There is a growing drug problem on the Northern Beaches. Frontline medical workers and police are increasingly overstretched by the rise in drug arrests and drug related crime over the last few years.
Current preventative and treatment programs are demonstrably ineffective – a good example is the 80% relapse rate for people who attend drug rehabilitation programs. Apart from the personal tragedy that is involved with ruined lives and futures, the financial and social consequences of drug and alcohol addiction are enormous.
We need better support and community outreach programmes for the victims of drug and alcohol abuse, and we need to recognise that these victims include the users themselves. We can no longer afford to treat substance abuse as a purely criminal matter, and nor can we consider the need to help affected people as a burden on the state. We need to see addiction and abuse prevention and treatment as an investment in our future. Every person we fail to save represents the loss of a potentially productive member of our society, as well as a devastating loss to a single network of family and friends.
Australia should be a world leader in mental health care and it is lamentable that we are not. We must therefore look across the seas to Scandinavia, Canada and Portugal, where deeply compassionate, empathic, but most importantly, effective programmes have successfully re-integrated some of their most disaffected citizens back into the community.
There is also an urgent need to address the epidemic of suicide. I think we need a broader and more intelligent approach, looking not just at crisis intervention and prevention, but also developing an understanding of the myriad causes and factors involved. The cost in precious Australian lives is simply unacceptable from a moral, emotional and pragmatic point of view.
Former ACCC chairman and mental health advocate Allan Fels has stated that mental health is an “economic issue,” and that there is a direct relationship between the efficacy of mental health care and GDP. Mental health is one of those rare opportunities to simultaneously address needs that are moral, emotional and pragmatic – an opportunity that I believe we can do a better job of taking up.