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18 Aug 2014
The National Drug Strategy 2010-2015 names three pillars representing strategies to reduce drug consumption in Australia. Topping the list as Pillar 1 is “supply reduction.” Pillar 2 is “demand reduction” and Pillar 3 is “harm reduction.”1 It is notable that reducing the supply of drugs is first because some people claim that convincing people to stop using drugs will eventually lead to the supply drying up. There may be some truth to that theory because the drug trade is a matter of supply and demand economics. However, given the extent of drug use amongst Australians, it is difficult to reduce drug usage when the drugs are so easily available. Recovering addicts must deal with a society where illicit drugs are plentiful. In addition, people are already aware of the dangers of drug use, and yet they continue to use them.

Reducing the availability of drugs requires a multi-pronged approach, which includes preventing, stopping, and disrupting supply chains. The question is: Where are the drugs coming from in the first place and how are they distributed. Most people by now have heard of “meth labs” which are homemade drug production setups. The meth labs need precursor chemicals, which can often be obtained from ordinary and legal drugs. However, the home meth labs are primarily feeding personal drug habits. Illegal drugs like ecstasy, heroin, cannabis, and a host of synthetic substances are feeding a national drug habit. Where are they coming from and how do they get into the hands of drug users, many of whom are employed?

Name the Drug of Choice

The recent revelation that the Australia sporting industry is saturated with drugs was distressing, but the story also provided some insight into a secretive world and offered lessons for employers. The first insight was that not only are drugs widespread throughout Australian athletic teams, but there are organised crime groups involved.2 These groups participate in the manufacturing, importation, and distribution of a variety of drugs, including hormones, peptides, and anabolic steroids. Though these are not drugs tested for in the workplace, the lesson to be learned is that people will go to great lengths to obtain drugs of choice, and there are powerful suppliers ready to keep their drug habits alive on any given day. In the sports world the drugs of choice were hormones and steroids, but for illicit drug users they are drugs like cocaine and heroin.

The Australian Crime Commission has made it clear that the Mexican drug cartels are now supplying the country with a host of drugs.3 Once again, it is a matter of supply and demand. Cocaine is not manufactured in Australia. It is imported. The cartels also import narcotics and other hard drugs, using a sophisticated network of businesses, facilitators, and Australian importers. Once the drugs make it into Australia, there is another organised criminal network ready to distribute the drugs. One of the interesting characteristics of organised crime groups is that they are efficient businesses, able to adapt to the marketplace and change their practices and networks as necessary to evade the law.

The reality is that many of the street dealers are small-time criminals who are serving as the “retail stores” of drug selling. The bigger problem is the major importers and distributors handling millions of dollars worth of drugs. Law enforcement is doing what it can to stem the flow of drugs because cutting off the supply will make it more difficult for people for people to obtain the drugs in the first place and will limit the exposure of recovering drug addicts to substances.

First Line of Defence

Employers can learn one important fact about controlling substance abuse in the workplace from the stories about supply and demand. Drug testing program are the first line of defence against the proliferation of workplace drugs. Organised crime and Mexican cartels are not bothered in the least by the thought of workers using or dealing drugs. Zero tolerance drug policies and random drug testing programs are critical to making sure there is no supply available in the workplace, even if some employees create a demand.

Each Australian workplace can play a role in reducing the national supply of drugs, simply by developing and enforcing zero tolerance drug policies supported by high quality testing services. Mediscreen ( designates a Mediscreen Coordinator to each client’s workplace to ensure drug and alcohol testing services needs are fully met.

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