The Tasmanian Government’s proposed Tasmanian Drug Strategy 2022-2027 “…needs further work…” and cannot be endorsed in its current form by the Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council Tasmania (ATDC), CEO Alison Lai says.
Ms Lai said the ATDC stood ready to work with the Tasmanian Government to further assist in the strategy’s development so that it was more relevant and contemporary, taking account of the ever-changing way drugs were being used in Tasmania.
“We need a strategy that will deliver meaningful change in how Tasmanians use drugs, how they seek help if they want it and how the community supports them,” she said.
“How drugs are used in our community is changing and evolving and our strategies to respond must also evolve and become more sophisticated.
“With this in mind, we can’t be confident that the strategy document as it stands adequately reflects what is happening in Tasmania or provides the actions to respond.”
Given the nature of its day-to-day work, the ATDC is aware of consultation that has underpinned the development of the numerous other important government health strategies.
The approach undertaken to develop the Tasmanian Drug Strategy does not compare.
“We have previously raised our concerns that there has been no regional community consultations and no roundtables of key community and government stakeholders providing their expertise and perspective,” Ms Lai said.
“No leaders of key government departments have sat with community sector leaders sharing their commitment to drive change in this space.
“It saddens us because we essentially have a document that reflects the current work activity plans of government agencies, and we strongly believe this is not the outcome the Premier and Minister for Health is seeking but is what he will be provided with.”
As an example, at the time of writing their submission the government had no active working groups focused on responding to either alcohol or illicit drugs in the community, Ms Lai said.
“This is why we believe the strategy presented is silent on what it wants to achieve in respect to alcohol and illicit drugs.
“This is important because more than 80 per cent of Tasmanians older than 14 drink alcohol and more than one in six Tasmanians use illicit substances.
“In addition, alcohol creates an economic burden on the health system, with alcohol costing the government billions of dollars each year.”
As the only community representative on the working group that developed the strategy, the ATDC believes that the quality of the document is reflective of the ongoing difficulties it has witnessed, in the attempts to formulate a whole-of-government response to drug use.
The first is the size of the issue which can be perceived as overwhelming, Ms Lai said.
“Tasmanians who use drugs come from all walks of life and stereotypes are a myth when it comes to who uses drugs and the types of drugs they are using,” she said.
“Thousands of Tasmanians are using a broad range of drugs from alcohol to tobacco, pharmaceutical medications to cannabis, MDMA, amphetamines and many more.
“Attempting to develop a strategy that is going to encompass such a wide range of regulated and illegal substances across an entire population with interventions required across multiple government agencies is no-doubt a challenge, but we must not shy away from it.”
Also contributing to the challenge is the ‘uncomfortableness’ that appears to keep shrouding the topic of drug use and impacting a reluctance to have the necessary conversations.
“We know the topic of drug use is one that can make people uncomfortable and it’s an area that is politically sensitive and it’s our perception this has been a key contributor to government agencies being reluctant to move too far beyond the status quo,” Ms Lai said.
“But we must, because community expectations and attitudes towards drug use are changing with an increase in support for more health-based policies and responses and maintaining the status quo will not lead to meaningful change for the thousands of Tasmanians who use drugs.
“It will take strong leadership to sit down with community and listen with an open mind to what is happening and be prepared to consider contemporary drug policy responses and we are calling on the Tasmanian Government to take pause and reconsider their approach and undertake further consultation before the Strategy is finalised.”
The ATDC is the peak body representing community-managed organisations delivering specialist alcohol, tobacco and other drug programs and services across Tasmania.
Available for interview:
- Alison Lai – CEO, ATDC
- Nicolas Turner – 0418 538 865 or firstname.lastname@example.org