SMART Recovery Australia commends Gladys Bereklijan, Premier of New South Wales, for instigating the inquiry into the drug ice which is currently affecting communities across our state, our country, and the wider world. However, we are confused and disappointed to find that the report, at its conclusion, has still not been made public despite the Premier’s insistence on the urgency of this “powerful” inquiry.
We support the NSW peak body, Network of Alcohol and other Drugs Agencies call on the government to release the report on the inquiry. We acknowledge that time is needed to consider findings and apply recommendations, but this seems to be why there was an interim report last year. We recommend, and support the recommendation, that drug use is seen as a health and wellbeing issue, rather than one of law enforcement. We particularly endorse this worldview in light of the disproportionate funding afforded to illicit drug programs, of which 66% is allocated to law & order (National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre 2018).
In order to, as the Premier says, “get help for those who need it”. The government must invest in the spectrum of care, not just acute services such as rehabs and detoxes. The evidence shows that 52% of those seeking treatment substantially reduce or quit their substance use in the year following a stint in rehab (Manning et al 2017). We, of course, are not criticising rehabs, nor detracting from the valuable work they do, but observe that far more investment could be placed in aftercare to ensure sustained outcomes for treatment seekers and their communities.
An approach overly focused on law enforcement and rehabilitation also fails to deal with the root causes of addiction and substance abuse. Instead, this approach avoids the issue to focus on the symptoms of deeper, underlying issues. Overwhelmingly, we see addiction issues present themselves in those who are already suffering, whether that is due to homelessness, trauma, relationship issues, or anything else. Those who endeavour to help these people must widen, deepen, and improve community awareness of the reality of this environment. The majority of those living with addictive behaviours similarly endure issues with mental health (Australian Government National Mental Health Commission 2013).
We applaud the prioritisation of addressing stigma and discrimination as noted in the Closing Submission of the Counsel Assisting the Commission, released last year. As noted in Kelly & Westerhoff, 2010, drug-related problematic behaviour remains the most stigmatised global health issue. Overcoming and reducing the massive barriers of stigma and discrimination is vital to ensure those who need help can get it (Dabrowska, Moskalewiscz & Wiecoreck 2017).
We join the chorus of voices along with NADA calling on the NSW Government to release the final report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug ‘Ice’ and engage in a dialogue with the sector to progress the recommendations:
Australian Government National Mental Health Commission 2013, Contributing life: the 2013 National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, National Mental Health Commission, Sydney.
Dabrowska, K., Moskalewicz, J. & Wieczoreck, L. 2017, ‘Barriers in Access to 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.
Kelly, J.F., & Westerhoff, C. 2010, ‘Does it matter how we refer to individuals with substance-related conditions? A randomized study of two commonly used terms’, International Journal of Drug Policy, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 202-207.
Manning, V., Garfield, J.B., Best, D., Brenends, L., Room, R., Mugavin, G., Larner, A., Lam, T., Buykx, Allsop, S. & Lubman D.I. 2017, ‘Substance use outcomes following treatment: Findings from the Australian Patient Pathways Study’, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 51, no. 2, pp.177-189.
National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre 2018, Australian government spending on drugs (drug budgets), UNSW Sydney, viewed 1 September 2018, <https://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/project/australian-government-spending-drugs-drug-budgets>.