Illicit drugs in Australia has been a concern for many years and targeted in many forms via politics and media. But what are the real harms and cost of illegal drug use in Australia? Does the drug issue relate to crime and increase drug related crime? Much research has been done on illegal drugs and how best to combat the problem. Should we be tough on drugs or take a step back with a more humane approach? The criminal justice system has approached this problem via many angles and is still working towards a system that works. It could be that the solution to the illicit drug problem could in fact be a mix of many strategies. This essay will examine the past and current trends in the criminal justice system and to analyse the strengths and the weaknesses involved. Research by the Australian Institute of Criminology (2004) has outlined the impact of illicit drugs on society. Many people assume there is a direct correlation between drugs and crime and this research undertaken in fact shows that drug use and crime have similar origins. Origins such as poor social support systems, difficultly in school, association with deviant peer groups and lack of access to economic support systems are the main similarities with drug users and criminals. The results of this research have opened our eyes to the direct link and the magnitude of the illicit drug problem. It is not possible to quantify the exact cost of illicit drug use to the Australian community. However, some components can be measured directly, such as government expenditure through the National Illicit Drug Strategy (NDIS), but many of the social costs borne by the community, such as the extra cost of welfare, health and law and order services, can only be estimated. In addition, a number of costs associated with illicit drug use are not quantifiable, such as pain and suffering resulting from a reduced quality of life. Nevertheless a number of studies attempt to quantify some of the costs of drug use, including social costs. Many also examine how these costs compare with the costs of licit drug use in the community (Burton, K 2004). Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare have discovered that Marijuana/cannabis accounted for 71% of illicit drug arrests in 2004–05. Further, in 2005, one in 10 prisoners was imprisoned for drug-related offences and finally in 2003–04, 88% of juvenile detainees had used an illicit substance 6 months prior to arrest and 70% were intoxicated at the time of offence. The Australian criminal justice system currently has two approaches to the illicit drug (for clarification, the definition of Illicit Drugs means a drug whose production, sale or possession is prohibited) problem. Prohibition and harm minimisation which will be discussed below. In short, the main aim of prohibition of drugs is to implement legislation and laws as a common means of attempting to control drug use. On the other hand we have harm minimisation which includes a range of targeted strategies designed to reduce drug-related harm for particular individuals and communities.
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