Private Members' Statements - Barwon Electorate Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Services

25 September, 2019
Private Members' Statements  - Barwon Electorate Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Services  Image


Mr ROY BUTLER (Barwon) (19:26): Members may not know but in the late 1990s and early 2000s I was a drug and alcohol counsellor working in three correctional centres and through the community in both metropolitan and regional areas of New South Wales. This was the area of study of my first postgraduate qualification. Between April 2017 and March 2019, in the Far West of New South Wales amphetamine use and possession has increased by 61 per cent, the highest increase in the State. Drug‑related crime figures, presentations to emergency departments and ambulance call‑outs for drug‑related incidents are all on the increase. This is putting a massive strain on health services, which are already letting down our communities in Barwon.

The Barwon electorate is 356,000 square kilometres. It comprises 44 per cent of New South Wales and over 79,000 people call the towns in the Barwon electorate home. For the entire population of Barwon, who are spread across the vast western reaches, there are 26 residential rehabilitation beds for people looking to beat drug or alcohol addiction—just 26. If you live in Broken Hill, the largest community in the electorate with roughly 17,000 people, and you need to access residential rehabilitation, your options are either the Wiimpatja Healing Centre, which is 70 kilometres from Wentworth and over 330 kilometres from Broken Hill, or Orana Haven at Brewarrina, which is some 700‑odd kilometres from Broken Hill.

They are the only two centres in the Barwon electorate. Both services have been established for Aboriginal men who have no serious criminal convictions and who have been through detoxification. Both facilities have waitlists that can be up to two months. If you need residential rehabilitation and you are from Broken Hill, other options include Mildura, which is 295 kilometres away; Orange, which is 887 kilometres away; Cowra, which is 922 kilometres away; Sydney, which is 1,144 kilometres away; Adelaide in South Australia, which is some 512 kilometres away; or Murray Bridge, which is a 547-kilometre trip. For the entire population of Broken Hill and the Far West of the State, there are just three drug and alcohol counsellors—just three.

I am not sure whether members are aware but there is a model called the stages-of-change model, which was developed by two fellows named Prochaska and Diclemente. The model talks about people in either a pre‑contemplation or contemplation stage. Pre-contemplation is the stage before thinking about change, when people are drinking or drugging and not looking at changing their behaviour. Contemplation is a state of ambiguity. It is a state of thinking about change but not actually taking action. Eventually determination is a point where people decide to make a change and then there is action. The important thing is that when a person is at a point in their cycle where they are actually thinking about change and making a decision that they want to change, they have to have a place to go to straightaway for both detox and rehabilitation. They need to capitalise on that moment; they cannot be put on a waitlist for months.

If the Government does not take action and does not commit to establishing detox and rehabilitation facilities in western New South Wales, it is likely there will never be an end to the drug problem. There will never be an end to the strain placed on hospitals and health services due to people seeking assistance for drug addiction if the Government does not address the lack of rehabilitation facilities and beds. Last year the Committee on Community Services inquired into the provision of drug rehabilitation services in regional, rural and remote New South Wales. As part of the inquiry, the Government was asked how many residential rehabilitation beds were in the State. It advised:

… it is aware of 1,182 residential rehabilitation and withdrawal management beds in New South Wales across nongovernment and private providers.

The Government is not certain on the number of beds, it is just aware of some. The Government's lack of oversight of the beds available is telling. How can it possibly be working to address this problem if it does not know how many beds are available? A number of lawyers and legal services have commented on the inability to find places for their clients. I know from working in Corrections the difficulties faced when looking for a pre‑sentence report option for a community placement into rehab. The lack of publicly available information on the services that are available, in which locations and under what conditions greatly prohibits lawyers from getting care for their clients. They all say that in rural New South Wales there is a complete deficiency of residential rehabilitation facilities available and fewer resources to break the drug crime cycle.

General practitioners, community nurses, counsellors and families are all desperate to find care for people who are suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. The evidence shows that residential rehabilitation programs work but, importantly, they do not necessarily work the first time. When people quit smoking, on average they go through quitting and starting again 13 times. The communities in my electorate are calling out for help. They want action; they want and need facilities. It is time for the Government to fund them so that we can start to break the cycles and get people living healthy lives.

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