CANBERRA – The Turnbull Government has moved to reduce demand and increase treatment and rehabilitation for the devastating drug ice in its formal response to the final report of the National Ice Taskforce.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on Sunday a $300 million package over four years to add to an already ramped up policing effort against what has been widely described as an ice “epidemic.”
Turnbull said the response would focus at the grass roots of the problem and change as the government's understanding of the problem evolved.
"Too many Australians, especially young Australians, are harming themselves and others through the use of methamphetamines, including ice," he told reporters in Sydney.
"Strong law enforcement ... is absolutely critical to countering the illegal trafficking of ice through detecting arresting and prosecuting those who profit from making misery out of the lives of others."
He said the response would also seek to reduce demand for the drug, saying that Australians proportionately used more ice than most other countries.
"We cannot arrest our way to success," Turnbull said, noting that the Taskforce's report contained 38 recommendations across 5 key areas on how the government could strengthen its response to the issue.
When Turnbull’s predecessor Tony Abbott announced the Taskforce in April, which has been headed by former Victorian Police commissioner Ken Lay, he referred to ice or methamphetamine as “pernicious and evil” as well as the “worst drug problem Australia has ever faced.”
It is understood there are more than 200,000 ice users in Australia and demand for drug and alcohol treatment places in Australia is double what’s available.
In a blog for The Huffington Post Fiona Nash, the Minister in charge of drug and alcohol policy, describes the impact the drug has had on families around Australia.
"Ice is not some fairytale nightmare in some faraway land, it's on our streets, in our towns and our homes. The dealers are not imaginary demons and the users are not holograms; they're real -- our friend's children, our relatives, our families," she writes.
The bulk of the extra funding, $241.5 million over four years, will go to the Government’s 31 Primary Health Networks (PHNs) to assist the alcohol and other drug treatment sector.
Tailored services for regions are proposed. “Our local Primary Health Networks will decide what form of treatment will be most effective in each local area,” Nash said.
Indigenous-specific treatment services will be a priority and the Government is promising a significant investment in rural and regional areas.
Just over a week ago, the Government announced an overhaul of Australia’s mental health care system, including moving the responsibility for services to PHNs, which led to calls for significantly more funding to cope.
“Given the close correlation between mental health and drug abuse, we have closely aligned delivery of drug and alcohol treatment services with the delivery of mental health packages through PHNs,” she said.
Other measures that were announced on Sunday included;
$13 million to introduce new Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items for Additional Medicine Specialists to increase the availability of treatment.
$24.9 million to help families and communities respond to ice.
$18.8 million to establish better research, evidence and guidelines on ice, including a new Centre for Clinical Excellence for Emerging Drugs of Concern.
While there have been record seizures at the Australian border, Nash said authorities can no longer try to "arrest our way out of the ice problem" and more needs to be done to reduce demand for the drug.
The measures from the package will form part of the new National Ice Action Strategy.