ReGen queries alcohol and other drug focus for Victorian Emergency Departments
Melbourne, VIC, 25th January 2013 – UnitingCare ReGen (formerly Moreland Hall), the lead alcohol and other drug treatment and education agency of UnitingCare Victoria & Tasmania, today welcomed the announcement of $12 million of new funding in employing ‘drug liaison workers’ to reduce alcohol and other drug related violence in Victorian Emergency Departments (‘Hospitals overhauled to cope with drug and alcohol violence’, Herald Sun, Jan 25), but questioned the project’s capacity to support systemic responses to alcohol and other drug related harm.
Announced as part of the newly released Victorian whole of government strategy to reduce the impact of alcohol and drug abuse on the Victorian community, the move forms a key component of the Baillieu government’s reform of the state’s alcohol and other drugs treatment sector.
Donna Ribton-Turner, ReGen’s Clinical Services Director, queried whether the money could have been directed towards programs that would produce more sustainable benefits for the community:
While we welcome the initiative, it’s disappointing to learn that when Victorian alcohol and other drug treatment providers have been repeatedly told that there will be no new funding for services, we now see $12 million being directed towards a program that does not appear to improve the availability of treatment in Victoria. Instead of only focussing on redirecting people out of the hospital system, it would have been encouraging to see funding that could be used to increase hospitals’ capacity to identify and respond to alcohol and other drug harms within their own services.
Victoria’s hospitals are already full of people who engage in problematic alcohol and other drug use. They are not the people who present intoxicated in Emergency Departments, but those admitted for other conditions. As a rule, hospitals have little knowledge of the true prevalence of substance use amongst their patients because many do not include it in their standard assessment procedures. There is a solid body of evidence highlighting the effectiveness of introducing standard alcohol and other drugs screening and intervention programs in hospitals, when staff are trained and supported in their delivery.
Alcohol and other drug related violence in our hospitals is unacceptable and needs to be addressed. However, it is only the tip of the iceberg. The Emergency Department funding ignores the far bigger problem facing hospitals, treatment services and the wider community. It begs the question, if the new ‘drug liaison workers’ succeed in referring large numbers of people to treatment services, how are already overstretched services expected to respond?
Ms Ribton-Turner continued:
The focus on violence does not address the contributing factors. It also distorts the community’s perception of the challenges posed by alcohol and other drug use in our community and of the people involved. ReGen’s community-based services work with nearly 2,000 individuals every year and incidents of violence are very, very rare.
We hope that, as the Victorian whole of government strategy is rolled out, we see more of a focus on strategies to increase the treatment sector’s capacity to reduce the impact of alcohol and other drugs on individuals, families and the wider community.