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Alcohol and other drug treatment policy in Australia

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We need more resources that are better spent

Alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment policy is at a significant point of transition in Australia. The media is replete with examples of people unable to access appropriate AOD treatment — whether it be for detoxification, residential rehabilitation, pharmacotherapy or counselling. Anecdotal reports are backed by evidence of high unmet need and demand for treatment. Fewer than half of those seeking AOD treatment in Australia are currently able to access appropriate treatment.1 This is an appalling situation, but not much different than in most developed countries,2 and all the more concerning because we know treatment works and it reduces the substantial social costs of harmful AOD consumption.3

Good AOD public policy involves a balance between reducing the supply of drugs (through regulation and law enforcement), reducing the demand for drugs (through prevention and treatment) and reducing the harmful consequences of use (through harm reduction interventions). Australian governments currently spend most on law enforcement.4 Yet research shows that law enforcement responses, notably those related to incarceration, are far less cost-effective than treatment.5 Governments need to shift investment away from law enforcement…