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Funding cuts expected to increase wait times for drug and alcohol treatment | The Courier

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Leaders in the drug and alcohol treatment sector say they are alarmed at major government cuts to service funding at a time when demand is soaring. The Victorian Drug and Alcohol Association has identified $39 million state government cuts in service funding for alcohol and other drug treatment and prevention, which will leave people waiting longer for help. Executive officer Sam Biondo said there were some positive initiatives in the budget, but it was disappointing to see the discontinuation of the $25.62 million alcohol and other drugs COVID-19 workforce initiative. “We are regularly receiving calls from concerned Victorians in despair about the burgeoning waitlists,” he said. “If people can’t get help when they have built up the will to try to do something about their problem it is a bad thing for them and their state of mind and health. “The lack of access at a time when it is required for some could be really dangerous and problematic.” The alcohol and other drugs COVID-19 workforce initiative provided an additional 100 alcohol and other drug treatment workers across Victoria, as well as training and upskilling. A state government spokesperson said this $25.6 million funding injection in last year’s budget was part of a COVID response to employ new specialist workers to re-engage those who had disengaged from treatment.Mr Biondo said this year’s budget resulted in an 11.2 per cent cut from the revised 2021/22 budget figures for alcohol and other drug treatment and prevention.”We have been keeping track of budget figures since 2004/05 with the 2022/23 budget being the first time that the sector has experienced a cut in funding during that period,” he sad . Data shows the daily wait list for drug and alcohol treatment increased by 50.9 per cent between September 2020 and July 2021, from 2,385 to 3,599 Victorians, according to VAADA. The association revealed Victoria currently had 0.74 residential rehabilitation beds per 10,000 head of population, compared to one bed in New South Wales, 1.22 beds in Queensland and 1.86 beds in Tasmania per 10,000 head of population. A spokesperson said the state government had doubled the number of residential rehabilitation beds in Victoria from 208 to 492 since coming into government and the Mildura facility would increase beds to 522. RELATED COVERAGE: ‘They’re more likely to get their lives back on track ‘: Ballarat Drug Court officially launched Mr Biondo said the backlog in criminal court proceeds created by the pandemic would create a further surge in demand for alcohol and other drug treatment, when the sector was already stretched beyond capacity. He said the loss of workers would eviscerate the sector, pushing out wait times and creating a boom for the unregulated private sector. A Ballarat Community Health spokesperson said on Thursday alcohol and other drug support appointments were available as early as next week for people in need in Ballarat. The health service launched a new after-hours service last week, acknowledging ‘people’s needs don’t know when the business day ends’. Uniting Ballarat also provides drug and alcohol treatment services in Ballarat including counselling, care and recovery co-ordination and family reunification. “There are currently no waiting lists for our alcohol and other drug treatment and support programs, but most are running close to capacity, so it’s critical we have the necessary resources to meet this demand,” Leanne Duggan, Uniting Ballarat team leader AOD and mental health, said. “Substance withdrawal and treatment is best managed by specialist programs – we want to avoid a situation where people are having to rely solely on emergency departments and GPs.” Mr Biondo welcomed the continuation of the facilities renewal fund and other initiatives and the development of a new residential rehabilitation facility in Mildura in the budget. A state government spokesperson said more than 40,000 people received help from funded drug and alcohol treatment and support services each year. “Our record on funding AOD speaks for itself with numerous new AOD facilities opening across the state and more being funded in this year’s budget,” the spokesperson said. “The Victorian Budget 2022/23 is delivering more beds, more day services and more support for alcohol and other drug services across the state, including our $36 million 30-bed residential rehabilitation facility in Mildura. “This is on top of previous builds in Corio, Traralgon and Wangaratta, and our 20-bed residential rehabilitation facility in Ballarat.” If this story has raised issues about your own or others drug and alcohol use, please contact the national hotline for confidential counseling and referral on 1800 250 015. you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. 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