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In the years since the last crisis, we have come a long way. In terms of numbers of overdose deaths, Australia has seen the biggest reduction in overdose deaths from drugs of any country. From 2014 to 2016, there was a 66% decline in fentanyl-related deaths.
But the impact of the drugs on the brain has not changed. The drugs are extremely potent: you may have one in your system for 10 days, and the effects last for 40 – which is what the old drugs did, and the effects of the drugs that were in circulation in 2013.
The number of pills available in Australia is the lowest in more than 30 years, but there is one thing more difficult to control, which is the way drugs are sold here. We don’t have any laws to stop drugs being smuggled into Australia. Even if they could, it’s a crime to buy the drugs from a “middle man” on the street. The middle man is the drug’s enabler.
Mostly, the drugs are smuggled in through the grey market: through a network of corrupt middle men, who give the drugs to dealers, who then ship them to other dealers, who sell them to customers, who usually go out there on their own. The dealers are known as runners, and many of the runners are former police.
In many communities in Australia, the runners and dealers work together to organise the sale of the drugs to locals, a point that has been made more than once, and that is again being made this week.
It is not simply that the drugs are getting here illegally. It’s that our laws are helping the runners and the dealers. There are no mandatory guidelines for the way drugs are sold. They’re just assumed to be legal. What’s more, when you consider that there are more than 10,000 people in our prison system, and that the laws on possession are more permissive here than in most other countries, it makes sense that so much of Australia is controlled by criminal middle men, who are the gatekeepers