The use of methylamphetamine, or ice, in the Shoalhaven is quickly overtaking or has overtaken the number of people using and being treated for alcohol.
A NSW Legislative Council inquiry into the provision of drug rehabilitation services in regional, rural and remote NSW, taking submissions in Nowra on Thursday, heard vastly different figures into the problems with the drug.
In presenting evidence to the inquiry, chaired by Deputy Opposition Whip Greg Donnelly, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District chief executive Margot Mains and NSW Health director of drug and alcohol services David Reid said alcohol was still the major issue Shoalhaven hospital staff treated patients for.
They said alcohol topped the list for treatment with about 30 per cent of patients, 24.5 per cent for methamphetamine, 20 per cent for cannabis and 8 per cent for heroin. The remainder were treated for other prescribed opioid drugs.
But acting chief executive of The Oolong Aboriginal Corporation [Oolong House] Tanya Bloxsome and former CEO Ivern Ardler painted a very different picture.
They said 69 per cent of the Indigenous men treated by the Nowra centre in the 2017 calendar year identified amphetamine as their primary substance of abuse.
“That’s a huge way from 2008 when ice was identified as just 8 per cent,” Ms Bloxsome said.
“That’s just Indigenous men we are treating, it’s not women or youth.”
Although funded for treating Indigenous men, she said Oolong also treated a number of non-Indigenous men.
Oolong treats a minimum of 70-80 clients per year in residential care, each staying for up to four months at a time.
One of the reasons given for the increased drug use, especially by Indigenous people, was because many would not seek treatment at local hospitals and also because the drug was so readily available and cheap.
Waminda - South Coast Women’s Health and Welfare Aboriginal Corporation CEO Faye Worner and program and client service manager Lisa Wellington said their organisation services 1200 women, not including children, every year and more than 300 were accessing rehabilitation for alcohol and drugs.
They said they have a constant waiting list for detoxification and rehabilitation, yet Shoalhaven District Hospital only had two detoxification beds, and the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District only had two Aboriginal staff across the region working in the drug and alcohol sector.
They called for an Aboriginal women's and family rehabilitation centre to be established locally, to work alongside Oolong’s facilities, which also need to be expanded.
It was revealed in eight public hospitals and 45 community health centre across the region, there were just three public beds for detoxification.
But other beds were available at non government based facilities.
Mr Reid said three in every 1000 general admissions who present to Shoalhaven District Hospital were for acute methamphetamine toxicity.
“When you look at how many beds are occupied 24 hours a day, seven days a week for that type of detox, keeping in mind most people can receive outpatient treatment, three beds generally works well,” he said.
The waiting list for those beds was only five to seven days and at the time of the inquiry sitting there were only two people on the waiting list.
The inquiry heard patients with acute psychotic episodes did require an increasing number of staff for treatment and police to deal with the situations.
The inquiry will head to Batemans Bay on Friday, before travelling to Dubbo, Broken Hill, Grafton and Lismore in coming weeks.
Mr Donnelly said oral and written submissions were being taken and a report, including recommendations, would be made to the government to consider and respond to.