Publication Detail

d'Abbs, P. and Brady, M. (2004). Other people, other drugs: the policy response to petrol sniffing among Indigenous Australians. Drug and Alcohol Review, 23, pp. 253-260. [RJ451]

This paper examines the policy response of Australian governments to petrol sniffing in Indigenous communities from the 1980s until the present. During this period, despite the formation of numerous inquiries, working parties, and intergovernmental committees, there has been little accumulation of knowledge about the nature and causes of sniffing, or about the effectiveness of interventions. Policies are fragmentary; programmes are rarely evaluated, and most rely on short-term funding. The paper sets out to explain why this should be so. It draws upon a conceptual framework known as ‘analytics of government’ to examine the ways in which petrol sniffing comes to the attention of government agencies and is perceived as an issue; the mechanisms deployed by governments to address petrol sniffing; ways in which knowledge about sniffing is generated; and the underlying assumptions about people that inform policy-making. Drawing upon case studies of policy responses, the paper argues that a number of structural factors combine to marginalise petrol sniffing as an issue, and to encourage reliance on short-term, one-off interventions in place of a sustained policy commitment. Four recommendations are advanced to help overcome these factors: (1) agreements should be reached within and between levels of government on steps to be take to reduce risk factors before the eruption of petrol-sniffing crises; (2) the evidence base relevant to petrol sniffing (and other inhalants) should be improved by funding and directing one or more national drug research centres to collate data on inhalant caused mortality and morbidity, and to conduct or commission research into prevalence patterns, effectiveness of interventions and other gaps in knowledge; (3) the current pattern of short-term, pilot and project funding should be replaced with longer-term, evidence-based interventions that address the multiple risk and protective factors present in communities; and (4) insistence by governments that communities must take ‘ownership’ of the problem should be replaced by genuine partnerships involving governments, non-government and community sectors.

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