In this episode, host Dave Closson interviews Jo Baxter from Drug Free Australia and the Rotary Action Group, Addiction Prevention. They discuss their latest project, a thought-provoking book entitled "Street Drugs, The New Addiction Industry," authored by Elaine Walters. The book sheds light on the addiction industry and its impact, and the episode explores key themes and insights encapsulated within its pages. Jo shares her passion for drug prevention and education and emphasizes the importance of community engagement in tackling addiction challenges.
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All right. Welcome to the Pathways to Prevention podcast, the show that delves into pressing issues and innovative solutions surrounding addiction, prevention, and drug awareness. I'm your host, Dave Closson, and today we have a special guest joining us, Jo Baxter, representing Drug Free Australia and the Rotary Action Group of Addiction Prevention. We'll be exploring their latest project. A thought provoking book entitled Street Drugs, The New Addiction Industry, written by Elaine Walters. The book serves as a collection of essays shedding light on various crucial aspects of the addiction industry. Today, we'll have the opportunity to learn more about Jo, Drug Free Australia, and the Rotary Action Group, plus the valuable insights encapsulated within the pages of this book. Before we dive into the topics, I want to introduce our guest, Jo Baxter. Jo is an esteemed member of Drug Free Australia and actively involved in advocating for drug prevention and education. With a wealth of experience and a passion for the cause, Jo brings a unique perspective to our discussion. Additionally, we'll uncover the significance. And the impacts of the Rotary Action Group, an organization committed to making a difference in addiction prevention initiatives through collaboration and community engagement. They aim to address the challenges posed by addiction head on. Together, we'll explore those key themes in their new book as well. Street Drugs, The New Addiction Industry, and discuss the profound impact. This book can have on shaping our understanding of addiction prevention. All right, y'all sit back and enjoy this conversation with Jo. The Vision, a world where all people live free of the burden of drug abuse. This is the Drug Free America Foundation's Pathway to Prevention podcast, where we are committed to developing strategies that prevent drug use and promote sustained recovery. Thank you for not only tuning in, but your continued support and efforts to help make this world a better place. We hope you enjoy this episode. Welcome, Jo. Good to see you again. Thank you very much, Dave. It's a pleasure to be here. Always, always a pleasure to, to chat with you. You make this world just a little bit brighter and a little bit happier. So any chances always welcome, before we get into our conversation, I know you've, you've joined us in the past, which I'll put a link to your last conversation in our show notes, but But for our new listeners that have, have joined us, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role within a drug free Australia? Yes, certainly., it's a very, very well known organization by now. We've been going for more than 20 years and our focus is on primary prevention. That is helping people to understand that taking drugs in the first place is not a good move and it's so easy to become... really dependent on those substances because of their strength. So we want especially families and their teens to understand that the developing brain is very vulnerable to strong substances and it's best not to, not even once, to try a drug and if you do get into trouble, get help really quickly. You can be helped, and that's what we want to do as well. I hear the passion, the fire in your voice, but what motivated you to, to get involved in drug prevention and advocacy work? Well, I'm a teacher, as a background for the work I do, and I did see a lot of students, , losing heart in their grades, and losing their self esteem, feeling lost, and often it was due to them trying substances and, and not really thinking straight. And then, family, friends, ordinary people, and they're in different parts of Australia and in different parts of the world, having the same thing. And I thought there's something going wrong here. We're not getting a message out that what they're trying isn't just, fun. It can lead to really dire consequences. And sadly, when two of our best friends in different families lost their children to such substances, I thought, well, as a teacher, I think I've got the skills to try and put something forward that'll help them think twice. I can, I can understand where your passion comes from. Absolutely. Well, tell me just a touch more about the, the mission of drug free Australia. And what are some of those maybe key initiatives or campaigns that y'all have going on? Oh, we're a very diverse group. We've got some very talented people on our team, and we have researchers, we have people that will work 24 7 when they have to, in a voluntary capacity, and that's mainly the lobbying side where we We make connections with other groups like the Delgarno Institute, the Drug Advisory Council of Australia, the Women's Christian Temperance Movement. All of those groups have a perspective and a long history to share with us in terms of research. So we find that by collaborating, we get a richer, message that can be spread. And we just try to do that. It's, one person can't do it. And so the work that we do at Drug Free Australia is very interlinked with other like minded organizations. Absolutely. And speaking of like minded organizations, during the introduction, I mentioned the Rotary Action Group. is the Rotary Action Group? Well, in Rotary, and those listeners who do know about Rotary, you'll know that we're very close to our own communities when we're in a club. So we know about the schools in the area. We know about the health