HE authors of a new study showing illicit drug use cost Australian business $3.3 billion in one year say the law enforcement approach to drugs has failed to protect people and commerce.
The Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation today released what it claims is the first known Australian study to quantify the cost of illicit drug use.
The foundation said illicit drug use in 2003 cost Australian business $3.3 billion, or two per cent of that year's corporate profits.
Reduced workforce, absenteeism
The Three Billion Dollar Question for Australian Business report counted the cost mostly in terms of drugs' effect on labour - including a reduced workforce and absenteeism.
"The illicit drugs market draws resources away from legitimate businesses supplying legal goods and services and paying their fair share of taxes," the report compiled by economists said.
"If illicit drugs were reduced the business sector would benefit not only from reduced labour costs and a bigger workforce but also from reduced drug-related property crime and corruption, and higher consumer demand for legally supplied products.
"The potential for increased business efficiency could lead to greater export competitiveness, better worker and management rewards, higher profits and higher returns to shareholders."
Law enforcement "a failure"
Foundation president Alex Wodak said a new approach to drugs was needed after the costly law enforcement approach had largely failed to protect people.
"We would prefer to see a more balanced business-type approach to this problem where governments invest according to the return on investment," Dr Wodak said.
"We know that return on investment is very good with drug treatment, harm reduction and social services.
Follow worldwide examples
"Other governments around the world have already stopped pretending we can arrest and imprison our way out of this problem.
"We have to move away from the 'war against drugs' language and recognise this is a problem that is not going to be solved by the I'm-tougher-than-you-are approach."
Dr Wodak said it had been proven that a health and social welfare approach to drugs shrinks the drug market to a size law enforcement agencies can tackle.
"The problem now is the drug industry is so large that there is no possibility that drug law enforcement can succeed. It's set up to fail," he said.