Chatting to Northern Territory ABC about drug and alcohol treatment cuts

ROWAN BARWICK: Are those looking to get off drugs and off alcohol in central Australia especially suffering because funding to rehab services has been cut? The Shadow Assistant Health Minister, Stephen Jones, and Northern Territory Labor Senator, Nova Peris, have been in town. 

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They have been here to inspect local drug and alcohol services and they believe that federal Budget cuts are hurting and that more needs to be done, especially for young mothers. Stephen Jones is here with us in the studio. I appreciate your time, thank you for your time and good afternoon.

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Good to be with you.

BARWICK: Now what have you seen today?

JONES: We were out visiting Aranda House and we were also out at CAAAPU [Central Australian Aboriginal Programs Unit] this afternoon. We met a lot of very dedicated alcohol and other drug sector workers, people working with those trying to turn their lives around. At both centres the message loud and clear was – we don’t have enough resources to do the job that we are expected to do. In this sector it is crucial, you have got people who have got health problems, social problems, and they are in grave fear of finding themselves locked up in prison. The alternative is rehabilitation, when they make the decision to get help we should be helping them.

BARWICK: I guess it is a common message to hear of alcohol and drug treatment services and medical professionals saying that they are stretched. Were you told particular details about funding cuts? About money that is no longer there that was there?

JONES: Two problems, first you have had money withdrawn from both state and federal governments out of the health system generally, alcohol and drug treatment in particular. So we were out at CAAAPU earlier today, they used to have facilities that enabled them to look after 36 men and 18 women. Currently now they have had 10 beds cut from their services. That is stretching them; they tell me that at any given time when they get to ten or 14 people they stop keeping a waiting list. Because there is no hope of them being able to help those people.

BARWICK: What sort of money do you think it would take to mean that there wasn’t a stretch on resources?

JONES: Well, you’ve always got to look at funding compared to other expenditure in this area. We know that it costs around $300 to $350 a day to keep someone in prison. They are the service provider of last resort. It costs around $7,000 a year, which is a long way short of what it costs to have someone go through a typical drug and alcohol rehabilitation service. I’d say that is a lot better investment, the alternative to treatment is having that person in prison or in an emergency ward or a dialysis treatment centre in a hospital.

BARWICK: Have you met with anybody who is going through the process of mandatory alcohol treatment under the Northern Territory Government scheme or any workers in that field?

JONES: Well, we were out talking to the people at CAAAPU earlier today and we were talking about how the system works and the changes that have come into place. How they have shifted from mandatory lock-up for absconders to adding the length of time of absconding onto the amount of time that you are supposed to be in rehab. I think the system is working.

BARWICK: Okay, well it copped a bit of political heat when the Northern Territory Government brought it in. Do you think that it is a successful model?

JONES: Well, I know that there is a bit of controversy around it. But what the workers were saying is – even if someone does relapse, the three months that they are there is an opportunity for them to get their head together and their health together and turn their life around. If only 50 per cent of those people who go through that process stay off the booze over the long-term than that is a success.

BARWICK: So you would support the Northern Territory Government to continue that scheme?

JONES: I wouldn’t write it off, I think it is definitely something worth investigating.

BARWICK: One of the things that you were looking into is the use of crystal methamphetamine or “ice”. There’s been a lot of conversation this week about ice use particularly in central Australia with the town sign being defaced so that it said “welcome to ice springs” instead of “Alice Springs”. What is the evidence you were hearing today? How big a problem do you think it is?

JONES: What people are saying to me is yes it is here and it is an issue but it is nowhere near as big of a problem that we have with booze. I always ask people - what are the top two issues you are dealing with? They say it is alcohol and then cannabis and then a long way back to crystal methamphetamine.

BARWICK: Do you think perhaps that the prevalence is being exaggerated when we talk about it?

JONES: Look I think that there is a bit of confusion. There have been amphetamines in the community for well over two decades now; the more pure form of the drug has been less prevalent, but it is now starting to crowd out some of the other forms of amphetamine in the market. It’s got a catchy name, so people think about it. I’ll say this; we shouldn’t make one drug the enemy of the other. In the drug and alcohol space we need to be able to deal with all of them as addictions.

BARWICK: It’s easy in opposition to say that this needs more funding or that needs more funding. But are you able to give a dollar amount or a commitment would Labor be elected at the next election, to restore funding that you say has been cut?

JONES: Look I’m not in a position, we are months from the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, we will have a better sense about what the books look like then. What I will say is this – prevention is better than a cure, rehabilitation is a lot better than all the other alternatives. So our emphasis is going to be around prevention and rehabilitation in the drug and alcohol space.  

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