issues. We know about the traffic issues that people have and the number of road accidents that might occur or the crime and violence. We also know the fun that communities can have. So as a Rotarian, I was at a meeting in Vienna one year and I met, another Rotarian who said he wanted to set up an action group to prevent addiction. And I said, well, that's fantastic because I've been in drug free Australia for quite a while now. And I see that there can be some close community links. And then I discovered that there are a number of other Rotary Action Groups. There's quite a long list if people want to go on to the Rotary International website. And one of them, for example, is to try and eliminate, polio in the world. There's a very strong one on mental health issues. And... You know, and so it goes on. There's women's issues that are taken up as well. So our Rotary Action Group Addiction Prevention fits in very nicely with some of those. And we really want people to know that they don't have to get into those situations. And if they're in them already, There is help readily available and compassionate help. I think it's beautiful how you're in Vienna and just happened to, to cross paths with somebody. And from that, that conversation, that idea sparked the Rotary Action Group addiction prevention. So what are some of the, the cool projects or initiatives that you're doing through Rotary Action Group? Thank you. Silence. Well, our main one is to help young people to gain skills so that they can spread the word and tell us how it's best to prevent addiction. If they see their friends doing it, it worries them. they will have some ideas of how to coax them not to. And we give them resiliency ideas as well. You know, to change the subject, to go and concentrate on their sport. Things that will take them out of that. That world they could easily get entangled into and what we want to do is train youth up over the next few years to be able to go to high level conferences and have their say, for example, in the United Nations in Vienna and. we're already hearing that that would be most welcome from those circles. So meeting somebody from Brussels in Vienna and then getting that ball rolling, and I have to say, the people in Brussels were really, really rolling it out in the first instance. And finally, Oceania has come on board as well. But now there are action groups in other continents, in Africa, India, in the United States, very strong in the United States. But we're really thankful now that, we can also look after some of Southeast Asia as well and encourage our Singaporean friends to, get on board. So the Rotary Action Group is growing all the time and it does fit very nicely with community values, family values and proactivity about helping people. So when it comes to community, you know, the rotary has close ties to the local communities for each. But what role does community engagement play in prevention and how does Rotary Action Group kind of facilitate that? Community engagement is everything. You know, our busy lives take us away from really concentrating on, what we can do. And sometimes, when we hear the media, we think there's nothing we can do. People can throw up their hands in horror and just say, Well, I can't do it. I'll just get on with my own life. But at Rotary, we can go and, go into schools and chat to them about what their needs might be and provide some resources for them. We've got some books that we want to share with the school libraries of people that are telling their own stories. We have one about a girl called Jade Lewis, in Western Australia, who was an amazing athlete. And then... Finally, got into the wrong company, at the wrong time in her life, and missed out on going to the Olympics because she was too addicted to heroin. That girl has now grown into a beautiful woman, with a family, and she goes and advocates around the country as much as she can, in schools especially. So we want to bring her to more schools as well. We have Karen Redpath, who is a very similar... candidate for drugs. She was from a normal, lovely family in Victoria, Australia, and Keren didn't know the dangers of the drugs. There just wasn't the education out there to share the dangers of what could happen to the brain. And she became actually not only mentally disturbed, but in her 20s became quite physically unwell because of the substances. And She believes that it's a total miracle that she even lived through that. But now she's a wonderful advocate as well. And Karen can come and tell her story. There's one little girl that can't tell her story, and that's Anna, who died of just one ecstasy tablet. But her parents took over and just said, Anna has to, this has to mean something, you know, we have to give something back so that other people of Anna's ilk don't fall into the same trap. Don't take even one ecstasy tablet because you could be allergic to it. Even if you just take one. we spread that information and it, and the kids listen because they're hearing a real story and they ask very telling questions. For example, Karen has said, they'll say, well, do you regret what you did to your parents at that time? Did you lose many friends? And she said, absolutely. It was all a downhill slide and nobody was there to catch me at the end. So we want to be able to catch people at the end, but catch them before they get to the end of that slide. that's what we do. we also have, the new book that we might be able to share a bit more about later in the podcast. And we want that to go into school libraries for resources for teachers. We want politicians to consider it for policy development so that they realise how important prevention is. And we certainly want medical agencies to take it up and have a look. So we're pushing those kinds of resources so that at least That part of the story can be told and it hasn't been told very effectively for the last 20 years. Let's go there. Yeah. the book stories. I, I know are so. It's so important, so