The peak body for emergency medicine in Australia has called for strengthened health care to manage the growing use of methamphetamine and its impact on emergency departments, including better use of data to direct resources into improving timely access to expert drug treatment services.
The recommendations are made in the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine’s submission to a New South Wales government-commissioned inquiry into the drug ‘Ice’ and other amphetamines.
NSW government data shows hospitals are grappling with a nearly ninefold increase in methamphetamine-related emergency department presentations, and a 1,350% increase in methamphetamine-related hospitalisations over the past seven years.
“The Government’s own data shows that the number of methamphetamine related presentations to emergency departments across metropolitan and regional communities is sky-rocketing,” ACEM NSW Faculty Dr Chris Trethewy says.
“Unfortunately, access to specialist treatment and support services has not kept pace with this demand. In those communities where these services don’t exist, the alternative is to seek help from the emergency department – but few are resourced to manage either the increase in presentations or to provide specialised drug treatment. This problem exists across metropolitan as well as regional and rural NSW.”
ACEM’s own data shows that methamphetamine related patient presentations represented 2.3% of emergency department presentations in NSW last year. These patients are resource intensive and complex to manage; they are predominantly male, acutely intoxicated, mentally unwell and require physical and mechanical restraint for their own safety and the safety of other patients and staff.
ACEM has called for strengthening existing data resources and using the evidence base, including ACEM sourced data, to improve pathways to specialist drug treatment services for methamphetamine use.
The peak body has also called for:
- Increased funding and resourcing of emergency departments to safely manage methamphetamine-related presentations.
- Government planning and resourcing decisions to support current trends in demand for emergency department and community-based services.
- Policy change to prioritise harm minimisation and access to health care in the first instance, rather than a ‘problem’ that elicits a criminal justice response.
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