Pressure is building on Tony Abbott to reverse his harsh Budget cuts to substance misuse funds following today’s release of a report which highlights a growing demand for alcohol and illicit drugs treatment services.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report warns that:
- There has been a 24 per cent increase in the number of “treatment episodes” reported over the last five years nationwide.
- Alcohol continues to be the most common drug leading clients to seek treatment but treatment for use of amphetamines (including crystal methamphetamine or “ice”) is increasing.
- Nationally, 57 per cent of treatment agencies were located in major cities with relatively few agencies available in remote areas.
The report also found that despite only comprising 2.7 per cent of the Australian population aged 10 and over, 14 per cent of all clients were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This is particularly concerning given that the Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Fiona Nash, scrapped the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee without warning late last year.
The Abbott Government has set itself the task of tackling the nation’s ice epidemic with the launch of a National Ice Taskforce. $20 million has been dedicated in this year’s Budget to a “National Drugs Campaign’, which includes a graphic TV and Internet ad campaign warning of the dangers of ice. Labor welcomed this investment.
But actions have not matched the rhetoric, with the Government making drastic cuts to funds supporting rehabilitation and treatment as well as prevention strategies.
Last year’s Budget cut of $197 million to the Health Flexible Funds saw $7 million axed from the Substance Misuse Prevention and Service Improvement Grants Fund. A further $1.2 million was taken from the Substance Misuse Service Delivery Grants Fund.
However, it was this year’s Budget which delivered the real shock - an additional $596 million taken from the Health Flexible Funds over the next four years.
There is a severe shortage of available beds in treatment facilities across Australia as demand for treatment increases.
Tony Abbott must listen to expert opinion and take this report from the AIHW seriously. Communities across Australia want the services available to help them get on top of ice addictoin but they have been abandoned by this hypocritical Government.