powerful, and that's a big reason why I share my own personal journey with with post traumatic stress disorder and alcohol. So yes, let's, let's talk about the book. And if you didn't catch it, folks, during the introduction, the book is Street Drugs, the New Addiction Industry. So tell me about the book, Jo. What is it? Silence. Oh, well, basically, in the summary, it's an expose on what's been happening in Not only political circles, but in I think vested interest circles where people are making money out of drugs when they shouldn't be. Pharmaceutical companies are always making wonderful profits and they do a great job and they, they test their drugs and things like that. But the street drugs are something that allure people and there are vested interests, those that push those drugs, the drug cartels, et cetera. And then they lure people in and, Maybe that people buy those drugs so that they can then sell them on and keep their own habit going. So this book is an exposé on that. it basically has facts, figures, myths and misconceptions around drugs and other addictive substances. Okay. It talks about a hidden agenda in the drugs field, something that, is quite hard to understand and even to believe, but what we wanted to know is, let's get real about how we can make drugs a health issue, but also keep a deterrent there so that people realize they're dangerous and don't take them in the first place. The book contains very sad accounts of parents that have been devastated when their children have taken drugs. The children that have become dependent and then finally addicted, and too many, have taken their own lives. but then it comes up with solutions and what we can do to move out of that whole spiral that is really a downward spiral of drug taking and there's hope for the future. And I love it that our Rotary Action Group Addiction Prevention has a linked in with Rotary where the theme This year is hope for the world. So I think our book is perfect to show that there is hope out of this scourge. And we hope that, people in the United States and all over the world will become interested in taking a look at it. it should be read by parents, teachers, counsellors, health workers, and concerned politicians, also community leaders at local level. It's really something everybody can read. And do you know, Dave, it's a really easy book to read. You might think when you look at it, oh wow, that's a big volume. But it's divided up into small essays with topics that people can go and choose. and if... There's something in one chapter that isn't covered in another. There's usually a reference to go and have a look at that chapter as well, so that you can get a deeper view. So, if you're a short story reader, it's like a bunch of short stories together. And, I think that that is something people might find quite appealing. It's a reference guide, really, for politicians, parents, concerned grandparents, and so on. Sounds like not just parents, grandparents, and politicians that are concerned should read it. Maybe all of them. Yeah. Well, I would say that if people are serious about getting a handle on what's really going on, it's a wonderful start. And the author, Elaine Walters, she's a researcher, experienced researcher. She's an author of other books. And she was a Churchill Fellow, which meant that they gave her, I guess, a scholarship to travel the world. Over 30 years ago she started all of this and she travelled the world and heard what other countries were doing in terms of drugs. In the 80s in Australia, for example, we were just starting to see the really harmful effects. The 60s and 70s, it was all there, but by the 80s it was a really important point to think about turning around. And she's picked all that up and helped many, many families, as well as writing. Three books. This one is her final one because it covers everything that she wanted to bring together. now I'm just curious if you have any insights or sort of backstory on what may be inspired Elaine to really dig into this topic and write her books. Yes. Well, as I say, she's a researcher. She was an educator as well. And then, she was, able to start up a small group, just a morning coffee group that turned into people coming and needing to share their stories. And too many of them were sharing about their kids and their concern for their teenagers and the drugs. And she realized, She was then becoming a counsellor and an advisor, and she set up a special family group in Melbourne. and then she decided to take it further. She thought that she didn't know enough at that stage. There wasn't a lot of information around, and so she sought to find out more, and she asked everyone she could, and finally she did get the scholarship to go overseas, and she found out that in the United States, there was much more knowledge about the harms of cannabis and marijuana than ever we had seen in Australia, and she brought a lot of that back. And sadly, many of the ears deafened to what she had to say. So again, Australia was rather slow in picking up the much needed research, the much, and the latest research on the harms of cannabis. So fast forward, say, 20 years, and we find that the The parts of cannabis that hurt you, the THC, which is the really, one that changes the brain, has now increased so much in strength that you're not smoking your mama's pot. You are not. It is not the 60s marijuana anymore. It's industrialized and, it's commercialized and sadly people are making money out of it through legalizing it and making it sound like it's okay. Now, once I start on legalization, can I just say that it's just a green light. It doesn't help anyone. We know with alcohol, as soon as alcohol was legalized, and it has been for centuries now, it's one of the most consumed substances of all. Everybody thinks it's okay, and certainly, in moderation, it may be okay for people, but, it's legalized. It's the same with tobacco. We, we legalized tobacco. Smoking went through the roof in the 50s