The Ice Taskforce found that ice use in Australia is a complex problem that requires a multifaceted response. Proportionally, Australia uses more methamphetamine than almost any other country, and the number of users continues to grow. Today, evidence suggests there are well over 200,000 users.
In its Report, the Taskforce made 38 recommendations across five areas of priority:
- The first priority must be supporting families, workers and communities to better respond to people affected by ice.
- Efforts to reduce demand for ice through prevention activities must be strengthened.
- Ice users need treatment and support services that cater to their needs.
- Efforts to disrupt supply must be more coordinated and targeted.
- Better data, more research and regular reporting is needed to strengthen Australia’s response and keep it on track.
Since these recommendations, a number of strategies to tackle the issue of ice usage in Australia have been implemented. Almost $300 million has been allocated over 4 years from 1 July 2016 towards measures to reduce the impacts of drug and alcohol misuse on individuals, families and communities. The Commonwealth’s investment to tackle the problem of ice underpins the new National Ice Action Strategy (NIAS), which was agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on 11 December 2015. The objectives of the NIAS are aligned to the priority areas outlined by the Ice Taskforce:
- Families and communities have better access to information, support and tools to help them to respond to drug and alcohol issues;
- Prevention messages are targeted at high-risk populations and accurate information about drugs and alcohol is more accessible;
- Early intervention and treatment services are better tailored to respond to drug and alcohol-related harms and meet the needs of the populations they serve;
- Law enforcement efforts are better targeted to disrupt the supply of illicit drugs; and
- Better evidence is available to drive responses to the effects of drugs and alcohol in our community.
As part of the governance arrangements to ensure the NIAS agreement has strong foundations, the Ministerial Drug and alcohol Forum (MDAF) was established. Its inaugural meeting was held on 16th December last year. The MDAF reports directly to COAG on relevant matters. It is supported by the National Drug Strategy Committee.
In response to the needs of families and communities, Local Drug Action Teams (LDATs) have been established. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) was provided $19.2 million to establish approximately 220 LDATs around Australia. LDATs will enable all key stakeholders in local communities to work together to reduce alcohol and other drug misuse within their local communities by strengthening prevention activities to reduce the demand for drugs such as ice. Funding of $1.1 million was also allocated for ongoing maintenance of the Positive Choices webportal and further expansion and development of new resources, including resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents, teachers and students.
The Australian Drug Foundation’s Good Sports Program contributes to prevention. The $4.6 million expansion of this program ensures a module on managing illegal drugs is included in the program which assists in building local level community capacity and confidence to address issues and harms related to illegal drugs. It targets clubs with a higher proportion of young adults, focusing initially on regional and rural communities.
A further recommendation of the Ice Taskforce came to fruition with the development of the online Cracks in the Ice Community Toolkit. This website aims to improve community and stakeholder access to information about ice use and associated issues as well as avenues for obtaining assistance.
Primary Health Networks (PHNs) obtained funding of $241.5 million over four years from 1 July 2016 for additional drug and alcohol treatment services. PHNs have undertaken extensive planning and consultation to ascertain local needs and priorities with a focus on culturally appropriate mainstream services and services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The University of Adelaide will expand the Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST) and Brief Intervention (BI) (ASSIST-BI) across primary health, mental health, community correctional settings and emergency care sectors with a $1.7 million funding injection. This test provides a simple method for health professionals to screen for harmful use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. It is currently the only screening instrument responsive to changes in drug use patterns as it screens for the use of alcohol, tobacco, amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, inhalants, opioids, sedatives and hallucinogens. The expansion will increase opportunities for effective and opportunistic screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment for substance use disorders, including ice.
New Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items for addiction medicine specialists were introduced in late 2016 to enable the delivery of quality private sector services for addiction medicine to meet the needs of patients who are unwilling or unable to attend public clinics. The items benefit patients in rural and regional Australia through the provision of improved rebates for telehealth and increased patient access by promoting workforce development.
The government has focused law enforcement efforts through strengthening international cooperation and advocacy to disrupt crime syndicates and the flow of ice into Australia. The group is led by the Australia Federal Police. Other strategies such as the national ‘Dob in a Dealer’ campaign are underway to urge the public to report any information they are aware of about ice dealing and distribution.
Research and data improvement is expected through the establishment of a new Centre of Clinical Excellence for Emerging Drugs of Concern. Research into new treatment options being a key objective. Professional development and training and the evaluation of treatments are also key components. The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales will lead a consortium comprising the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University, the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction at Flinders University and St Vincent’s Health Australia. Funding has also been allocated to expand the Victorian Ambulance Project to establish and maintain a National Surveillance System for Alcohol and other Drug Misuse and Overdose. This project will provide detailed data regarding alcohol and other drug harm and overdose. It will provide evidence needed to inform policy, intervention and evaluation activities at both a state and national level.