Vol. 18, ed. 5

December 2021

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Dear colleagues,

Australia’s fifth ranking in the newly launched Global Drug Policy Index could be seen as quite the achievement – after all, it puts us right up there behind only Norway, New Zealand, Portugal and the United Kingdom on the world stage and ahead of major economies with enormous populations such as Canada, India, Argentina, Russia and Brazil.

At the same time, with a score of only 65 points from a possible 100, we know that where drug policy is concerned, we have significant work still ahead of us if we are to be truly aligned with the United Nations’ recommendations on human rights, health and development.

This initiative measured and then ranked 30 countries on five key drug policy criteria for the year 2020:

  • absence of extreme responses
  • proportionality and criminal justice
  • harm reduction
  • access to medicines

Norway fared best, with 74 points, but even that would have been only a ‘C’ under the old school grading system – a pass, certainly, but not a glowing result. Our ‘D’ spells out to us that our approach to drug policy in Australia remains very much a work in progress.

Also in November, we were reminded that no matter how thoroughly planned and rigorously executed, research can sometimes be overtaken by the speed with which issues evolve.

This was the case for a report released last month on COVID-19 vaccine acceptability among people who use drugs. Based on interviews conducted in Melbourne at the end of 2020, the findings suggested that one in five people would hesitate to be vaccinated – a reasonable reflection of community sentiment across the board back then, well before Australia’s vaccine rollout began.

While the raw data were being processed, however, public thinking shifted – and at Penington Institute we’re proud to be playing our part in this.

Working with the Victorian Government we’ve just unveiled a suite of resources to help make vaccination as accessible as possible to people who use drugs and those who support them. It’s part of the wider Between Us community education campaign to share health care and harm reduction messaging in an informal, conversational way.

While some of our COVID-19 vaccination information (such as a list of no-appointment walk-in clinics that’s updated weekly) is tailored for a Victorian audience, the bulk is universally relevant, including plain-English explanations of vaccination and testing, answers to frequently asked questions and discussion starters.

Please help yourself to these resources and promote them – and this December issue of The Bulletin – widely across your networks as we approach the festive season and the coming of a new year.

John Ryan
CEO, Penington Institute