and 60s, and now the cancer that comes from it, and every other health disease, people are finally knowing about it. Well, cannabis plays the same tune, the tobacco industry seems to be playing the same record again where they're saying, Oh, medicinal cannabis will help you, that's okay, when in actual fact it can have so many side effects and often isn't tested well enough to even say that it should be medicinal. So, we have to be very aware. that vested interests can be at the back of all of this and legalizing will only just say it's okay and we sadly know that it's not. Absolutely. We could do a whole, episode diving into, to cannabis and actually had a conversation with, Laura stack from Johnny's ambassadors, two months ago to same passion, same drive. when it comes to, to cannabis and absolutely agree. What are some of the other challenges y'all are kind of facing when it comes to, to drug prevention? Mm oh, the term normalization comes to mind where because the the tune has been sung for so long that It's okay. Everybody's taking these drugs and nobody seems to be really being hurt and that mantra is everybody's doing it, so it's probably okay, is so false. We're finding that more teenagers than we thought are actually rejecting drugs, and that's a great sign. The stumbling block is that that doesn't get the media. What gets the media is the big halls that are coming in, the big halls of drugs. See, on the Australian coastline, our Border Patrol does an amazing job, and our Australian Federal Police find amazing amounts of substances. Methamphetamine is one of them. Cocaine has increased. And they're getting really big drug busts, even before they reach our shores. My question is, and many questions are asked about this, if there wasn't a market for it here, and it wasn't normalized, and everybody thought it was okay, Therefore they wouldn't be buying it. Those people would not be coming to our shores. The market's there, and sadly, the very erroneous, statements that are made about the harmlessness of the substances and just a little bit won't hurt you, well, that's... Completely incorrect. And everybody's body system is different. So you don't know how much it will hurt you and how quickly it will hurt you. huh. I'm, I'm just sitting over here kind of reflecting on both my personal story, how, how norms influenced my choices to, to consume alcohol, but then also reflecting on the work my friend, Dr. Jeff Linkenbach does around positive community norms. And one of his quotes is, if you want health, promote health and. The good exists and it's worth growing. Yes. They're lovely statements. Yes. Oh, absolutely. That's the thing that norms can be such a powerful driving force. So let's tap into them for good. For good choices. Added to that, we, we believe that education needs to go into our schools. That's why our Rotary action groups working hard on that. But, in Australia, we had a level of success in drug prevention. From about 2002 to 2007, we had a Prime Minister that said, We have to be tough on drugs. We have to be honest about it. We have to let families know. So there was an entire mail out to the entire community in Australia, helping parents to know how the harms of drugs were. There were lots of advertisements on TV, and there were also drug policies that were quite, they were tough. They were honest. And they, they said it as it was, so that people realise, well, you know, I have to think twice about this. and so, that strong legislation is what's needed. And it combats the normalisation and the other narrative that's so detrimental. So, yeah, so education and legislation. We need them. Yeah. What, what do you see as the future or how do you see the future of drug prevention evolving and what role do you envision organizations like Drug Free America, Drug Free Australia kind of playing in shaping that future? I think we're already starting on it where we're very, very close contact with other prevention organizations. And, Amy at Drug Free America does an amazing job. so she helps us a great deal. and we're linked with the World Federation Against Drugs. So that. All these international groups make it very strong. And I mentioned previously within Australia, we have about five organizations where we've formed a task force for drug prevention. So that I think is our way forward to combine our resources, to combine our message and to coordinate it through the media. very strong way to do it and through social media. so we also, have made through Rotary a wonderful connection, through, a Rotary club in the United States. it's called Truth or Consequences Rotary Club. and. They go into schools. I'll show you this. I'll send you a picture of it. they go into schools and they talk about, they say, Don't meth with us. In other words, don't use meth. So don't meth with us is their thing. And, then they ask the children, after they've talked to them, to write their little statement on the back. If somebody... it says, I promise myself when I'm asked to try meth, I will say, and they write a little statement down in their own words of making them think about what would they say if somebody said, Oh, just give it a try. It won't hurt you. It'll probably just make you feel happy. You know, that sort of thing. So this organization, I'll give them a plug because, they've been wonderful to us and we met them in Melbourne at the Rotary Convention in May. So, Yeah, the Truth or Consequences Rotary Club in the United States is doing some great work. So we're joining with groups like that? I love the prevention field. and the more we. We share our knowledge, both what's worked and maybe what hasn't worked so well or not so good and, and not just share our knowledge, but help lift each other up Yes, the more we come together, the, the bigger impacts we can have in our communities in this world. absolutely, yes. I love, I love working in the prevention field. It's, it's in my bones through and through it is. Well, we're glad. What, what opportunities do our listeners have to, to stay up to date with drug free Australia to get the book, to get connected? I'll, in terms of finding out more, we have a website. It's a very easy one. It's just www. drugfree. org. au And then we have the Save Your Brain website that we spoke about in a podcast previously. That's just all one word, saveyourbrain. com. au And in terms of getting the book, people can email us. and it doesn't matter where in the world you are. we'd love to hear from you. admin at drugfree. