U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Role of Civil Disobedience in Drug Policy Reform: How an Illegal Safer Injection Room Led to a Sanctioned, Medically Supervised Injection Center

NCJ Number
Journal of Drug Issues Volume: 33 Issue: 3 Dated: Summer 2003 Pages: 609-623
Alex Wodak; Ann Symonds; Ray Richmond
Date Published
15 pages
This case study from Kings Cross in Sydney (Australia) shows that public health practitioners who are committed to establishing medically supervised injection centers for the safe injection of illicit drugs by users must sometimes resort to civil disobedience to achieve their goals.
This article concludes that in spite of Australia's endorsement of the prevalent international model of harm-reduction as the centerpiece of drug policy, the actual core of Australia's drug policy has been supply reduction with a thin veneer of harm minimization. This is evidenced in the nation's commitment of 84 percent of its drug-control budget to law enforcement, 10 percent to prevention and research, and 6 percent to treatment. In the early 1990's in Kings Cross, the police reluctantly tolerated several illegal "shooting galleries," where drug users illegally rented cubicles to inject drugs. In 1997, a royal commission recommended that a parliamentary inquiry consider establishing an official medically supervised injecting center (MSIC). Although the committee that conducted the inquiry considered strong evidence that an MSIC could be an effective tool in minimizing the harm of intravenous drug use, a majority of the committee voted against a trial facility. In an act of civil disobedience, a group of concerned citizens established an unsanctioned MSIC; however, the facility was forced to close under police action. At a subsequent parliamentary drug summit, delegates voted to support an official trial of a MSIC; a congregation of Roman Catholic nuns was invited to establish and operate the facility. When the nuns were instructed by their superiors to withdraw from the project, however, the Uniting Church agreed to establish the project. The MSIC opened in May 2001. This article credits the act of civil disobedience in illegally establishing a MSIC as being a spur to the eventual creation of the trial. 18 references


No download available