Doorstop on Illawarra Drug Treatment Cuts

20 November 2015

JOURNALIST:Tell us, at the moment what is the situation like in terms of the number of people you have coming through the doors?


WILL TEMPLE, CEO OF WATERSHED DRUG TREATMENT SERVICE: We get anywhere up to 600 people a year wanting to come into the place. At the moment we can take about 240 or 250. So we are turning away over 300 people a year.

JOURNALIST: How difficult is it for those people in that situation when they finally reach out for help but cant get the services they are looking for?

TEMPLE: Thats one of the problems with addiction, because you have a very small window of opportunity when somebody is actually willing to do something about their issues. So they ring up and they basically end up hitting a brick wall, because there are not enough places for them to access treatment.

JOURNALIST: What is the biggest drug issue at the moment? Ice obviously seems to be getting all the headlines. Is that what you are seeing? How many people affected by ice are in the centre?

TEMPLE: It certainly seems to be the most popular drug around at the moment, that is what we are seeing. Weve had a 150 per cent increase in people presenting with ice issues over the last four years and 66 per cent in the last two years. So it is definitely an increasing problem.

JOURNALIST: As you said, no doubt funding is a very important part. Do you have estimates of what it would cost to put someone through your program at Watershed?

TEMPLE: It would probably cost somewhere in the vicinity of $200 to $300 a day to put somebody through. That pales into insignificance when you consider that a hospital bed costs anywhere up to $800 a day. So its pretty good value for money.

JOURNALIST: So no doubt funding is important. How difficult does it make it when you dont have that long term security from the Government?

TEMPLE: Well, it makes it very difficult to manage the place from a business perspective; because that is what we are. We are about trying to remain viable. We need to have professional, qualified people on board. If we dont know where our money is coming from that makes it really, really hard to hang on to those people.

JOURNALIST: What do you think about what the federal Government has done so far? They have made a lot of announcements but we have yet to see them come to fruition.

TEMPLE: Yeah exactly, there has been a couple of reports tabled to the Government from the National Ice Taskforce and various others. But the Government just seems to be sitting on it and I dont know why they arent acting on it. They want to put ads on the television and scare everyone about the ice epidemic. But when it comes time to actually look at treatment services, they are not making any noises at all other than the fact they have said they are going to cut $800 million from the allied health budget. In the drug and alcohol sector, we dont know how much of that $800 million is going to come out of our funding. We are getting towards the end of the year; weve got no idea what is happening after June next year. It would be really nice if they could make an announcement.

JOURNALIST: What sorts of things are contained in that report? You mentioned that they are sitting on a report featuring recommendations which you would like to see come into being?

TEMPLE: Well, the recommendations are that there arent enough treatment services around. So you can look at expanding the ones that weve got, we dont necessarily need to look at creating new ones. We can expand the ones that are already there. They have already got the set-up, it just about being able to expand on what is already existing.

JOURNALIST: Stephen Jones, tell me what has brought you here today to Watershed?

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH: I wanted to see the impact of the Governments funding cuts and delays in renewing contracts on local drug and alcohol services. Ive seen right around the country, services being interrupted or interfered, people having to lay off staff and people not getting the treatment they need. Right around the country Ive seen people not getting the treatment they need, because of the Governments policy handling on drugs and alcohol. On the one hand they are running a $20 million advertising campaign telling us that we have a problem with ice, on the other hand they are cutting $800 million from funds which help to support services such as this.

JOURNALIST: No doubt the Government will say well, at least we are doing something about it. Weve got the report and the right people are looking at it. Its a complex issue, so no doubt it will take some time?

JONES: Sure, the Government has been doing lots of reviews and they have had lots of taskforces. They are drowning in them. The problem is that they wont release them, there is no transparency. They are doing absolutely nothing to improve the situation. Today is 500 days since the Government received the Ritter report, a comprehensive analysis of drug and alcohol services around the country. They have sat on it, they wont release it. There has been no response. In the meantime youve got services like Watershed losing staff. They are turning over 300 people away a year. This isnt good enough; we know that we need proper resources in drug and alcohol treatment. It is a lot cheaper than having someone in hospital and a hell of a lot cheaper than having someone in gaol.

JOURNALIST: As you said there is a report waiting. What recommendations would you like to see put in place?

JONES: Well, there are two reports sitting on the Ministers desk. There is the Ritter report, an analysis of drug and alcohol services around the country, and there is the report from the National Ice Taskforce. We know that the head of that taskforce has said that we cant arrest our way out of this problem. We need more resources in prevention and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. These are the recommendations where we need to see a response from the Minister. We know we have a big problem here in this region. We know that arrests for drug and alcohol related offences are up to 15 per cent higher than the state average in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven areas. This is a time where we need all levels of government working together to solve these issues.