Today, I would like to ask the people in this room a simple question:
What legacy would you like to leave when your time in parliament ends?
I ask this question because, as parliamentarians, one of our key priorities is the health and well-being of the people in our electorate.
And the prevalence of mental illness in our society shows that for many, we are failing to provide the support they need.
Pre-COVID, we saw 1 in 5 Australian adults with a chronic mental illness. 1 in 8 on anti-depressants, and in the elderly population, it rose to 1 in 4.
For more vulnerable cohorts in our community, these statistics are even worse.
We know that veterans are more than twice as likely to suffer from mental illness and trauma, almost 3 times as likely to suffer from PTSD, depression and alcohol disorder and 10 times as likely to experience suicidal ideation.
And these statistics have become worse through the impact of necessary population wide forced pandemic infection controls which isolated many people and saw them struggle through the interventions.
Trauma and mental health burden continue to cause great suffering for millions of Australians and takes a toll on our country as well.
In 2020 The Australian Productivity Commission estimated the total cost of mental illness, trauma and suicide to the Australian economy to be $220 billion per year.
We are now exploring new treatment options which show remarkable remission rates in clinical trials that could lead to many Australians getting their mental health back on track and moving out of a patchy and at times unsupportive or even non-existent mental health system.
These therapies are collectively known as psychedelic-assisted therapies.
In trials, psychedelic-assisted therapy has shown upwards of 60% remission rates, and over 80% of participants experienced a clinically significant reduction in symptoms.
In a study investigating Psilocybin-assisted therapy compared to a commonly prescribed anti-depressant a SSRI, psilocybin demonstrated remission rates twice as high as the anti-depressant group.
The FDA has granted these therapies breakthrough status in the United States.
If they were new drugs, treatment-resistant patients would, in all probability, be able to access them through the TGA’s special access scheme.
But so far, no Australians have been able to access them outside of clinical trials because their legal status as medicines is being compromised by a confusion and fascination with recreational drug policy, which listed psilocybin as a prohibited drug. This is a common trap for headline seekers and populists that rail about drugs, any drugs it seems – but in reality this is exploring the proven clinical use of a drug that may be a game changer with trauma and severe mental illness.
We must work to overturn these ludicrous and outdated restrictions in the same way the community worked to overturn decades of hysteria around cannabis to ensure medical marijuana and its derivatives became open to research and available when proven as a therapy.
We deny those suffering from trauma and severe mental illness another way forward when they’ve tried everything available.
This alternative is backed by international research that brings sound evidence to support it.
In my perspective, this is unfair and, dare I say, cruel.
Not only is it unfair and cruel, in practice it violates one of the seven core international human rights treaties that Australia is a party to, which states:
“The right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”
This statement is straightforward. By burying our head in the sand and submitting to rules and regulations written and driven by paranoia and founded in a belief that there are good drug and bad drugs no matter what they are used for.
We gave up on this blanket approach for opioids, their derivatives and synthetic counterparts, amphetamines and anaesthetic drugs.
We know that they are great solutions when their use and production is evidence driven, backed by proven results and used in the right setting.
Just giving up on potentially life altering treatments is a reckless abandonment of a commitment to community health.
As members of parliament, we owe it to the people of our country to ensure that this commitment to our health is upheld. It is, in fact, a core part of our job.
Mr Speaker, if this saves one person, it is worth it. When I make this point I think not only of my friends and previous colleagues in the police and emergency services and the trauma they suffer; traumatic events and situations affect all those who endure them.
This goes to the heart of the suffering of all victims of cumulative trauma across our community.
Judging by the success of other jurisdictions in the use of psychedelic assisted therapy, we could give people years back of their lives, millions of dollars in the economy and give our health professionals another treatment to help treat people suffering each and every day. GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists and the full suite of mental health professionals and supports can have another low cost, low risk treatment to help people to get their lives back on track.
I know the burden of trauma intimately as I have discussed in previous speeches; I have been treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression and for me the treatment means I am currently parked on medication; I wish for a more effective treatment option, so do others.
I relive trauma in everyday settings, taking the children to the circus and watching the acrobats at the circus swinging from their necks, seeing reports of violent crime. This takes me back to the trauma that came with the job and subsequent experiences of an two decade serving police officer.
The mix of the smell of bbq sausages and exhaust fumes gives me a cold paralysing sweat because of the people I tried to assist who had attempted to take their lives by using exhaust fumes in their own vehicle. Just talking about it here gives me the same reaction. There are victims of sexual assault who will smell aftershave and panic, or a particular tone of voice, male body odour, or a mix of alcohol and diesel; the triggers can be limitless.
I usually would avoid this sort of discussion in this place, but this is what trauma and mental distress is, and I am watching people die as a result of trauma and severe mental illness, be it veterans from defence, serving police officers, retired police officers, other emergency services staff and front line responders. There are so many others, however we can, and we must, do something about it.
We have gone through a COVID-19 pandemic where we have listened to the science. Thank God we did; in Australia, it has saved countless lives. Here we have a therapy that promises to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society. One that has evidence to support it and that the research of health professionals worldwide is supporting. And we have a system in place that allows treatment-resistant patients to try new therapies when everything available has failed them. We must ensure that this system is allowed to function fully with all treatments and those patients can have a chance to find happiness.
I am conflicted, I will admit; I will be the first person putting my hand up and asking my psychiatrist if I am eligible. I have spoken to numerous constituents, both police and military, who will be doing the same. There are no shortage of other trauma survivors watching this space as well.
And so I return to my opening question, addressed to every person sitting in this room:
What legacy would you like to leave when your time in parliament ends?
Would you like to be remembered as a politician that allowed vulnerable people in our society to continue to suffer?
Or would you like to be one of the brave politicians remembered for taking action when it was sorely needed and allowing those suffering access to treatments that can help them when nothing else could?
If you haven’t studied the research supporting psychedelic-assisted therapy, please do so quickly. It doesn’t take long to see the sense of this matter. And once you understand that innovation in the treatment of mental illness is possible, please join me in supporting a change in the regulations around these substances so people who are suffering can get well.
We have an opportunity to help many people who desperately need it. The time to act is now.
I ask you to do this for every man, woman, and child battling trauma and severe mental illness – reminding you that this is not a bill; I ask not for your vote; I just ask you to read, to inform yourself, to go out and talk to people, talk to psychiatrists, see what groundbreaking research and results are being achieved in other jurisdictions such as the US. If you need an Australian example to look to just look to former police officer Nick Watchorn – Nick was a Tasmania Police officer who responded to the Port Arthur massacre. Nick left and moved to the US and dealt with his trauma through a mixture of alcohol, adrenaline and avoidance. Familiar to many of us from the same background and sadly familiar to our families.
Nick was accepted into the US psychedelic-assisted therapies program. We owe it to all Australians to give them the same chance Nick had. We owe it to doctors to let them treat their patients to their best ability. We know the personal toll of trauma and severe mental illness and we know the cost to our community
Let’s not bear witness and stand idly by as our community and its people suffer this toll. Let’s make change. The time has come for psychedelic therapy to help people here.
Mark Turner MLA
Member for Blain