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At Least $1bn Boost Needed To Meet Demand For Alcohol And Other Drug Treatment Services

December 2018

The alcohol and other drug treatment system needs a boost of at least $1 billion per year if it is to address unmet demand, according to a group of health and welfare organisations that have come together to call on governments to make sure that people in need are able to access treatment.

Organisations backing the call include Uniting, St Vincent’s Health Australia, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), the Australian Hospitals and Healthcare Association, the State and Territory Alcohol and Other Drugs Peaks Network, the NSW Users & AIDS Association, the Aboriginal Drug & Alcohol Council (SA), Odyssey House, Drug & Alcohol Nurses Australasia, plus other NGOs, peak bodies and medical groups.

As well as increased investment, they are calling on governments to improve planning and coordination across the system, and increase investment in service and workforce capability.

“Every year, between 200,000 to 500,000 Australians are unable to access treatment for alcohol or other drug problems. It’s absolutely unacceptable. We would not accept this for any other health condition,” said A/Prof Nadine Ezard, Clinical Director, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney’s Alcohol and Drug Service.

“It’s the same whether you need help to address the early signs of problematic drug use or have severe dependence issues, and it’s worse in rural and regional Australia.

“The result is a system that is severely under-resourced and unable to cope with demand.

“Historic under-investment has been exacerbated by poor planning. So much so, that services are unevenly distributed, and there can be poor integration with other clinical and social programs, with often no easy access point for help.

“The result is our clients and their families experience long delays and have little choice. Long delays mean greater harms, increased health care costs, and potentially less successful treatment. It has to end.

“Too often, governments don’t see alcohol and other drug treatment services as a part of mainstream health. Anyone can develop problems with alcohol and other drugs and all deserve the same access to quality treatment.

“We’re calling on all parties to adopt a consistent approach to planning for the alcohol and other drug treatment system, better national leadership, improved coordination, and increased investment.”

The last comprehensive analysis of drug treatment funding was for the year 2012/2013 and identified that $1.2bn was spent on treatment services annually to meet the needs of up to 234,000 people.

“Given that at least another 200,000 Australians would be in treatment if places were available, our estimates are that at least another $1 billion is required to meet demand,” said Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, President of the Chapter of Addiction Medicine at the RACP.

“We need a national, systematic approach to increasing investment in AOD services in order to provide, not only more treatment, but more diverse treatment options.

“Today’s call to action is the beginning of an advocacy effort to deliver better alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for hundreds of thousands of Australians and their families. People deserve access to the right kind of care, at the right place, at the right time,” said Dr Lloyd-Jones.

Media contact: Paul Andrews 0409 665 495