24 February) with the theme 'Family Connection not Tough Love', an alliance of community organisations is speaking out against drug dependence stigma and pointing out the futility of ‘tough love’ approaches to drug use.


Yarra Drug and Health Forum, Family Drug Support Australia, Penington Institute, Harm Reduction Victoria, VAADA, cohealth, Fitzroy Legal Service, ACSO, and Residents for Victoria Street Drug Solutions are calling for a greater focus on harm reduction services which recognise that drug dependence is a health issue.


“’Tough love’ denies that drug dependence is a health problem, seeing it as an issue of will and choice,” said Yarra Drug and Health Forum Executive Officer, Bernadette Burchell.

“The idea that we need to let people hit rock bottom before they can start to recover is nonsensical. In the case of drug use, hitting rock bottom means death or brain damage, and there’s no recovery from that point,” she said.


“Harm reduction services such as needle exchange programs, Naloxone training, medically supervising injecting rooms and drug education help people to stay alive, and stay as healthy as possible while they are using drugs,” said Ms Burchell.


“The shame and stigma associated with drug use delays people seeking help, leading to worsening health issues, and pushing them to the margins of society.”


Debbie Warner, whose son battled heroin dependence for a decade, said, “I realised that I needed to approach my son’s drug use just like I would if he had any chronic illness, because addiction is a health issue,” said Ms Warner.


“I turned my thinking from ‘how can I get my child off drugs’ to ‘how can I keep my child safe and well while they are drug dependent?’”


“I helped connect him to places where he could get sterile needles, I made sure I always had Naloxone in our house and knew how to use it, I found a GP who gave non-judgemental advice about avoiding Hepatitis C, preventing abscesses, and avoiding overdose,” she said.


VAADA Executive Officer, Sam Biondo, said, “The harm reduction approach eases the stigma attached to drug dependence , and keeps people within arm’s reach, which gives them the best chance of staying alive, and connecting to treatment and recovery if and when they’re ready,”


“4365 Victorians have fatally overdosed between 2010 – 2019, with a 51% increase in the number of deaths during that time. Together with reducing the impact of stigma, additional capacity across the spread of harm reduction and alcohol and other drug treatment services is required to make inroads in addressing this toll.”


International Family Drug Support Day is held on 24 February and will be marked by a range of events and activities around Australia.


Media enquiries: Lanie Harris, 0418 552 377


Interviews are available with the following:

• Yarra Drug and Health Forum - Bernadette Burchell, Executive Officer, 0429 870 397

• VAADA – Sam Biondo, Executive Officer, 0413 914 206

• Family Drug Support Australia – Tony Trimingham, CEO, 0448 177 083

• Penington Institute – John Ryan, CEO, 0488 781 288

• Harm Reduction Victoria – Sione Crawford, CEO, 0406 755 921

• cohealth – Nicole Bartholomeusz, Chief Executive, 0418 552 377

• Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO) - Vaughan Winther, CEO : 0437 212 902

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