27 Oct 2017 Wangaratta Chronicle, Wangaratta VIC (General News) by Shane Douthie T he Rural City of Wangaratta might well be in the running for a drug rehabilitation facility due to be established in the Hume region, but it will need community support to get it. The lack of a local residential rehabilitation centre was a repeated concern raised in The Chronicles Ice Community Campaign by those working at the coal face dealing with drug issues, but Wangaratta has consistently missed out on State Government funding to address the problem. The government announced in May this year that funding was available to purchase land for a $9.7m drug rehabilitation facility for the Hume region. The Chronicle understands that Jaclyn Symes (MLC, Northern Victoria), who is currently overseas on parliamentary committee duties and unavailable for comment, has been advocating for land to be purchased in Wangaratta but Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley would only confirm that a location and time frame for the new facility had still not been confirmed. The government recognises the impact of drugs and alcohol in rural and regional Victoria and is currently planning for a new residential rehabilitation facility in the Hume region to make sure local families can have their loved ones battling addiction treated locally, he told The Chronicle. The department is working to identify a suitable location for the facility. This decision will be based on key criteria which includes levels of community need, current treatment access and planning considerations. B ut local politicians agree that for Wangaratta to have a chance of being chosen for the facility, the community would have to back the concept. Tim McCurdy (MLA, Ovens Valley) said he was working with Steph Ryan (MLA, Euroa) and Emma Kealy (Opposition spokesperson on Mental Health) to have policies that will support more rehabilitation services throughout regional Victoria. Of course we all want these services in our home town and that is the aim but remember, Odyssey House services people from outside our area so even a rehab in say Horsham or Baimsdale for example would still free up services at Mollyulah, Mr McCurdy said. I intend to have dollars on the table for increased rehabilitation centres if we are elected next November. But if Wangaratta wants a centre they must lobby both sides of government. The sensitivities and the stigma that goes with having a rehab centre in a local neighbourhood can hold up progress for years, whereas an extension to current facilities may be a better option. Communities need to want a rehab facility and not feel they have been burdened by a government decision. Cathy McGowan (MHR, Indi) agreed the region needed more rehabilitation facilities. Odyssey House is the only residential rehabilitation facility in the electorate, she said. The funding of such a facility is a state matter but Im very happy to work with the Wangaratta Local Drug Action Team (LDAT) to lobby for an additional rehab centre in the electorate. But the community needs to want it; its not a top down decision. For the community to accept such a facility we really need to destigmatise the issue of ice and treatment facilities. Ms McGowan and Mr McCurdy said there needed to be greater awareness of the increased use of ice and its impact in the local community to help destigmatise the issue and to generate more local involvement in helping the solve the problem. There is no doubt that continuing to highlight the problems created by ice to the user, their families, and the effects on the entire community can encourage further government investment in local support and treatment for those affected by problematic drug use, Mr McCurdy said. We have a city-centric government at the moment and we need to ensure that both sides of politics make real local commitments next year. Global promises by the Andrews Government have not made it to the North East. The $45 million package to fight the war on ice seems to only be fighting in Melbourne. Mr Foley said residents from the Wangaratta region were also able to access specialist statewide services, such as residential withdrawal. Through stage three of the Ice Action Plan, the government is providing 960 treatment places for people on community correction orders to get the support they need to get back on their feet, he said. Nine Community Ice Action Groups have also been supported across the Hume region to tackle the impact of ice on their local community, including one Community Ice Action Group in Wangaratta. Ms McGowan said to initiate change or receive funding from governments it was essential for people to get in touch with their MPs. As a result of the articles that have been running in The Chronicle over the last six weeks people have been contacting me; people concerned about the issue or with family members affected by ice, Ms McGowan said. There is nothing wrong in seeking more federal funding but the more the community takes responsibility and drives action locally the better we will be. Mr McCurdy and Ms McGowan both believe that treatment and diversion programs are important for drug and drug-related offenders and imprisonment should not be the main solution. Ms McGowan said she supported the current drug policies in place in Victoria. The most effective action is getting to people before they get into the justice system, she said. We need to help people through education to prevent a problem or reduce it before its too late. Mr McCurdy said a person with a drug problem needed medical support not necessarily jail or corrections orders and that Victorias drug policies needed fine tuning. If as result of being drug affected they commit crimes, then absolutely they need to face the law, he said. If we can support drug users who havent broken the law a treatment centre is the best support we can give. However, the area that needs wholesale changes is when a person commits a crime on drugs, be that alcohol, cannabis, ice or something else, they need to be punished, not be given a slap across the face with a wet lettuce leaf. The minute a persons drug use risks the safety of others then that is when the effort should be made to remove them from our communities. This might be driving while drug affected, violence against another person while on drugs or theft and break and enter due to the influence of drugs. This is where our communities are saying we need to deal with these people and send stronger messages. We owe it to our emergency services to allow them to do their job, not be in fear of their own safety. Licensed by Copyright Agency. You may only copy or communicate this work with a licence.