Wagga police endorse drug treatment in hope of keeping addicts out of jail

A second former Kooringal ice addict has backed medical – not criminal – treatment of addicts.

It comes as The Greens declared the war on drugs lost and signalled a shift away from treating addicts like criminals in favour of drug and alcohol rehabilitation and harm minimisation techniques.

When former Kooringal man Robert Connor was hauled before the courts after being pulled over driving with drugs in his system, he claims to have been in the ice clutches of methamphetamine.

Mr Connor said he was “on the brink of homelessness, suicide and homicide” when given the option of undertaking formal drug treatment while on bail.

“When I first went into the program I didn’t want to get off drugs, I just opted for drug court to avoid a custodial sentence.

“But the longer I stayed clean, the more I realised the benefits of being more social and having more money; it saved my life.

“Prison will never break the cycle of drugs because there’s more drugs in jail than there is on the streets and you have access to criminals.”

Official NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics support Mr Connor’s claim the the Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment (MERIT) program – which he referred to as drug court – reduces the risk of reconviction for a further offence.

Mr Connor has fallen off the wagon since completing his court-ordered treatment, including a “recent relapse” when authorities took custody of his son, but he’s adamant he has a new-found respect for staying clean.

“My history's not good with psychosis, so who knows if I'll get my son back, but I have real motivation to stay abstinent forever,” Mr Connor said.

“The temptation will always be there, but it gets easier to stay clean.”

Wagga police commander, Superintendent Bob Noble, said the MERIT program was worthwhile.

“If addicts undertake rehabilitation, it can keep them out of jail,” Superintendent Noble said.

“If they can reform and get on with their life, that’s a better outcome than incarceration.”

Police have arrested 113 people in the Wagga municipality for possession of amphetamines in the 12 months to June, as well as 268 for possessing pot and 19 party-goers were found with ecstasy pills. 

“Cracking down on drugs is very resource-intensive, costs a lot of money and is inherently dangerous,” Superintendent Noble said.

“We will continue to attack drug supply, but we’re also trying to get ahead of the curve of domestic violence and property crime and there’s only so much we can do at once.”

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