The COVID-19 pandemic has had, and continues to have, an impact on the community managed organisations delivering ATOD services, and on the people they support.
The overall message is clear, albeit subtle. While there has not been a significant spike in demand for services and support, there continues to be a steady increase that is yet to plateau. The exception to this trend, has been the significant increase in demand for education and information programs, particularly within the school environment. This demand is attributed to COVID-19.
Prior to COVID-19, alcohol was the principal drug of concern for which Tasmanians sought treatment and support, and unsurprisingly has remained so (with cannabis or amphetamines regularly switching between second and third place followed by tobacco). While Tasmania has always been a community that loves a drink, there is evidence that during the pandemic we purchased more, and drank more than normal. There is ongoing concern that we are yet to feel the full impact of this, and that more needs to be done including the inclusion of messaging on alcohol consumption in any future public health campaigns delivered by government.
While these reports confirm that many Tasmanians who smoke cigarettes sought support during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are unable to accurately appreciate the impact on Tasmanians who use other substances. However, we know through the voices of those with lived experience that the pandemic disrupted access to a range of drugs. We know that the outbreaks in other states, closed borders, difficulty accessing treatment services and cost fluctuations had, and continues to have an impact on people’s health and wellbeing. Pending any future outbreaks, enhancing the voices of lived experience will be vital to ensure that we have a broader and deeper understanding of the impacts, and how best to support Tasmanians who wish to seek support for their drug use. The current efforts underway between our organisation and the Tasmanian Government to establish an independent consumer organisation has never been more important.
The community-managed organisations delivering ATOD programs and services are to be commended for responding to the steady increase in demand, while proactively managing their waiting lists and waiting times. Many of the pre-existing issues impacting access to treatment services and programs were exacerbated during the pandemic (e.g. access to medically supervised withdrawal services and pre-existing service shortages). By implementing innovative solutions, our members rose to the challenge, and are ready to do so again if required.
While not the focus of these reports, the ATDC also praises the efforts of our government sector colleagues during this time. In particular, the introduction of the COVID-19 response of free take-home naloxone saved lives.
The dedication and commitment of the front-line workers in the ATOD workforce during this time has been key to ensuring that services did not stop. Through the information collected by these reports we know that the levels of stress and anxiety experienced across our workforce was very high during COVID-19. While worker wellbeing has recovered, assumedly as the workforce has become accustomed to changes in service delivery, their wellbeing continues to be a critical priority.
There is much to be done, and we thank the Tasmanian Government for their support of this project that has enabled us to build a strong foundation of understanding of where to start.