Urgent need for $1.6 million to treat ice addiction in Canberra
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Urgent need for $1.6 million to treat ice addiction in Canberra

The scourge of ice has left Canberra's drug treatment services needing urgent investment of $1.6 million from next month's ACT budget, as users increasingly suffer from the effects of the higher-purity methamphetamine.

The territory's peak drug body, Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT, has called on the government to respond to an increase in the harm caused by the drug, citing a "rapid and profound shift" in users' behaviour and a disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Health Minister Simon Corbell says the government provides more than $9 million annually to non-government organisations for specialist drug treatment and support services.

Health Minister Simon Corbell says the government provides more than $9 million annually to non-government organisations for specialist drug treatment and support services. Credit:Rohan Thomson

Releasing a paper on the funding challenges faced by Canberra's non-government drug treatment facilities, ATODA executive officer Carrie Fowlie said there was no evidence to suggest a surge in ice use had taken place, but a shift to the crystalline form meant urgent new funding was needed.

Calling for $1.6 million in investment, included in ATODA's formal budget submission, Ms Fowlie said the boost would enable a minimum allocation of one additional full-time equivalent staff member per drug treatment service and ongoing professional development for workers.

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The report contains grim statistics for policymakers and the community.

There was a 36 per cent increase between 2010 and last year in demand for non-government drug treatment services in the ACT, while the rate of methamphetamine use has stood steady at 2.1 per cent of the population for about a decade.

The report said despite stability in prevalence of ice use, "it is clear that there has been increasing harm across the country", while Australia has the highest rate of methamphetamine use in the English-speaking world.

About 50 per cent of people who use methamphetamine favour the crystalline form, traditionally referred to as ice. This figure has risen from 22 per cent in 2010.

While the price of the drug has remained stable, there has been a dramatic increase in purity and strength. The average purity from drug seizures increased from 21 per cent in 2009 to 64 per cent in 2013.

Daily rates of use among drug takers has increased to 15.5 per cent.

The changes mean more risk from blood-borne viruses and sexually-transmissible infections as well as escalating mental health problems. About 40 per cent of regular users also take medication for mental health problems and 30 per cent are considered highly psychologically distressed.

Cost-effective measures recommended by the report include more frontline workers and drug treatment services in the ACT, where nine out of 10 organisations are non-government.

While episodes of care have increased by 36 per cent since 2010, there has been no increase in ACT government funding beyond indexation in the same period.

The report said some waiting lists exceeded three months and others had been closed.

Ms Fowlie will meet with representatives of the Abbott government's national ice taskforce on Tuesday.

"The ACT can be proud of its quality, evidence-informed and cost-effective drug treatment and support services. Unfortunately non-government drug services are experiencing a perfect storm of increased methamphetamine use, increased demand and insufficient funding," she said.

"This means Canberrans with drug or alcohol problems can't get help when they need it."

"ATODA has not been able to ascertain the last time the ACT Budget included additional explicit funding for non-government drug services."

Treasurer Andrew Barr will deliver the ACT budget on June 2.

On Monday, a spokesman for Health Minister Simon Corbell said the government provided

"Government will be considering a range of competing priorities in the non-government sector as part of the budget process," the spokesman said.

Last month Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson called for a whole-of-government response to the scourge of the drug, which risked destructive and violent consequences in Canberra.

Mr Hanson said an effective response should include action on drug and criminal law reform, policing responses, treatment and rehabilitation, education and increased community awareness.

The federal Parliament's joint committee on law enforcement will hold an inquiry into crystal methamphetamine. Public submissions are open until June 10.

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for The Australian Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

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