Alcohol, drug treatment woefully under-resourced

Date Published:
7 Mar 2016
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Marion Downey
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Australia needs to double its investment in alcohol and drug resources to meet unmet treatment needs, according to the authors of an editorial published today in the Medical Journal of Australia.

“Fewer than half of those seeking alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment in Australia are currently able to access appropriate treatment,” wrote Professor Alison Ritter, Director of the Drug Policy Modelling Program at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in Sydney, and Associate Professor Mark Stoove, from the Burnet Institute in Melbourne.

“This is an appalling situation … and all the more concerning because we know treatment works and reduces the substantial social costs of harmful AOD consumption.”

AOD policy, the authors wrote, was a “balance between reducing the supply of drugs (through regulation and law enforcement), reducing the demand for drugs (through prevention and treatment) and reducing the harmful consequences of use (through harm reduction interventions)”.

Stoove, who heads the Burnet Institute’s Justice Health Program, specifically notes that “Australian governments currently spend most on law enforcement. Yet research shows that law enforcement responses, notably those related to incarceration, are far less cost-effective than treatment.”

Fragmented funding models contribute to the difficulties of coordinating a national treatment policy, they said.

“There is little planning and coordination between levels of government in Australia. The National Drug Strategy 2010–2015 is silent on the division of responsibilities between state and federal government … which compounds the problem federalism presents for coordinating effective AOD treatment services,” they wrote.

Funding and resources needed to be better targeted and integrated to be effective, the authors concluded.

“We know the extent of unmet AOD treatment need and demand. We also have a good understanding of the complicated funding flows in this area … social stability factors — such as employment, positive family relationships and stable housing — are crucial determinants of drug use patterns.

“Alongside AOD treatment, effective responses must appropriately resource integrated services that support people to achieve their AOD treatment goals.”

For the full editorial published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, click here.

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