Australia’s alcohol and other drugs treatment services need more funding, better planning, and greater investment in the skills of its workforce.  

According to best estimates, up to 500,000 Australians can’t get the help they need from alcohol and other drug treatment services – they’re either not available or waiting lists are too long. It doesn’t matter whether someone is starting to develop a drug problem, or if they have a severe dependency, many can’t get the help they need. The situation is worst in regional and rural Australia. 

Evidence informs us that most people access treatment many years later than when they should.1

Long delays lead to greater harm, increased health care costs2 and potentially less successful treatment. Poorly designed and unreliable funding systems have compounded this effect, undermining service improvement, evaluation and growth.3

Currently, there is also an inequitable distribution of services, which means that some communities experience a severe lack of access. Identifying these communities, and taking immediate action to appropriately grow services to meet demand, should be a priority for governments. 

Additional investment in AOD treatment should be accompanied by investment in preventative health and early interventions to ease the demand burden on treatment services and build a high quality, fiscally sustainable AOD treatment sector. 

While increased funding is extremely important, poor planning is just as much an issue. Services are unevenly distributed, crisis-oriented, poorly integrated with other clinical and social programs, and there is often no easy access point for help. Too many people and their families experience long delays, little choice and compromised quality in a fragmented system that is difficult to navigate.4 

  1. Chapman, C, et al., 2015, ‘Delay to first treatment contact for alcohol use disorder’ in Drug and Alcohol Dependence; Lee, N, et al., 2012, ‘Examining the temporal relationship between methamphetamine use and mental health comorbidity’, in Advances in Dual Diagnosis 
  2. Ettner, SL, et al., 2006, ‘Benefit-cost in the California treatment outcome project: does substance abuse treatment “pay for itself”?’, in Health Services Research 
  3. Ritter, A, et al., 2014, New Horizons: The review of alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia, Drug Policy Modelling Program, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW 
  4. Lubman, D, et al., 2014, A study of patient pathways in alcohol and other drug treatment, Turning Point

It is critical that federal and state and territory governments work together to properly fund Australia’s alcohol and other drug treatment services, and improve coordination and planning.