Calls for federal budget to address drug and alcohol crisis

“It’s devastating having to tell them: ‘no beds available’.”

The rehab centre she now works for has a six-month waiting list, a situation that is reflected across the nation, with an estimated half a million Australians with drug and alcohol problems unable to access treatment.

In NSW, the state government’s ice inquiry this week released its examination of the factors that have caused use of methamphetamines to increase by 17 per cent in a single year, with the proportion of ice users who inject the drug doubling in three years.

Alison Verhoeven, chief executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, said state and federal cooperation was needed to address the crisis – but the Commonwealth must lead the way.

“We’re calling on the Federal Government to get the ball rolling in Tuesday night’s budget and make a down-payment on the funding the alcohol and other drugs sector so desperately needs,” Ms Verhoeven said.

“We need governments to boost treatment services by $1.2 billion [and] develop a national plan to better coordinate services.

“It’s the same whether you’re a person in the early stages of developing a drug problem or have a severe dependency issue – the services just aren’t available. We wouldn’t accept that for any other health condition.”

The campaign is backed by a coalition that includes St Vincent’s Health Australia, the Australian Drug Foundation, the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League and the State and Territory Alcohol and Other Drugs Peaks Network.

A recent study commissioned by the Network of Alcohol and Other Drugs Agencies – NSW’s peak body for non-government providers in the sector – found the state needed to double the number of residential rehab and detox beds just to meet demand.

“As with the shortage of alcohol and other drug treatment services across Australia, the situation is particularly bad in rural and regional parts of the state,” NADA chief executive Larry Pierce said.

“The longer people wait for the help they need, the greater the damage, the higher the increased health costs, and the harder peoples’ problems are to treat.”

The group has also called on the Federal Government to begin the development of a national strategic plan for the alcohol and other drug treatment system.

Nadine Ezard, director of the St Vincent’s Hospital drug and alcohol service, said under-investment in the sector had been “exacerbated by poor planning”.

“The entire rural and regional area of Victoria is currently served by two addiction medicine specialists working only three days per week,” she said.

Associate Professor Ezard said those working in the sector were deeply frustrated by the situation.

“Everyone has a friend, a family member, a work colleague, a neighbour, someone in their past or current life – someone they like, love, respect, and admire – who developed a problem with alcohol and other drug use,” she said.

“They deserve so much better. We hope the Morrison Government heeds the call and starts to address this desperate health problem.”

Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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