Staffing problems hit alcohol, drug services

PROBLEMS recruiting and retaining specialist addiction staff have hampered the implementation of promised alcohol and drugs services.

Auditor-General Mike Blake yesterday tabled an assessment of the implementation of the state's five-year plan to tackle addiction to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

In 2008 the state government committed $17.2 million over four years to implement the plan.

The plan set a goal to treat an additional 400 clients using opioid pharmacology, but a shortage of GPs and pharmacists prepared to work in the field limited the program's capacity.

Through regular doses of legal drugs, the treatment enables opioid users to reduce or stop illegal and dangerous drug use.

While 628 new clients had accessed the opioid pharmacotherapy program since 2008, the total number had not changed much.

"Clients left the program for a variety of reasons, including moving interstate or abandoning their programs," the Auditor-General found.

In response to the audit, then Health Department secretary Matthew Daly said Tasmania needed to develop a more closely supervised opioid substitution treatment program.

"This approach, while not immediately increasing the numbers of clients on the program in the shorter term, has improved the quality of treatment and significantly decreased associated risks," Mr Daly said.

The audit report also found:

•Specialist medical services have not been provided in the North-West.

•Reliance on clinically inappropriate services in the North and North-West continues.

•Little progress in providing outreach services or support for clients in non-urban areas.

Mr Blake made 15 recommendations, including investigating options to attract more specialists in addiction medicine.

Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council of Tasmania chief executive Jann Smith said funds would be better spent by community service providers.

"We have seen delays and bureaucratic red tape stall a number of initiatives," Ms Smith said.

The department also highlighted key achievements including significant investment and development in the areas of pharmacotherapy, services and support for young Tasmanians, increased support for smoking cessation and a renewed focus on promotion, prevention and early intervention strategies.

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