RACGP calls for action on drug reform

Matt Woodley

29/06/2022 7:14:41 PM

None of the 109 recommendations presented to the NSW Government from an inquiry into methamphetamine use have been acted upon.

The RACGP has called on the NSW Government to approach drug and alcohol addiction as a health issue, rather than a criminal one.

Even before the first hearings of a ‘Special Commission of Inquiry’ in methamphetamine use in New South Wales had commenced, GP Dr Hester Wilson was sceptical.
The Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Addiction Medicine had seen numerous other inquiries into illegal drug use come and go without any making ‘much difference’ and feared the latest iteration would be more of the same.
Now, more than two-and-a-half-years since Commissioner Dan Howard handed the report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into crystal methamphetamine and other amphetamine type stimulants, it appears Dr Wilson was right to be suspicious.
Of the 109 recommendations contained in the special report, none have been acted on by the New South Wales Government.
For RACGP President Adjunct Professor Karen Price, the time for action is well past due.
‘Enough is enough, the NSW Government must act now,’ she said.
‘The report was handed down more than two-and-a-half-years ago and none of the recommendations have been acted on. Disappointingly there was no funding included in the NSW Budget handed down just last week – this is a missed opportunity.
‘Although this was a special inquiry into crystal methamphetamine … the report contained detailed recommendations on how to tackle alcohol and other drug use in communities across the state more broadly. Alcohol and other drug use is, first and foremost, a health issue that should be managed by health professionals, including GPs.’
Dr Price believes there is ‘no point’ in maintaining a ‘war on drugs approach’ that has so far shown little to no ability to reduce harm in the community.
‘Almost all of us know a person in our lives who has a problematic relationship with alcohol or other drugs,’ she said.
‘This isn’t something that affects “other” people, it cuts across all demographics and all segments of society.
‘The NSW Government should heed the recommendations of the report and put in place practical solutions.’
The failure to implement any of the recommendations comes in spite of a joint statement from the RACGP, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and its Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) NSW, which in October last year called on the Government to stop delaying its response to the inquiry.
The lack of progress means action is sorely needed on multiple fronts, according to Dr Wilson.
‘The Government should respond to the recommendations and develop an evidence-based whole-of-government alcohol and other drugs policy as well as a Drug Action Plan, as recommended in the report,’ she said.
‘This should be done in consultation with experts in addiction medicine, GPs, and other health practitioners. The Government should significantly increase funding for evidence-based alcohol and other drugs services so that everyone seeking treatment can get it when they need it.
‘They should also ensure personal addiction issues are treated as health and social issues, not as criminal ones.’
Dr Wilson says there has never been a more important time to act on the report’s findings.
‘We saw during the pandemic that more people turned to drugs and alcohol when faced with lockdowns that isolated them from loved ones and activities they enjoy. It was a way of coping with a very stressful and lonely situation and the fallout from the pandemic will be felt for quite some time,’ she said.
‘These people need help. Punishing people with alcohol and other drug problems does not work.
‘It is counterproductive and can make their situation a lot worse in the long run. Instead, they need help and compassion.’
She also said there is a need to ‘carefully look’ at the underlying causes of alcohol and other drug use.
‘As a GP that is something that I do almost every day, I take the time to try to get a solid understanding of the factors that lead to this behaviour and what kind of help my patients need,’ Dr Wilson said.
‘People don’t just get out of bed in the morning and decide to ruin their life through drug and alcohol use. It is far more complex than that, yet a law enforcement-first approach assumes otherwise.
‘We need to change course and responding to this report handed down more than two-and-a-half-years ago is long overdue.’
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