The Gold Coast is feeling the effects of illicit drugs like ice.
A substantial number of new patients entering rehabilitation are using this dangerous drug. Unfortunately for them and those trying to help them, available treatment services just can’t keep up.
Right now, there is not a single facility designed specifically for teenage drug users on the Gold Coast. This means that young people who want to turn their lives around have nowhere to go.
Instead, many of these people end up in prison either as a result of drug offences or drug-related offences. The state’s prisons are the service provider of last resort. Since it costs $300 a day to keep someone in goal in Queensland it’s a costly and ineffective option. In the long-term no one benefits from people being denied treatment options and our prison numbers continuing to swell.
The good news is that the Palaszczuk Government has increased funding for treatment options. Under a $6 million plan vulnerable regions across the state, including the Gold Coast, will receive extra rehabilitation services. In addition to that, the Government has plans to divert funds seized under the state’s confiscated proceeds of crime scheme into new treatment and rehabilitation initiatives. It’s a great idea that sends a strong message.
But it is no good having the Palaszczuk Government with a foot on the accelerator if the federal Government has its foot firmly planted on the brake. The Gold Coast is being let down by the Coalition in Canberra.
Over the last two Budgets, a total of almost $800 million has been ripped from the Health Flexible Funds, which includes funds supporting alcohol and illicit drug treatment and rehabilitation as well as prevention strategies.
It gets worse. The Coalition’s mishandling of funding for NGO rehab services has led to a funding crisis in the treatment sector. The delay in extending this funding and the fact that it was only extended for one year meant that many service providers saw it a stay of execution.
We need to get our priorities right. The Commonwealth has spent $20 million on graphic TV ads warning of the dangers of ice whilst leaving the solutions to the problem underfunded. Treatment services are crying out for funding certainty and there just aren’t enough rehabilitation beds available on the Gold Coast.
Even current and former members of the law enforcement community are saying enough is enough.
The head of the National Ice Taskforce and former Police Commissioner Ken Lay has said on several occasions that treatment, prevention and community support is crucial. He understands that rural communities in particular want the focus of an ice strategy to be on primary prevention and harm reduction.
At a broader level, I think we need to change our approach. Australian governments spend in excess of $1.7 billion annually combating illicit drug use. Over 64 per cent is spent on supply reduction via law enforcement agencies. In contrast, 22 per cent is spent on treatment, 9.5 per cent on prevention and just 2.2 per cent on harm reduction.
Although it is always important to target the organised criminal elements responsible for trafficking drugs like ice we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. Throwing more and more people in gaol just isn’t the answer. We need to confront the underlying social and mental health issues or we won’t get anywhere.
Evidence from around the world tells us that strategies aimed at prevention and treatment are more effective than increasing penalties and enforcement. In the United States, a 1997 study concluded that treatment is estimated to be 10 to 15 times more cost-effective than enforcement interventions at reducing serious drug-related crime. Meanwhile, a 2006 national study in the United Kingdom found the same thing. Treatment was associated not only with a reduction in harmful behaviours associated with drug use but also a decline in offending.
If we don’t change how we approach the problem we can’t expect a different result.
Some politicians like to talk up a “War on Drugs”. It may sound tough; the problem is that what we are doing isn’t working.
Part of this change involves improving rehabilitation services and prevention strategies. Workers on the frontline need a boost. They are doing their best with one arm tied behind their back.
When people put their hand up and say that they are willing to turn their lives around we need to get them into treatment right away. This can only occur if they have somewhere to go.
Let’s end the federal Coalition’s neglect of the treatment sector. Vulnerable communities on the Gold Coast and around Australia deserve better.
This opinion piece was originally published in The Gold Coast Herald.