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Sunday, 12 August, 2001, 05:22 GMT 06:22 UK
Australian opposition backs heroin trial
Heroin injecting room, Sydney
Australia has already introduced its first legal heroin injecting room
The leader of the main opposition Labor Party in Australia, Kim Beazley, has said he will allow trials to distribute free heroin to addicts if his party wins the election later this year.

Mr Beazley was reacting to a call last week from the National Crime Authority (NCA) for the legal distribution of heroin to make dealing in it less profitable to traffickers, saying the war against organised drug crime has been lost.

Absolutely savage on the people who profit from the proceeds of this wretched trade, and easy on the kids who are the victims of it

Kim Beazley
The NCA proposed a trial programme to distribute heroin to medically-supervised addicts from a state-run repository.

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has rejected the idea, saying improved drugs education and police action is a better strategy to bust criminal gangs.

Labor is tipped to win the federal elections expected at the end of the year.

"We believe in encouraging the treatments like naltrexone, all the various rehabilitation processes and we are prepared to consider favourably an approach from the states in relation to this," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp television's Insider programme.

Improved interception

However, Mr Beazley said that in tandem with help for addicts Labor wanted to see a tougher stance on traffickers and to strengthen the coast guard and its drug interception efforts.

"If we could sum up in just a couple of words, I would say this - absolutely savage on the people who profit from the proceeds of this wretched trade, and easy on the kids who are the victims of it," he said.

Kim Beazley
Beazley is tipped to win elections later this year

The NCA has argued that allowing doctors to prescribe heroin would reduce drug dealers' profits and remove them from the streets.

Mr Beazley said that he had changed his attitude to heroin trials after sitting down with colleagues and studying strategies to deal with the drug problem.

The number of heroin addicts in Australia is put at several thousand.

A government drugs survey in 1998 said that 0.7% of the population aged over 15 used heroin - higher than Western Europe and the US, according to the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention.

See also:

07 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Sydney opens first 'shooting gallery'
06 Jun 00 | World
Factfile on drugs
29 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
Vatican opposes nuns' drugs work
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