Victoria’s ice action plan is a good start on a long journey

Released on 10th March 2015

cohealth Chief Executive, Lyn Morgain said she is confident that opportunities identified within the Victorian Government’s Ice Action Plan would minimise the harm that ice is doing to individuals and our Victorian communities.

“There is a lot to like about the direction proposed to address this very complex health issue for both people who use drugs and their families, like the use of peer workers, support for families and designing programs with people using drugs to ensure they’re properly targeted,” Ms Morgain said.

“The Plan’s foundation on harm minimisation, the corner stone of Australian drugs policy since the 1980s, is especially commendable.

“The $1.8 million commitment to funding additional needle and syringe programs is very pleasing. These programs have been a public health success story over the last two decades in preventing blood borne viral infections, keeping needles off the street, and treating people with the respect and care that they deserve.

cohealth has long called for an additional needle and syringe program in Melbourne’s west – together with specialised health workers to connect people who use drugs with the health and support services they need and we look forward to working with Premier Andrews to remedy this long standing service shortfall.

“We are pleased that the Plan understands drug use as a health issue that occurs within a personal and specific context.

“Victoria’s community health sector is well established and has a long history of co-designing programs with people who use drugs as well as other service users.

“We work with service-users to design what the service will look like, because we know they achieve the best results, particularly when working with at risk groups like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, refugees and asylum seekers, and GLBTIQ communities.

“We must recognise that the greatest opportunity to achieving good health and greater participation in the life of people who use drugs is working respectfully and treating people with dignity, while also working to reduce community and service discrimination.

“Stigma reduces people’s likelihood of visiting a health service, which risks a negative feedback loop of increased depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness – further risking the health of people using ice or other drugs.

In the words, “Paul”, a cohealth service user: “…staff treat us with dignity, which helps keep you well and with good self esteem…I can’t think of any time in my life that I have felt this well and I firmly believe that it is through the clinic, which has accepted me and treated me with dignity and respect, that has enabled me to start to love myself again.”

“Recognition of the importance of the peer workforce in the success of this Plan is also long overdue.

“We have found our peer-based workforce of people with lived experiences of drug use is an effective way to reach out and deliver education on harm reduction and support.

“Rather than judging people for their drug use, or pushing them into the criminal justice system, we know that working with them we can see real improvements in their health and wellbeing.

Programs like the Dandenong Drug Court demonstrate this difference of approach everyday where it becomes a catalyst to changing people’s lives rather than adding to an expensive and overburdened prison population.

“While we know health services are vital for people who use drugs, equally important is providing a safe environment and opportunities to participate in the broader life of the community. This is the platform from which healthier lives develop.

“So on top of the proposals contained within the Ice Action Plan we also need to see better access to affordable and secure housing, more opportunities to participate in education, training and employment, adequate income support at a level which allows a basic standard of living to be sustained and reliable public transport.

“These are the sorts of actions that we are now seeing debated that will lift the bottom line for many of our most vulnerable groups, including those who inject drugs like ice.

cohealth operates two primary health care clinics for injecting drug users, and has needle and syringe programs for unregistered clients across six sites in Melbourne.

* The name Paul has been used to de-identify the client’s real name

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