The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) has expressed disappointment there is little evidence of new investment in the alcohol and other drugs (AOD), blood borne virus (BBV) and sexually transmissible infection (STI) sectors to address additional demand and challenges for service delivery associated with COVID-19.
In the 2019 Health Budget, AIVL welcomed the Australian Government’s announcement of an additional $45.4 million over four years, commencing in 2019-20, to step up public health prevention and promotion activities around BBVs and STIs to deliver on the goals of the National BBV and STI Strategies,” said Melanie Walker, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AIVL.
“However, we note that majority of this funding is yet to be allocated to any activities, despite the obvious challenges in staying on top of prevention and treatment priorities in the context of COVID-19.
“In addition, while access to AOD treatment services has at times been restricted in light of COVID-19, there doesn’t seem to be any significant additional investment in these services to address COVID-19 related bottlenecks and increased demand,” she said.
That said, the Health Budget papers do contain some good news for people who use/have used drugs in a broader sense, with significant investments in the areas of mental health, telehealth and new PBS listings for liver cancer. There are also several NHMRC grants to projects relating to hepatitis C (including in custodial contexts) and methamphetamine use.
“In summary, while we are happy that the funding for BBV/STI initiatives announced in last year’s Health Budget still stands, that money needs to flow if it’s to do any good, particularly in light of the additional pressures and constraints on services due to COVID-19. Also, we already knew that between 200,000–500,000 Australians were being turned away from drug treatment each year due to a lack of capacity in the sector before COVID-19.1
“With temporary service closures, rising unemployment and additional pressures arising from the pandemic, it’s likely that those numbers are even greater now. It’s important that frontline services are able to keep up with demand and AIVL was hoping to see additional investment in these key areas in 2020,” Ms Walker said.
AIVL is the national organisation representing people who use/have used illicit drugs and is the peak body for the state and territory peer-based drug user organisations.
Jake Docker, CEO, AIVL – email email@example.com
1 National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (2014) New Horizons: The review of alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia