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Rehab facilities can save lives and improve wellbeing in the regions

When a drug and alcohol rehab facility was announced for Mildura last month, the news was bittersweet for former mayor, Simon Clemence.

His son Geoffrey had struggled for years with addiction to alcohol and other drugs, before tragically taking his own life in November 2019.

In his two terms as mayor of Mildura Rural City Council, Simon had repeatedly pushed for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in the region.

And the new facility is now a major step closer to becoming a reality.

Knowing funding has finally been committed to build the facility, Simon is glad other people struggling with addiction will get the help they desperately want.

“We’d had endless conversations with our son about how devastating problems with drugs were for all of us. He had managed to beat his addiction to ice but sadly his addiction to alcohol had spiralled out of control,” Simon explains.

At the time of her son’s death, Geoffrey’s mother Cheryl Clemence recalls feeling overwhelming anger at the lack of support she felt was available in the region.

If their son had been able to access a drug and alcohol rehab facility in Mildura (the nearest is more than 4 hours away in Bendigo), both Simon and Cheryl believe he could have overcome his addiction.

“Geoffrey tried to stop using drugs. We could see he was ready to change, he wanted to turn his life around. If the right rehab support had been here, there is every chance he would have succeeded and would still be alive today,” Cheryl says.

“No family should have to go through the pain and devastation of losing a loved one to addiction. If we help just one person who is struggling, we will make a difference to the lives of so many others.”

As part of the state Budget last month, the Victorian Government committed $36 million towards the construction of a 30-bed adult residential withdrawal and rehabilitation facility in Mildura. The facility will provide specialist 24-hour care and support for people going through withdrawal or addiction treatment from across the Mallee and north-west region.

The new rehab facility in Mildura will help those experiencing addiction to get the help they need, close to their support networks.

A dependence on alcohol and other drugs can have a devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and their community. Simon and Cheryl are but one of the many families across Victoria impacted by addiction.

Worryingly, evidence shows harmful drug use is growing faster in the regions than in Melbourne.

People living in regional areas are more likely to have used an illicit drug or consumed alcohol at dangerous quantities. In 2019, the rate of unintentional drug-induced deaths per capita in rural and regional Victoria was more than 40% higher than in Melbourne.

Research shows that delaying treatment can undermine the chances of a successful recovery, which means ease of access to services is essential.

And we’ve found that when it comes to accessing drug and alcohol rehabilitation in the regions, there are too few facilities to meet demand, long wait times (commonly over six months) and services are often scarce and unevenly distributed.

For many people, travelling to metropolitan Melbourne or the nearest regional city may be the only option. The distances and costs involved can be a barrier to seeking treatment, particularly if public transport options are limited.

Without affordable and accessible services, more people may end up in emergency departments, hospitalised, or in prison, further contributing to inequality and disadvantage in some areas.

Some people can be treated with regular appointments with doctors or detoxification at home, but these options do not work for everyone. Others require long-term or more structured care, and could also be facing difficult circumstances like poverty or family violence.

Providing communities with well-located and suitable health infrastructure can reduce inequality and help people experiencing addiction to get the help they need, close to their support networks.

Victoria’s infrastructure strategy 2021-2051 recommends that new alcohol and drug rehab facilities be built in regions over the next five years where they are not currently available or planned, including in the Great South Coast, Mallee, Goulburn and Wimmera Southern Mallee.

Research has found that residential rehab and detoxification services are ‘vital to treating the highest severity cases, particularly for methamphetamine addiction’, with 24-hour staffing and treatment programs more likely to be effective over the long-term.

The Victorian Government’s commitment to fund a specialist rehabilitation facility in Mildura is very much in line with our strategy recommendation. We called for facilities to be designed and delivered in consultation with local communities, service providers, and people with lived experience of addiction and mental illness.

Communities in the Great South Coast and Mallee regions in particular need these facilities urgently, given their remote location and distance from other centres.

Our research on addressing regional disadvantage in the Mallee and Great South Coast found that the proportion of people who are clients of mental health services is much higher than the state average. The number of people seeking drug and alcohol treatment is also above average in the Mallee.

Overcoming alcohol and drug dependency is a hard road but providing access to well-located facilities will go a long way to helping Victorian communities get the help they need.

For more on our recommendations to foster Victorians’ health, wellbeing and inclusion, check out Victoria’s infrastructure strategy 2021-2051.

If this story has raised issues about your own or others drug and alcohol use, please contact the national hotline for confidential counselling and referral on 1800 250 015

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36

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