The needle and the damage done

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THE Alcohol and Drug Foundation provides some stark statistics about heroin use in Australia.

A total of 1.3 per cent of Australians aged 14 years and older have used heroin one or more times in their life, and 0.2 per cent aged 14 and older have used heroin in the previous 12 months.

Young people aged between 14 and 24 first try heroin at 16.9 years old on average, and 1.5 per cent of young people aged between 12 and 17 have used opiates such as heroin.

They try it because opioids interact with opioid receptors in the brain which prompts a range of responses, including pain relief, relaxation and pleasure.

Then there’s the dark side.

The foundation warns there is no safe level of drug use. Injecting heroin runs the gamut of risks from contracting infections, including HIV, through to overdose and death.

The Australian Government’s Institute of Health and Welfare reports that of 1808 drug-induced deaths in Australia in 2016, 361 or 20 per cent were due to heroin.

Newcastle police have responded to a sudden increase in the presence of heroin in the area by establishing a strike force to investigate networks. The charging of a man, 38, with more than 300 counts of on-going heroin supply shows a response designed to shut down a potential problem before it gets out of control.

The Institute of Health and Welfare’s figures backed police concern about an apparent move into the area of a heroin supply network.

The institute reported that the number of heroin detections at the Australian border has decreased 14.1 per cent over the past decade or more, from 283 in 2007-08 to 243 in 2016-17.

But a matter of real concern is that the weight of heroin detected has increased 103 per cent over the same period, from 99.3 kilograms in 2007-08 to 201.6 kilograms in 2016-17.

In the past few years the community’s focus has been on the drug ice, in part because of a big rise in use, particularly in regional areas.

Heroin has been “a rare find” during drug raids in recent years, said Newcastle police commander Superintendent Brett Greentree. Let us hope a determined response to any recent rise helps keep it that way.

Issue: 39,206.

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