Latrobe has the second highest rate of fatal drug overdoses in regional Victoria, according to new statistics revealed by the Coroners Court.
There are currently no residential rehabilitation and withdrawal centres in Gippsland, and many people who have substance addiction must travel to Melbourne for treatment at centres such as Windana Drug and Alcohol Recovery.
Windana chief executive officer Anne-Maree Kaser said Latrobe was recording significantly more deaths per capita than the state average.
“It’s frustrating. We would like to do more and are looking for opportunities to expand our service and meet that demand,” Ms Kaser said.
The Coroners Court submission to the Parliament of Victoria’s Inquiry into Drug Law Reform also indicated an overall steady increase in the rate of drug overdose deaths across the state in recent years.
Three-hundred-and-seventy-nine Victorians died in 2009 from drug overdoses and 477 died in 2016.
Ten of these were residents of Latrobe.
Last year’s total is also expected to rise to 500 once investigations are finalised.
Heroin is the biggest killer among illegal drugs with 190 deaths in 2016, and deaths from methamphetamine, also known as ice, continue to soar with 116 fatal overdoses last year compared to 23 in 2009.
The increase in ice abuse may be staggering, however Ms Kaser said the data highlighted pharmaceutical drugs as consistently the most prevalent in drug overdoses.
“People often think about this as being an issue that relates to the stereotypical, very dependent drug user,” Ms Kaser said.
“In fact that’s not the case.”
The sleeping pill diazepam has held a steady position at the top of the list for fatal drug overdoses in recent years, which is likely because of its combination with other drugs including alcohol in a lethal cocktail.
In an opinion article in Tuesday, 28 March’s The Age, State Coroner Sara Hinchey said more than 70 per cent of Victorian overdose deaths involved the use of multiple drugs, which indicated a problem with misuse of drugs in general.
Ms Kaser said earlier support for people was needed, along with education about the risks of using alcohol and other drugs.
Windana offers a range of residential withdrawal, rehabilitation and community-based services statewide.
“We see people who are completely transformed, particularly in the residential program,” Ms Kaser said.
Windana in partnership with Latrobe Community Health Service deliver a day rehabilitation service in Moe, however Ms Kaser said we needed more outreach services as no single type of service suited everyone.
Among these cries is Traralgon-based mental health advocacy group Barrier Breakers which has been lobbying the government for more drug rehabilitation services since the closure of the Hobson Park psychiatric care centre in the 1990s.
Its closure claimed an additional 25-bed facility in Traralgon.
Barrier Breakers chairman Derek Amos said there hadn’t been anything like it since.
He would like to see a Youth Prevention and Recovery Care Service called a Y-PARC in Gippsland.
“We continue to push for (a Y-PARC), and write two to three times a year to Gippsland politicians to build one in Latrobe,” Mr Amos said.
Latrobe Community Health Service executive director community support and connections Alison Skeldon said there was a perception there’s nothing for people affected by drug addiction available in Gippsland, however there was support available if people reach out.
LCHS offers a range of needs-based drug addiction treatment services including counselling, home-based withdrawal programs and case management, along with the “one of its kind in the region” home-based service in Moe.
“I think the issue is about people accessing support early,” Ms Skeldon said.
“We need to ensure that key organisations and groups – and parents, family and friends – know the signals that might be indicating someone might have problems with drug use, whatever the drug, and people reach out earlier rather than later to get support.”
The Coroner’s Court submission can be found at coronerscourt.vic.gov.au.
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