ACEM statement on ED patients affected by methamphetamines in SA

ACEM considers addiction to be primarily a health issue, not a criminal issue, and believes it should be treated as such. The College believes care for some patients affected by alcohol and other drugs, including methamphetamines, can be best provided in community-based care.

ACEM did not claim that there are ’60 violent meth-affected’ patients presenting to EDs in South Australia each day.

The College is eager to foster attitudes and environments which encourage people suffering addiction to seek treatment and care.

Emergency departments are available for all people who are seeking emergency healthcare.

Below is the statement provided to the Advertiser on Friday the 12th of August 2022, which forms the entirety of the College’s engagement on this issue with the Advertiser:

Statement attributable to ACEM South Australian Chair Dr Michael Edmonds.

Emergency doctors and other healthcare workers across South Australia are on the frontline when it comes to treating and managing some patients affected by alcohol and other drugs, including methamphetamines.

ACEM’s 2019 survey found that South Australia has the highest percentage of methamphetamine presentations compared with the other states and territories, almost one in 25 – or approximately 3.8 per cent of presentations. According to our members, this presentation rate has not changed substantially, and alcohol and other drug-affected individuals continue to form a significant part of our workload.

Emergency doctors consider addiction to be primarily a health issue, not a criminal issue, and believe it should be managed as such.

At the same time, we recognise the risk that some drug-affected patients can present in emergency departments (EDs). We believe that the safety of staff and patients must always be the top priority and encourage increased efforts to ensure a reliable security presence in all EDs in South Australia.

The College understands that the police may need to respond in some circumstances. It is essential that police officers have the appropriate training and have sufficient access and guidance from health professionals to safely manage some drug-affected patients in the community. Similarly, already existing telehealth services like the Virtual Care Service could be utilised as part of a hospital avoidance strategy.

ACEM supports the implementation of a custodial health service, which would provide healthcare for those under arrest, while reducing the strain on police and ED resources.

We note that the success of this approach will be highly contingent on the resourcing and structures made available to deliver this service. There is a need for greater resources for primary care to manage and care for people with substance use problems, with increased support from Drug and Alcohol Services SA, whose work involves education and treatment, as well as providing acute withdrawal services.

The College encourages the government, authorities, and healthcare providers to work together to reduce the harm methamphetamine and other drug presentations have on society and subsequently on the healthcare system and its workers.

All healthcare staff deserve a safe working environment as they provide much-needed care for South Australians.

Background:

ACEM is the peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand, responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards. www.acem.org.au

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