Introduction by Croakey: At a time when their services are badly needed, support agencies for people who use alcohol and other drugs in New South Wales have received a devastating blow from the latest state budget.
That’s according to Robert Stirling, chief executive of the Network of Alcohol and other Drugs Agencies, who describes the budget “as a last chance for action, a chance for Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet to redress his predecessor’s inaction.”
He writes below that the budget, which was handed over in June, was a missed opportunity for the NSW government to help improve the health and wellbeing of communities.
Robert Stirling writes:
We all want our families to stay healthy and our local community to be a haven of care and support, especially for young people. We want a society where people who seek help for their substance use can get it. But the NSW government is letting us down.
The latest blow is the failure of the New South Wales government to include funding in its latest budget to respond to its own special commission of inquiry into drug ‘ice’.
Workers across the sector are now in shock – they fought to deliver services during COVID-19.
There has been a COVID-induced increase in demand, during reduced capacity. People often turn to alcohol and other drugs to cope, which has led to a growing demand for our services.
At the same time, pandemic restrictions meant there were fewer beds and services available, and at critical times, even fewer workers.
Working in a sector that has suffered from chronic underfunding and government neglect for decades, they were already at breaking point.
It is inconceivable that NSW is the only state in Australia that does not have its own drug policy – the last one expired in 2010.
Moreover, for 28 months now, since January 2020, the government has failed to respond to the recommendations of its own special commissioner, Professor Dan Howard SC, who led a $10 million investigation and made 109 recommendations to fix the system.
The NSW state budget was seen by many as a last chance for action, a chance for Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet to redress the inaction of his predecessor.
We feel a sense of resignation that this report will remain “shoved under the rug” and will not be discussed, if not carefully ignored, until next year’s election campaign. The reasoned and thorough recommendations of the inquiry will become policy fodder – again.
The Network of Alcohol and other Drugs Agencies (NADA) is the umbrella organization for the non-governmental alcohol and other drugs sector in New South Wales. We represent 80 member organizations that provide services in more than 100 locations across the state.
They offer a wide range of services including health promotion and harm reduction programs, early intervention, treatment and continuing care.
During the pandemic, the New South Wales government dramatically increased funding for mental health services, but alcohol and other drug services have been largely ignored.
A survey of treatment providers across Australia found that around seven in 10 had experienced an increase in demand of 40% or more for their services since the start of the pandemic. This increase is partly linked to the surge in mental health problems triggered by the pandemic.
This shows that the government cannot properly respond to mental health if it does not also increase resources for alcohol and other drug treatment.
Our members are eager to meet this increased need for their services, but are crippled by a historic lack of funding, now compounded by increased demand for their services and the logistical challenges of COVID-19.
But even as we emerge from the pandemic, the pressures and increased costs on services remain.
When Dominic Perrottet became Prime Minister late last year, NADA wrote to the new leader. We recognized the vital role he played as Treasurer in securing new funding for a much needed treatment center in Dubbo. It was an exceptional result.
But one service is not enough.
We urged the new Prime Minister to seize a unique opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of NSW communities and develop a whole-of-government response for alcohol and other drug treatment, to improve these services of vital health and to properly equip the personnel. in the first line.
But our call went unheeded. The inability of successive governments to act tragically continues.
NSW must develop a whole-of-government strategy to respond to alcohol and other drugs over the next 12 months. A strategy that commits to gradually increasing funding for treatment over the next 10 years.
Any response must do more to support existing services that are currently struggling, as well as define and fund the expansion of new treatment and harm reduction services.
Anything less fails us all, again.
* Robert Stirling is the Chief Executive of the Network of Alcohol and other Drugs Agencies, the flagship organization for non-governmental alcohol and other drug services in New South Wales.
Please see Croakey’s extensive archive of articles on drugs and alcohol.