Meth helpline misses calls as cuts kick in

The Sunday Times - - News - REGINA TITELIUS Health Re­porter Meth Helpline 1800 874 878

AL­MOST one in four calls to WA’s Meth Helpline is go­ing unan­swered.

There are fears the situation is set to worsen af­ter re­cent fund­ing cuts by the McGowan Gov­ern­ment means fewer shifts for the trained coun­sel­lors who help ice ad­dicts.

In re­sponse to ques­tions by the State Op­po­si­tion in Par­lia­ment, data shows 1843 calls to three helplines staffed by the Al­co­hol and Drug Sup­port Ser­vice (ADSS) were unan­swered in 2016-17. On 203 oc­ca­sions peo­ple were un­able to get through to the Meth Helpline, which equated to 24 per cent of calls.

The Al­co­hol and Drug Sup­port Line also missed 1372 calls (24 per cent), while 267 calls to the Par­ent and Fam­ily Drug Sup­port Line went unan­swered (19 per cent).

In July, The Sun­day Times re­vealed the bud­get for the ADSS, which sup­ports all three helplines, was cut by $154,000 to $1.39 mil­lion.

This meant 10 less shifts a week for coun­sel­lors.

The Gov­ern­ment also stopped all fund­ing to pro­mote the Meth Helpline.

Op­po­si­tion health spokesman Sean L’Es­trange said the helpline, launched by the former Bar­nett gov­ern­ment in 2016, pro­vided an in­valu­able first point of con­tact for peo­ple who did not know where else to find help.

“It beg­gars be­lief that the McGowan Gov­ern­ment is cut­ting the Meth Helpline’s fund­ing when there has been a more than 35 per cent in­crease in calls and when a quar­ter of the peo­ple calling al­ready can’t get through,” Mr L’Es­trange said.

“It is hard to un­der­stand why the Gov­ern­ment is penny pinch­ing on such an im­por­tant, front­line ser­vice. I am con­cerned the num­ber of unan­swered calls will dra­mat­i­cally in­crease be­cause of the fund­ing cut and I am con­cerned about the im­pact this will have on users, par­tic­u­larly early users, their fam­i­lies, their friends and the com­mu­nity.”

Over the past three years, the num­ber of meth-re­lated calls to the Helpline and the ADSS have fluc­tu­ated from 3112 in 2015-16 to 5086 in 201617 and 4225 last fi­nan­cial year.

Ac­cord­ing to the Pen­ing­ton In­sti­tute’s an­nual over­dose report, re­leased last month, am­phet­a­mine-re­lated deaths in WA in­creased from 39 in 2002-06 to 197 in 2012-16.

Men­tal Health Com­mis­sioner Tim Mar­ney said call vol­umes were “closely mon­i­tored” and if missed, the caller had the op­tion of leav­ing a mes­sage for a call back.

He said there were 225 full­time equiv­a­lent coun­sel­lors.

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