ICE, heroin, marijuana, alcohol...
GREG Donnelly serves in the state’s Upper House, and while he doesn’t have an electorate to call his own, he has been tasked with representing the opposition on matters relating to the electorate of Dubbo.
When Mr Donnelly was named chair of the Portfolio Committee No.2 into the provision of drug rehabilitation services in regional, rural and remote NSW, he already knew only too well about an almost total lack of such services in Dubbo and the western region the city services.
“We heard anecdotally as we travelled the state that there were serious problems in regard to people with addiction,” he told Dubbo
“The problem is that outside the big population centres there was a sense that there was very little available for them to receive (the treatment needed).” He said that treatment includes detoxification, which is a prerequisite to the rehabilitation, as well as the rehabilitation itself, and the follow-up support for addicts to “move away from and beyond the problem of their addiction”, Mr Donnelly said.
“We did the inquiry and we produced a report and, tragically, it brought home everything we thought was going on – but by a much bigger multiple because everywhere we went we found tragic cases of individuals.”
The committee alarmed at the range of addictions being experience in this region. “We set out thinking we’d primarily be looking at ICE, at Wellington and places like that, because it’s such a destructive, illicit substance. Whilst that got commented on and it is a big problem, there’s still an issue with heroin and marijuana as well.
“The other thing we found was the issue of alcohol addiction... it was raised everywhere we went,” he revealed, adding that the committee heard about “the ravages that alcohol creates in communities.
Mr Donnelly said despite his frequent Dubbo visits, it was a real eye-opener for himself and his fellow committee members as to how thin any meaningful services are on the ground.
“In summary, there’s just a real dearth of rehabilitation services. If you’ve got addiction, be it drug or alcohol, you really struggle to be able to have your addiction diagnosed.
“(Then people struggle to be ) put into the detoxification, then into proper rehabilitation, but even if you get through the rehabilitation, and this is tragic, the follow-up often is so poor,
“So people pass through the rehab but then there isn’t the regular following-up to ensure that they are able to stabilise their position and remain addiction-free – you have the tragedy of people falling back into it,” Mr Donnelly said.
“There’s much to be done,” he added.
Mr Donnelly described the current situation as one where addicts wo happen to be in a big city like Newcastle, Sydney or Wollongong have access to big hospital facilities and the dedicated resources inside those hospitals for treatment. But outside of those big cities, “it’s pretty thin on the ground”.
“There’s been a lot of work done here over a period of time, especially from Cr Lawrence (ALP state candidate and Dubbo Regional Councillor Stephen Lawrence) and other councillors who’ve seen the need to tackle this,” he said.
Stephen Lawrence is a barrister who has spent years observing magistrates with few options when it comes to getting western sufferers into rehab – he says it’s time for the current state government to commit to the inquiry’s recommendations.
“Dubbo is very lucky to have Greg Donnelly as our Labor duty MLC, which means he has a special responsibility in the Upper House for this community,” Mr Lawrence said.
“Greg works really hard and as chair of the recent inquiry he was able to bring to bear his local knowledge from his regular trips out here – Dubbo was the only area to be singled out in the report for specific recommendations.
“The business case for the rehabilitation centre is now with Troy Grant (Member for Dubbo) and we await news on whether the state government will be funding it. It will simply be a tragedy it we miss out again,” Mr Lawrence said.
Dubbo Photo News has been told it’s not just the Labor opposition pushing for these services in Dubbo. Local police and other government agencies have held the consistent line that there’s a huge need for drug and alcohol detox and rehab services in this part of the state.
Mr Donnelly said innovative arrangements like the Koori Courts and the Drug Court model work well elsewhere and should be established in Dubbo too. The model should require both the addict and the system to acknowledge the addiction, and then allow the person to be treated for that – including participating in rehabilitation. The model should also provide guidelines on how any penalties are applied, depending on the result with each individual.
“It’s not that this issue has just arisen in the last 12 months or two years, it goes back many years and we’re all sort of scratching our heads asking, ‘Why hasn’t something happened?’
“It’s not that people don’t know about it, it’s not that people have not been talking about it, so surely there’s got to be something done,” Mr Donnelly said.
“In the context of Indigenous communities, how do we get them to come to terms with how this is something they have to face up to and deal with? (The problem) has to be confronted by working with community leaders, the elders, to work with the younger ones and getting them to turn away from this,” he said.
Greg Donnelly, left, serves in the state’s Upper House and represents the opposition on matters relating to the electorate of Dubbo. He's pictured with Dubbo Regional councillor and Labor Candidate for the state seat of Dubbo, Stephen Lawrence. PHOTO: DUBBO PHOTO NEWS.