LOCAL figures in drug rehab and social justice industries have said the results of a telling report show Australia's
LOCAL figures in drug rehab and social justice industries have said the results of a telling report show Australia's "War on Drugs” is tragically failing. Toby Talbot

'The War on Drugs has failed', what it means for the region

FOLLOWING the release of Australia's Annual Overdose Report 2019 last week, local figures who work in drug rehab and social justice industries have said the results show Australia's "War on Drugs" is tragically failing.

The report revealed a record number of Australians have died from overdose, but the crisis is about legal as well as illicit drugs, with alarming increases in stimulant (including methamphetamine or "ice"), pharmaceutical and heroin overdoses.

 

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The Buttery Chief Executive Officer, Leone Crayden, said the results were not surprising.

"Australian drug-use trends tend to follow those of the US, where there is a sharp increase in opioid addiction. Where drug use increases, tragically there is a commensurate increase in overdose deaths," she said.

The Buttery takes a holistic approach to illicit drug use and offers a range of programs from prevention, to treatment and then aftercare.

"Although The Buttery conducts a wide range of residential and community-based programs in the NSW Northern Rivers and Mid-North Coast, drug users in regional areas do not have access to the same range and scope of programs on offer in big cities such as Sydney.

"Treatment options are not growing in step with the increase in the number of users. For example the number of residential beds in The Buttery's residential program near Bangalow has not increased in 20 years or more.

"However, The Buttery does have a special residential program for people who wish to reduce from legally-prescribed opiate substitutes and lead an abstinence-based life style. Our MTA program is the only one of its kind in NSW outside of Sydney and is fully occupied."

Ms Crayden said The Buttery supported an increase in treatment options, harm minimisation measures such as pill-testing and decriminalisation of illicit drug use so that it could be treated as a health matter rather than a law-enforcement issue.

Cr Eddie Lloyd, who is chair of the Lismore Council's Social Justice and Crime Prevention Committee, has worked as a criminal lawyer in Sydney and currently works for the Aboriginal Legal Service in the Northern Rivers and Mid North Coast regions, and as part of the committee is lobbying for not just a drug court but also a culturally appropriate Koori court, further rehabilitation and healing centres as well as a Justice Reinvestment initiatives.

"(We) feel that our region has been left out in the cold and urgently needs more rehabilitation centres and other treatment options so we can address the fatalities and harms we are disproportionately experiencing," Ms Lloyd said.

"We have recently had Just Reinvest NSW come and present at our committee and assist us in learning how to engage our local community to get a project off the ground. Justice Reinvestment is about diverting money from jails into community led projects that address social issues such as substance use disorder and its associated harms to the wider community.

"We are also confident, since providing our findings and recommendations to the relevant ministers that, as they now understand our urgent needs, they will work with us to deliver a drug court, a Koori court and further rehabilitation centres to our community."

Ms Lloyd said the higher percentage of deaths in regional areas could be attributed to the fact regional areas "experience greater social disadvantage due to lack of funding and resourcing to important infrastructure and services from housing, health, public transport to employment and education".

"The War on Drugs has failed and as soon as the government admits this we can move from a stigmatised, criminalised approach and move into a health focused approach to address the issues around substance use disorder (which is a mental health condition identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Disorders) and save the lives of our friends and family," she said.

"In addition to the barrier to services that stigmatising and criminalising this health issue creates and a tangible way of beginning to address unintentional overdoses and other harms from this condition is to decriminalise small amounts of illicit substances and provide opportunities to people to access health services. However, we do not have health services in our region to keep up with the demand.

"Our local rehabilitation centres have waiting lists of up to six months, with people left without any support or treatment and sadly some dying from overdoses whilst they wait."