Introduction by Croakey: As the New South Wales election approaches, the Network of Alcohol and other Drugs Agencies (NADA) is urging the next State Government to prioritise a whole-of-government strategy on alcohol and other drugs.
Dr Robert Stirling, CEO of NADA, writes below that policy reform, including appropriately funded treatment and commitment to addressing the sector’s workforce crisis, will make a difference to the lives of many.
See previous articles in this ongoing Croakey series, #NSWVotesHealth2023.
Robert Stirling writes:
In September 2022, the NSW Government responded to the 2019 report from Dan Howard, Commissioner of the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug ‘Ice’.
The Inquiry heard from families, community members, service providers, academics and government agencies. We learnt, as many of us already knew, that the system was unable to respond to demand for treatment and support, and was also contributing to more harm to those impacted by drug use.
Many current policies in NSW stigmatise and discriminate against people who use, or have used, drugs. This is impacting on people’s ability to access health services, housing and employment.
We approach the 2023 NSW election with a commitment from the current Government to invest $500 million over four years and develop a whole-of-government alcohol and other drugs strategy.
We’re grateful that the strategy will include alcohol, which is the most common primary drug of concern for people entering treatment.
Unfortunately, there has not been enough time to implement this strategy and for funds to commence flowing to where it is needed most.
The current response includes the establishment of new services to respond to the demand for treatment and harm reduction services.
But the sector fears it will only fund shiny new “announceable” treatment services at the expense of the existing service system. During the Inquiry, the Special Commission was told that existing systems were struggling to deliver services and maintain qualified staff due to insufficient funding models.
Like many areas of health, the sector is in a workforce crisis.
Exacerbated by short-term government contracts and insufficient growth to attract and retain workers, the sector requires long-term investment with incremental increases in funding to attract and retain the workforce to deliver quality healthcare.
The sector needs funding contracts that are a minimum of five years to ensure job certainty, organisational sustainability and long-term planning to respond to the needs of NSW communities.
We hope if there is a change in government that a commitment to a whole-of-government strategy and increased investment remains and ensures that changes go far enough.
The NSW Labor Opposition has indicated that, if elected, they will hold a drug summit – reminiscent of the 1999 Drug Summit led by the Carr Government that resulted in policy change and increased investment.
Address systemic issues
If a summit proceeds, we hope that it will not duplicate the findings of the Special Commission, but seek to address the systemic policy and funding issues that have resulted in inadequate care and support.
Regardless of who is elected in March, the Network of Alcohol and other Drugs Agencies calls on the incoming Government to prioritise alcohol and other drug policy and appropriately fund treatment and harm reduction services.
In addition, NADA urge them to address issues that may not be popular areas of health and social policy, but will make a difference to the lives of so many people across NSW.
Dr Robert Stirling is Chief Executive Officer of the Network of Alcohol and other Drugs Agencies (NADA) – the New South Wales peak organisation for the non-government alcohol and other drugs sector, representing 80 organisational members that provide services in over 100 locations across NSW.
Read NADA’s 2023 NSW State Election Issues paper in full here.
See Croakey’s previous articles about the 2023 NSW state election.
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