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Heroin Trial in Australia Abandoned


August 1997

Just weeks after health and law enforcement ministers approved the proposed Australian Capital Territory (ACT) heroin trial, Australia's Conservative government extinguished the plan on August 19 (Reuter, "Australia quashes heroin trial," August 19, 1997).

On July 31, the Ministerial Council on Drugs Trafficking, consisting of health and law enforcement ministers, had approved the ACT heroin trial in Canberra, which would have treated 40 addicts using pharmaceutical heroin. ACT Chief Minister Mrs. Carnell called the potential trial "the most dramatic breakthrough in drug treatment in 25 years." The trial's objectives included not just maintenance, but withdrawal and abstinence from heroin. It would have studied the effectiveness of providing pharmaceutical heroin to addicts to prevent overdoses, fight the spread of disease, cut drug-related crime and improve the addict's quality of life. If successful, it could have led to a more extensive two-state trial program involving 1,000 addicts (Marion Downey, "40 addicts to receive heroin legally," Sydney Morning Herald, August 1, 1997).

"It's not just a question of morality ... everybody is deeply worried about the level of heroin addiction in Australia," Prime Minister John Howard told reporters about the decision not to back the trial. The limited heroin trial needed the support of the federal government to provide money and for permission to import the drug. Some Australian media campaigned heavily against it, with one newspaper condemning the ministers who approved the trial as drug traffickers. Public opinion polls showed opposition to the trial at about 55%.