National Drug Strategy
National Drug Strategy

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10 Dec 2010

Submission by Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia (Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia)

Introduction and Mission

The Draft National Drug Strategy 2010-2015: A framework for action on alcohol, tobacco, illegal and other drugs provides a comprehensive framework for future actions in reducing the impact of drugs in Australian society. There is a glaring omission however: the particular needs of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

Maggie Brady, in her book “Indigenous Australia and Alcohol Policy: Meeting difference with indifference” published in 2004, noted that national policy-makers had become increasingly uncertain about how they should deal with Aboriginal issues within national strategic documents, and that this uncertainty had led to “a virtual exclusion of Indigenous interests and special needs from mainstream documents with a national focus” (p.42). This draft strategy shows that this problem has not been resolved, but there remains an opportunity in this strategy to overcome what Brady calls the indifference stemming from difference.

There are passing references to the Aboriginal population in the draft document. On page 9, Aboriginal people are included in a list of dot points under the heading “disadvantaged populations” but the brief mention only refers to the high rates of smoking tobacco and risky levels if drinking. There is nothing to suggest that other drugs may be having a disproportionate impact on Aboriginal families and communities. It is worth noting that in all the other listed “disadvantaged populations” (unemployment, homelessness, poverty, family breakdown, regional and remote areas, mental illness, prison, culturally and linguistically diverse, and people with multiple and complex needs) Aboriginal people are disproportionately represented. Yet there is little in the actions further in the document which addresses the particular needs of Aboriginal people.

Evidence base and Performance measures

The actions to deal with supply reduction, demand reduction and harm reduction in Aboriginal communities should involve Aboriginal organizations. The Assessing Cost-Effectiveness in Prevention (ACE-Prevention) Study recently published by the University of Queensland estimated that prevention activities to improve the health of Aboriginal people are up to fifty percent more effective if delivered by Aboriginal community-controlled health services, compared to services delivered by mainstream organizations.

Governance

The multiple problems caused by the misuse of alcohol and other drugs are usually be the most important issues affecting health and wellbeing raised by Aboriginal families and communities. High rates of illegal drugs are a problem in all geographical areas of Aboriginal Australia, from metropolitan to the most remote communities (although the drugs of choice or availability may vary across these areas). The misuse of prescription drugs is also a significant, if more hidden, problem. Aboriginal disadvantage and poor health status will continue unless there are specific actions taken to reduce these impacts. Given this, the strategy should outline particular actions to help Aboriginal communities address these problems.

When the exclusion of Aboriginal interests in documents such as this is pointed out to policy-makers, the usual response suggests that there is often an assumption that these interests are being met in other strategies or by other sections of government. In the area of alcohol and other drugs, this is emphatically not the case. The COAG Indigenous Health National Partnership provides funding for tobacco control, but alcohol and other drugs have been ignored. The National Drug Strategy represents an opportunity to redress the imbalance. It must not be missed.

In the draft strategy, each “objective” has a number of actions listed as dot points. Each objective has relevance for Aboriginal people, so is not unreasonable to suggest that there should be at least one dot point under each objective which specifically addresses the particular need of Aboriginal people.

Other comments

The Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia appeals to the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy to revise the draft strategy to address the concerns raised above. The Australian government is committed to closing the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal mortality rates, but this will not happen unless the particular impacts of alcohol, tobacco, illegal and prescription drugs in Aboriginal communities are appropriately managed. The opportunity to use the National Drug Strategy to facilitate this still exists, and must be grasped. Indifference will perpetuate the problem.

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