The arrival of the Early Drug Detection Initiative (EDDI) in NSW is one step on the long road to meaningful reform

On the 29th February, NSW edged closer to meaningful drug law reform with EDDI – the Early Drug Detection Initiative – coming into effect. 

“Governments are to be congratulated when they make positive, evidence-based changes to our often unfair drug laws and Uniting welcomes the efforts of the Minns Government to do just that,” Emma Maiden, Uniting NSW.ACT’s General Manager of Advocacy & External Relations, said. 

EDDI’s arrival means that someone found in possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use will now be issued with a $400 infringement notice. They can either pay or opt to clear the fine by agreeing to an over-the-phone health intervention that will take about an hour. A person can receive two of these infringements but on the third instance, they will be subject to the usual police procedures. 

“The introduction of the EDDI scheme, formerly proposed by the Coalition government, is bipartisan recognition that the 23,000 people arrested every year for drug use or possession in NSW (19,000 of whom go to court) would be better served by an interaction with a health service,” Emma said. 

“EDDI also signals agreement that we need to have a more honest, open and ongoing conversation about alcohol and other drugs.  

“It recognises that our current laws perpetuate stigma and create harm by driving people away from seeking and finding support. 

“There are certainly some positive aspects of the scheme but there remain some important, unanswered questions and concerns,” she said. 

“For the small proportion of people who use drugs and experience drug dependency, getting only two “chances” is not enough. We know that this is the group that would benefit most from more opportunities to connect with health services and so would benefit most from a much more generous system. Surely supporting those experiencing drug dependency should be the ultimate goal.  

“The phone health intervention via EDDI might well be their first conversation with a health professional and could open the door to further interventions which we know work best when initiated by the individual themselves.  

“And of course, when people do seek treatment services, they must be accessible which will only happen if government increases investment in these vital services. 

‘We also question how EDDI will work in the real world. There is a lack of clarity about how Local Area Commanders will be instructing their officers to apply these new laws,” she said. 

“And we need to know what police will be required to do when issuing an infringement.  

Will they have to test the substance to check it’s an illegal drug? Will they have to weigh the drugs to check they fall below the ‘supply’ threshold?  

“And if not, will these things happen later, with the potential for the infringement to be wiped or escalated to a charge depending on the results? The answer to these questions will inform how workable the system is for police, which is essential to its success. 

The ACT Government, in implementing their drug law changes, has been working closely with CAHMA (Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy), a peer-based organisation, on cultural change.  

“The NSW Police could learn a lot from this collaborative approach.  

“Aside from the ongoing evaluation of trends from crime statistics we strongly suggest that any planned review of the scheme should include feedback from peer organisations, alcohol and other drug organisations and family groups like Tony Trimmingham’s Family Drug Support.  

“And the long promised 5-day Parliamentary Drug Summit will be another significant opportunity for reflection. 

“The sooner we get a date for this much anticipated event, that mirrors the format of the successful 1999 Summit, the sooner we can get closer to the critical reforms that must follow this first important step,” Emma said.