open letter

Dear Senator Lambie,

Ryan McGlaughlin
Executive Director
SMART Recovery Australia

Senator Jacqui Lambie, we commend your stance against welfare drug-testing

Dear Senator,

As the Executive Director of SMART Recovery Australia, and a former CEO of Suicide Prevention Australia, I am writing to comment on your decision to withhold support for drug testing welfare recipients, until such a time as there is more funding available for rehabilitation/detox services (Henriques-Gomes 2019).

SMART Recovery Australia commends you for recognising addiction/problem substance use for what it is, a health issue. In addition, SRAU recommends that investment in rehab/detox constitutes only part of what is needed. Prevention, diversion, and aftercare enables recovery and returns quality of life and capacity to contribute to the people making changes. Continuity of care delivers far better health economics.

It can take a person up to 5 years from post-treatment and up to 13 relapses to fully recover from their problematic behaviour (Kelly 2019). Dr Carlo C. Di Clemente (co-theorist of the ‘Stages of Change’ or Trans theoretical Model) would argue that recycling (relapse) is probable with any behaviour change and therefore a normal part of the human condition and learning (Di Clemente 2019).

Rehab/detox services provide short to medium term intervention. These are however temporary communities. The vast majority of people leave rehab/detox and return to their lives without support or social connection. Aftercare inventions including mutual aid groups, such as SMART Recovery, form an important and integral part of the service system. Mutual aid groups, freely available to anyone, enable people to maintain their motivation to change, problem solve, regain meaning and take control of their lives.

SMART Recovery Australia does not support drug testing of welfare recipients. Drug testing demonises some of the most vulnerable in the community. Stigma and discrimination create a barrier to people seeking help and finding the motivation to make positive changes (Dabrowska et al. 2017). Not only is testing ineffective as a deterrent to drug use, but rather the harm caused by this approach exceeds the benefits.

A positive drug test does not equate to problematic behaviour. There is a real risk that those who most urgently require support will be pushed further back in the massive treatment queue (National Mental Health Commission 2014; Lubman et al. 2014). Waiting lists for people with co-occurring substance and mental health problems can exceed twelve months, especially for acute care and rehabilitation services (National Mental Health Commission 2014). There is a profound shortage of continuity of care options, such as aftercare and relapse prevention (Lubman et al. 2014).

The best way to help people with problematic behaviours, is to treat it as a health issue, not to punish people through restricting and reducing welfare. Similar initiatives overseas have wasted public resources and have not delivered on good outcomes for the community (Covert & Israel 2019). In addition, research suggests that a proportion of people will always turn towards the black economy in order to survive (Macdonald et al. 2001).

SMART Recovery Australia is a significant and crucial part of the solution for people managing problem behaviours.


About SMART Recovery Australia

SMART Recovery Australia coordinates over 350 group meetings where over 2,500 people seek support every week.

Meetings are free and accessible – they are held in-person or online. They are run in the community as well as residential facilities, therapeutic communities and/or prisons as an important component of the spectrum of care.

SMART Recovery Australia is a registered not-for-profit organisation and does not yet receive recurrent funding from Government.

SMART Recovery started in the USA in 1994 after people sought an alternative to the 12 Step Model.

There are now nearly 3,500 meetings across 25 different countries. SMART Recovery Australia played a leading role in establishing SMART Recovery International in 2018.


SMART Recovery programs

For people with addictive behaviours – SMART Recovery is a mutual-aid and strengths-based program where trained facilitators, often peers, lead group discussions that assist people struggling with addictive behaviours. It is practical and solution-focused, using evidence based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Motivational Interviewing (MI) tools and techniques to help people achieve their recovery goals. Group participants help themselves and each other.

The SMART Recovery approach incorporates a Four-Point Program that focuses on harm minimisation, empowerment of individuals, and the development of practical skills to improve individuals’ abilities to manage cravings and promote a balanced lifestyle.

For family and friends – SMART Recovery Australia also provides education and support for families and supporters of people with addictive behaviours through its new program BeSMART. This program helps families and friends develop more effective coping strategies and find a greater sense of fulfilment in their own lives by shifting the focus away from the person with the problem behaviour and back to the person who provides the support.

Yours sincerely,


Ryan McGlaughlin
Executive Director – SMART Recovery Australia



Reference List:

Covert, B. & Israel, J. 2019, Drug testing welfare recipients is a popular new policy that costs states millions. Here are the results, Think Progress, viewed 14 October 2019, <>.

Dabrowska, K., Moskalewicz, J. & Wieczoreck, L. 2017, ‘Barriers in Access to the Treatment for People with Gambling Disorders. Are They Different from Those Experienced by People with Alcohol and/or Drug Dependence?’, Journal of Gambling Studies, vol.33, no.2, pp.487-583.

DiClemente, C.C. 2019, ‘Relapse and Recycling: What is the Point?’ presented to the SMART Recovery USA – 25th Anniversary Conference, Chicago, 20-22 October.

Henriques-Gomes, L. 2019, Coalition’s welfare drug-testing trial ‘fatally flawed’, inquiry told, The Guardian Australian edition, viewed 14 October 2019, <>.

Kelly, J. 2019, ’50 Years of Addiction Policy, Research and Treatment: The Paradigm Shift Toward Long-Term Recovery Management’ presented to the SMART Recovery USA – 25th Anniversary Conference, Chicago, 20-22 October.  

Lubman, D., Manning, V., Best, D., Berends, L., Mugavin, J., Lloyd, B., Lam, T., Garfield, J., Buykx, P., Matthews, S., Larner, A., Gao, C., Alsop, S. & Room, R. 2014, A study of patient pathways in alcohol and other drug treatment, Turning Point, Fitzroy.

Macdonald, S., Boris, C., Brands, B., Dempsey, D., Erickson, P., Marsh, D., Meredith, S., Shain, M., Skinner, W. & Chui, A. 2001, ‘Drug testing and mandatory treatment for welfare recipients’, International Journal of Drug Policy, vol. 12, pp.249-257.

National Mental Health Commission 2014, Contributing lives, thriving communities: Report of the National Review of Mental Health Programmes and Services, 30 November 2014, National Mental Health Commission, Sydney.

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