When it comes to addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal people in criminal justice, out-of-home care, family and domestic violence and homelessness, the missing piece of the puzzle is alcohol and other drug support.
AOD treatment is chronically underfunded, but for every dollar spent on treatment services, we see a $7 return to the community.
AOD intersects with a range of issues affecting the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of our communities. It affects the young and old, individuals and communities.
The primary drugs of concern for Wungening Aboriginal Corporation are methamphetamine and alcohol.
Methamphetamine is the fourth-most used drug among Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people are 1.4 times more likely to abstain from alcohol than non-Aboriginal people. A high percentage of those who drink do so at levels harmful to themselves and others.
Many of the leading causes of death and harm for Aboriginal people stem from AOD misuse.
Similarly, there is a strong association between suicide and harmful AOD use. In Queensland, from 1998-2006, two-thirds of Aboriginal people who took their own lives had consumed alcohol at the time of their deaths, and about a third had used other drugs.
AOD use ultimately stems from the violence and trauma enacted on Aboriginal communities since colonisation.
The introduction of payment to Aboriginal labourers in the form of alcohol and tobacco helped set patterns of AOD misuse. However, the paternalism underlying subsequent forced prohibition served to increase home brewing, illegal purchases and binge drinking.
It also disempowered us by taking away our right to self-determination.
We need solutions that are led by Aboriginal people.
A 2013 report from the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee found services for Aboriginal people should be culturally secure, have strong community engagement, and support Aboriginal control of solutions. There should also be continued support for the capacity building of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation to provide AOD services at a local level.
Fortunately, the Department of Communities in WA has been working to build the capacity of ACCOs. It recognises ACCOs have been the missing link to addressing homelessness, FDV and out-of-home care.
Likewise, the Department of Justice is working with ACCOs to address the over-representation of Aboriginal people incarcerated.
But the missing piece is AOD. Despite the latest announcements of record funding, it won’t be enough.
In 2018, the WA Mental Health Commission estimated AOD community treatment capacity should increase by about 186 per cent. But we haven’t seen any substantive increase since 2017.
In WA, there are two Aboriginal residential rehabilitation services up north, but none in the South West. There is no supported transition between youth AOD and adult integrated services, leaving young people to fall through the gaps between services, and potentially delaying their recovery.
But funding shouldn’t focus solely on prevention and treatment. It needs to support post-treatment — when people are at increased risk of relapsing.
Funding must address the underlying historical and social causes of dependence. AOD misuse underlies the shame and brings to light the trauma that both run deep in our communities.
Together, Wungening and I have dedicated our existence to addressing the over-representation of the Aboriginal community in all these areas and we strive to see our community achieve greater outcomes. Let’s join the dots and have these streams work together.
Lifeline 13 11 14
By Daniel Morrison
Daniel Morrison is the chief executive officer of Wungening Aboriginal Corporation, – www.wungening.com.au