Australia's National Drug Strategy beyond 2009: consultation paper
New technologies and on-line services
The continuing expansion of the internet and the rapid development of mobile information and communication technology pose both challenges and opportunities for the drug and alcohol sector.
As for any product, these technologies have made the illicit drug market more efficient and supply more flexible and able to rapidly adapt in attempts to circumvent enforcement efforts. The availability of information from the internet is also contributing to the increasing number of small scale clandestine laboratories being used by drug users to supply their own, and their friends', drug needs.
A number of internationally coordinated initiatives exist with a mandate to prevent the diversion of the licit supply of precursor chemicals into illicit drug manufacture and have achieved substantial results worldwide. However, the growth of the internet may present a new challenge. In addition to the availability of information regarding illicit drug manufacturing processes, the internet has the potential to facilitate the easy and relatively anonymous purchase of the precursors and the equipment required for the manufacture of illicit drugs. The purchase of these materials via the internet (particularly from unregulated overseas suppliers) may increasingly present challenges from both a domestic, border and international law enforcement perspective.
Consumers are increasingly using the internet to purchase pharmaceutical products. The evolving global reach of the internet combined with the relative anonymity in which both suppliers and consumers can operate may create an environment conducive to the uncontrolled/unregulated supply of controlled and/or prescription only medications, as well as the supply of substandard and/or counterfeit pharmaceutical products. People are also increasingly seeking drug information (potency, availability, effects) over the internet. This can lead to inaccurate information and understanding about the role of and harm from drugs.
The internet however, is also a potentially powerful tool for disseminating authoritative information and messages on the harms from drugs. In some cases treatment can be delivered over the internet and potentially reach groups who would otherwise not have access including people in remote and rural areas. Further, the internet has improved the accessibility of workforce training and professional information services and resources to those in the alcohol and other drug field, reducing cost and contributing to an appropriately qualified workforce.
There is a need to develop a stronger evidence base in this area including assessing the impact and useability of on-line services.
New technologies also provide opportunities for better enforcement, education and treatment efforts. For example, new technologies are improving the way in which drugs, precursor chemicals and drug paraphernalia are detected.
What are the particular opportunities and challenges that technology development is likely to pose for the community and the alcohol and drug sector over the next five years?