Doorstop on Cuts to alcohol and drug treatment services

STEPHEN JONES: Well it’s great to be on the Central Coast with Senator Deb O’Neill. We’re visiting drug and alcohol rehabilitation services on the Central Coast, we know we’ve got a problem with drug and alcohol abuse, and we know the services aren’t in place to deal with the problem.

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This morning we were out visiting The Glen, they tell us they get 100 applications every month from people who want to turn their lives around, at best they can let five people in.

Here at Kamira where we’ve been talking to Cate Hewett, they’ve got a similar problem, they’re overwhelmed by people who want to come in and turn their lives around, get themselves sorted out, but they don’t have the beds available because of poor funding arrangements, funding cuts and just bad arrangements between government services. We need to get all of those things joined up to get a logical relationship between the funding and the services needed, to get all the government departments to work together as well.

So we’re here to see what’s going on on the ground. I know there’s been a lot of talk about methamphetamine in the community, and it is a problem. But we’ve got an even bigger problem with alcohol and other drugs, so let’s not lose focus on those issues as well.

JOURNALIST: Those issues on the ground are they consistent across the areas that you travel?

JONES: As I’ve been getting around regional Australia, the story has been consistent. There is a greater demand for rehabilitation services than services available. So every service you go to they will tell you, we could treat 10 times the number of people than we currently have space available for.

The tragedy about this is, look at what the alternative is for people with mental health problems underlying their addictions, look at the suicide rates. It’s a national tragedy 2200 people each year taking their own lives. Often there’s substance abuse involved in that as well. Look at the service provider of last resort, it’s a prison.

At $300, sometimes $350, a day to put somebody in prison because of the underlying issues of drug and alcohol issues, there is a much more effective, much cheaper way of doing it and it is funding services like this.

JOURNALIST: I guess it’s the golden question, how do you tackle an issue so big?

JONES: We know that having the rehabilitation services in place is part of the solution. You talk to the police and they will say they throw their hands in the air and say, we know we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. We need to have prevention, we need to have rehabilitation services in place.

Deb O’Neill has been a strong advocate for services here on the Coast, and she’s been saying to me, we’ve got a limited number of services available, much more demand for the services, the funding isn’t there and we need to do something about it.

SENATOR DEBORAH O’NEILL: It never ceases to amaze me how much talent there is on the Central Coast in terms of people’s capacity to respond to the needs we have here. And the generosity of people wanting to assist, not just the people of the Coast but the people right across the state of NSW.

We’re here at Kamira today, a facility specifically for women. The need in our community is so deep and so profound and it’s devastating to walk into such a great place to find there are 22 beds that could be helping sick people get well and that the funding that has been provided is only for 11 beds.

Fifty per cent of the work this Kamira unit could be doing is being done because the Government decided to spend its money on other priorities. Talking in the community, there is great alarm. Parents are distressed, families are distressed, partners are distressed, workmates are distressed about addiction that is rife across our community, whether it’s alcohol or the latest talking point which is ice and amphetamine addiction. We know the best way to help people get well is to give them the services and treatment they need. When the government chooses not fund rehabilitation, the community feels that pain and loss in so many devastating ways. Whether it’s the loss of life for people who just lose hope because they can’t wait another day for a treatment centre. Whether it’s the loss of a relationship with a parent because a mum is separated from their child because they couldn’t get addiction treatment when they needed it.

It fills me with hope to hear that wonderful professionals such as we have here with Cate [Hewitt] at Kamira say, addiction is an illness we can treat. The hope of that is a powerful thing but that hope only lives when governments make the right choices to invest in rehabilitation.

JOURNALIST: What [inaudible]?

O’NEILL: Sadly, the Government has made a values choice of spending $20 million on an ice campaign. Our community is very aware that it is a problem, a $20 million in that [inaudible] is misplaced, when at the same time the Federal Government has ripped $800 million from the flexible funding pool for health.

It’s from that pool where drug and alcohol rehabilitation is actually funded. So there’s a choice, the choice of the Federal Government, whether it’s under Toby Abbott or continuing to be a choice under Malcolm Turnbull, to invest in rehabilitation or cut that funding. Their choice is clear, they chose to cut the funding.

JOURNALIST: I guess the advertising campaign is prevention in some form.

O’NEILL: Look, prevention is a really important part of helping people to not even go on this journey. Prevention has many aspects to it and we hear more and more about the social determinants of health. People need access to greater education, they need to get access to their doctor when they need support and services. The Government’s decision to push for a GP tax is putting a price on seeking help early. That’s a critical arm of prevention, being able to get the help when you need it

So I think many of the Government’s choices in their policies are a barrier to the sort of prevention we need to see. Advertising is one part of health promotion but prevention is about access to the care and support you need from medical professionals who can help sick people get well. This isn’t about making bad people good, it’s about health services and the Government has chosen not to support those health services.

JONES: We wouldn’t be so critical about the $20 million advertising campaign, if they hadn’t spent $20 million telling Australia we’ve got a problem and pull $800 million out of the solution to that problem.

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