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. we will make sure that, we can get a book across to you. We hope there will be an ebook available soon because that's going to really be something that'll, the situation as well in terms of access. So I've been firing questions your way, Jo, thank you for, for taking them in stride, but I want to just open it up. What, what maybe have I not asked about that you you'd really like to share with our listeners? Oh wow, that's, that's wonderful. I guess we'd love to know what small communities, small or large communities, are doing. In their space in America, we'd love to hear, from the United States, anywhere in the United States, if they've got something that works, that helps their young people understand the harms of drugs and therefore helping them to say of their own volition, we don't want any part of this. We'd love to hear. from you. We are very involved with Dr. Robert DuPont and his One Choice initiative. And we've also got a version of that occurring in Australia. So, we've already made that connection. If there are Rotary Clubs listening out there, or members of Rotary Clubs, please be in touch. My club is called the Rotary Club of McLaren Vale in South Australia. And if you've been to Australia, and you may have even been to that area because it's very well known and it's a beautiful semi country area. yeah, very proud of it as for a tourist area. So we'd love to hear from, anyone from your podcast that may, might like to make a connection and share some good practice. We, we do have, a monthly e bulletin that goes out and that goes on our website and we often like to encapsulate stories from different sectors. So we would probably ask permission if somebody did make contact with us to use their story in one of our e bulletins. Marvel sends that same email. Address the email@example.com au. Yes, if they go into the resources section, you can find the e bulletins. Yep. Beautiful. All right, folks, head that way and get connected. All right. So I've got, we'll call it one last question for you before we, we close out our, our fun conversation. What, what advice or, or wisdom would you offer our listeners as it relates to. Doing work in prevention. What, what can they go forth and do, or do they need to keep in mind? Silence. I think the first thing is to keep in mind that, we're about health in our bodies. And I read somewhere recently in Portugal where drugs have been decriminalized for a number of years and the story's gone out there that it's been very successful and people are much better off in Portugal. but what's happening is that their laws are coming down stricter on sugar and, you know, even eating ice creams. They're restricted in certain areas to that kind of thing, but they're allowed to inject drugs anywhere and all they'll do is be sent off to a health clinic. Now... That in the street for street amenity is a horrible thing. Anyway, I guess what I'm really saying is let's keep our perspective Let's share with people who can make decisions our local politicians our local mayors people like that share your concerns, but also share a solution that you might have. So I think out of this podcast, if some of your listeners can send us what they think would be great solutions, we will definitely advocate that and people can then just go on our website and they'll get some ideas for their community. I think we need to be sharing more, we need to be honest about it, and not put our heads in the sand and say, Oh, this is terrible, we won't mention this. We need to say, look, honestly, it's a health issue, but the deterrents aren't strong enough, and people just think it's safe to do it. We have to have a good balance of legal sanctions. But, help people who do get into trouble. You I'm reminded of, Dr. Alex Elswick, who I had interviewed and he summed it up as we need to make life without drugs more, Oh, this is running a mess of his quote, more exciting, more rewarding than life with drugs. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. let's face it, it's called a natural high. I've heard it called that. You know, get your natural high from going into a sport and really getting involved in it and loving it. And, yeah, you can be addicted to sport. That's fine. Ha ha ha. And, unless you, do something silly physically, you should be fine. Ha ha ha. hmm, mm hmm. Absolutely, and listeners, Y'all can make a difference. The, the norms that you promote, the way that you live your life and y'all can make a difference. Even if you don't directly work in prevention, you can inspire and do prevention work as well. Yeah, well, Jo, I know I've been thrown a million questions your way. Thank you for, for, like I said, taking those in stride and sharing your wisdom and your insights and all of the great resources with our audience. And thank you for doing what you do both there locally and on the global stage to, to make this world a little bit brighter, a little bit happier. And a whole lot healthier. Thank you for taking time to chat with me again. I always look forward to our conversations. It's a pleasure, Dave. I hope it's been okay. Ha ha ha. Absolutely. It's been marvelous. Thank you again and be well. You too. That concludes this episode. Thanks for tuning in. Be sure to hit the subscribe button and share this episode with a friend before you leave. And we look forward to seeing you on social media because prevention is better together together we are stronger.