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We support evidence based reporting

NSW Coroner follows the evidence on ‘pill testing’

360Edge Director Professor Nicole Lee outline the recent findings of the NSW Coronial Inquiry into Festival Deaths for The Conversation

Dr Nicole was also interviewed on ABC Breakfast to discuss Ice Training in Mildura (begins 40 minutes in).

360Edge Consultant Jarryd Bartle was interviewed on 3AW about implementing a safe injecting facility in St Kilda.

Home grown cannabis to be legal in the ACT. Now what?

360Edge Director Professor Nicole Lee and 360Edge Forensic Consultant Jarryd Bartle discuss the recent change in cannabis laws in the Australian Capital Territory.

Drugs don’t affect job seeking, so let’s offer users help rather than take away their payments

360Edge Director Professor Nicole Lee discusses the lack of evidence support drug testing of welfare recipients in The Conversation.

Nicole was on ABC Mornings Live and 2SER discussing drug testing of welfare recipients and was quoted in the New Daily on the same topic. Nicole also discussed drug rehab funding on ABC’s The World Today and discussed pill testing at festivals for the Daily Telegraph.

Testing festival goers’ pills isn’t the only way to reduce overdoses

360Edge Director Professor Nicole Lee and Dr Monica Barratt discuss the diversity of options for harm reduction at music festivals in The Conversation.

Nicole on Radio Adelaide discussing pill testing, on talkRADIO UK on drug deaths, and SBS Radio Serbia discussing festival deaths.
360Edge Consultant Jarryd Bartle on drug testing welfare recipients in News Ltd and on the history of methamphetamine in 10Daily.

Australian Story 12 April 2017: Dr Nicole’s response to ABC’s Australian Story on Shalom House

The Guardian 14 Feb 2017: The ABC’s ice wars documentary is overblown and unhelpful

Watch Dr Nicole in the ABC documentary ‘Ice Wars’

We translate research to policy and practice

Want to address mental health in AOD work? Stick to the basics!

Co-occurring mental health and alcohol and other drug problems are common among people attending both treatment services.

There are a number of ways in which alcohol and other drug problems intersect with other mental health disorders, primarily:

  • The use of drugs may change the structure and function of the brain that leads to symptoms of other mental health disorders. For example, neuroscience studies have shown that long term methamphetamine use depletes the dopamine and serotonin systems, both required for the regulation of mood, potentially leading to symptoms of depression.
  • Alcohol and other drugs may be used to relieve distress of mental health symptoms, sometimes referred to as ‘self medication’
  • Comorbidity may emerge from shared genetic or socio-economic predisposing factors, such as poverty or trauma.

The presence of more than one disorder can complicate treatment significantly. There is evidence that relapse from one disorder can trigger relapse from the other so there is general agreement among professionals that both disorders need to be addressed.

For many conditions, just providing good alcohol and other drug treatment reduces symptoms disorders, especially for the more common mental health problems of anxiety and depression.

So it is critical that treatment providers outside the specialist alcohol and other drug sector are well trained in assessment, brief intervention and effective referral of alcohol and other drug problems.

But it also means that if alcohol and other drug workers just provide good drug treatment, many of the mental health issues of our clients will reduce to more manageable levels.

Professor Nicole Lee is 360Edge’s Director and an international leader on alcohol and drug policy and practice.

Read more about our team here.

Why ‘addiction’ is NOT a ‘brain disease’

The USA-led push to view alcohol and other drug problems as a ‘brain disease’ was in part to try to provide a counter to the prevailing moral view at the time.

But, while the use of alcohol and other drugs clearly has a (mostly temporary) impact on the structure and function of the brain, there is no evidence that an alcohol or other drug problem is a brain disease in the same way that Huntington’s or Parkinson’s are diseases of the brain, for example.

The fact that relatively few people who use drugs develop a problem with them is also evidence that it is not a brain disease.

We still can’t distinguish between the brain of someone who is dependent on alcohol or other drugs and someone who is not. broader social determinants of health, such as low socio-economic status, lack of education, homelessness, and unemployment; as well as early trauma and mental health issues.

The social consequence of viewing alcohol and other drug dependence as a function of the interaction between an ‘addictive brain’ and a specific drug is prohibition. We either need to eliminate drugs from society (and hence more law enforcement is needed) or we need protect the brain from drugs (and hence abstinence is required). But emerging research shows that a prohibition approach is not effective in reducing harms or use.

The reality is there are many complex factors that impact on the development of alcohol and other drug issues, including family history; socio-demographic factors and

Alcohol and other drug problems are more aligned to the definition of a mental health issue, with multiple factors in both their development and maintenance. We don’t typically refer to mental health disorders as a ‘disease’, even though there is evidence that there is associated impact on the structure and function of the brain.

Our Director, Professor Nicole Lee, discusses the current debate regarding the ‘brain disease’ model of addiction further in a ‘Viewpoints’ article in The Conversation here.

Alcohol and other drug services don’t belong with mental health

It is #MentalHealthWeek and that provides a unique opportunity to discuss the commonalities and important differences between the mental health and AOD sector.

Alcohol and other drug use has historically been seen first as a moral deficit, and then a criminal issue, and only relatively recently has there been a broader shift in thinking about it as a mental health issue.

But understanding where alcohol and other drug problems fit into mental health is not straight forward.

Not all alcohol and other drug use is problematic. Very few people go on to develop long term problems (overall the estimate is around 10%), so our understanding of alcohol and other drug use as a mental health issue only applies to the end of the use spectrum where people are experiencing significant problems.

Taking that further, alcohol and other drugs have another unique dimension to them.

Most people with depression and anxiety don’t enjoy those feelings, even when they are not at the problematic end of the spectrum. Alcohol and other drugs on the other hand…

With alcohol and other drugs, use does not equal problems. So we need to take a broader view that encompasses both a health and a human rights perspective.

Unlike most other clinical health areas, our AOD service sector spans prevention, harm reduction and tertiary intervention. Sometimes that means we aren’t all peas in a pod, but it is also one of the strengths of the sector.

We philosophically view alcohol and other drug use on a continuum, and understand that merely (non-problematic) use of a drug does not necessarily constitute a problem.

Jim Orford’s idea of alcohol and other drug problems as an ‘excessive appetite’ captures the idea nicely – use is generally fun and purposeful, and only becomes a problem when it is excessive.

So while some alcohol and other drug problems might be viewed from mental health perspective, the issues for our sector are much broader. Under some circumstances alcohol and other drug use might be viewed as a mental health problem but they shouldn’t be integrated into the mental health system.

In many ways it maintains the stigma around (especially illicit) drug use by perpetuating the idea that use is a mental health issue.

Professor Nicole Lee is 360Edge’s Director and an international leader on alcohol and drug policy and practice.

Read more about our team here.