Government defies logic on welfare drug testing

Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League

The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee – which has a majority of Australian Government members – last night handed down its report on the inquiry into the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2019, which seeks to introduce drug testing for welfare recipients. The majority report inexplicably recommends the Bill be passed by the Senate, despite the universal opposition expressed in submissions and evidence by those organisations working at the coalface of alcohol and other drug treatment service provision – as well as in research and related sectors (see: ).

The following national organisations have joined together to express their frustration at the outcome of the inquiry, also noting the dissenting reports from the Labor and Australian Greens members of the Committee:

· Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) – the peak body for the nine state and territory peer-based drug user organisations

· State and Territory Alcohol and Other Drug Peaks Network – comprises all eight Australian state and territory peak Alcohol and other Drug (AOD) bodies

· St Vincent’s Health Australia

· Penington Institute

· Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA)

· Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM)

· Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO)

“We know from experience that people engage best with alcohol and other drug services and have far better outcomes when they are supported to access services voluntarily. The will to change has to come from within the person and not from a mandated drug test. Empowerment has been proven to be the best way of changing a person’s problematic drug use and this legislation flies in the face of the evidence we have about successful drug treatment,” said Melanie Walker, CEO of the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL).

“Almost all of the submissions and evidence provided to the inquiry highlight that there is little point identifying people with drug problems if there is inadequate access to drug treatment services for those who need them. A recent review by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre found that there is substantial unmet demand within the alcohol and other drug treatment sector across Australia, with an estimated 200,000-500,000 Australians each year unable to access treatment for problems associated with drug or alcohol use,” said Carrie Fowlie, Spokesperson for the State and Territory Alcohol and Other Drug Peaks Network.

“In short, the issue is not that people can’t see they have a drug problem and need to be coerced into seeking treatment. In any given year there are hundreds of thousands of Australians who know they have a drug problem and are voluntarily seeking drug treatment but there are simply not enough treatment places available. It’s a devastating situation for these people and their families and some are dying while they wait,” said Dr Linc Thurecht, Acting Chief Executive, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association.

“The most recent Australia’s Annual Overdose Report found that there were 2,162 drug-induced deaths in Australia in 2017. Drug use touches every part of our community. To imply that only welfare recipients use drugs or experience harms further stigmatises an already vulnerable population,” said John Ryan, CEO of Penington Institute.

“We note the Government has signalled it will commit $10 million in funding across the trial locations to provide treatment services, but it’s simply not possible to start extra services overnight. Where’s the infrastructure? Where is the professional workforce coming from? While additional investment may be beneficial in these areas in the medium to long-term, we have explained that it won’t be enough to enhance system capacity immediately and will also likely displace people in those areas who are voluntarily seeking support for their drug use,” explained A/Prof Nadine Ezard, Clinical Director, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney’s Drug and Alcohol Service.

“In this context, we believe that the significant costs of the drug testing, as well as the additional $10 million in related expenditure, would be better used to enhance capacity in the alcohol and other drug treatment sector in Australia more broadly for people who are already actively seeking to address issues related to their drug use,” added Ms Fowlie.

“We welcome the Australian Government’s renewed focus on drug treatment and reducing the harms arising from problematic drug use for individuals, families and communities. It would be wonderful if this interest could be channelled into enhanced investment in cost effective prevention, treatment and harm reduction measures – such as those outlined in the National Drug Strategy – rather than those that have been proven to be ineffective,” concluded Ms Walker.

/Public Release.