'Proactive approach' crucial to battle toll of ice in Tamworth
A Tamworth health worker who witnesses first-hand the devastating toll addictions can take on people from all walks of life has called for policy and funding to be more proactive.
In the 12 months until September 2019, there were 236 incidents of drug-related offences in Tamworth.
For the same period, there were 206 incidents in Armidale.
Jessica Toole, team leader at Rosalie House, said drugs are a growing problem for the region that needs to be addressed in a multi-faceted approach.
"Alcohol addiction has probably been the most predominate in what we've seen," she said.
"However, there has been a considerable spike in ice, so it is something we see more and more often.
"I think a lot of things have changed with the production of drugs and ice is the one that's there, and it can be easy to get."
Rosalie House is a non-residential, community-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation program for people in the Tamworth region.
Ms Toole said while tackling a drug or alcohol addiction is the common thread among clients, there is no one demographic that stands out.
"It's a cross-section, we work with people from all different areas," she said.
"There is a high stigma that everyone that would be coming to this service is poor or from one area of town.
"We get different ages; we get different social-economic statuses, people from different areas in the community."
Ms Toole said one of the biggest challenges when it comes to tackling the issue is misconceptions held by other members of the community and that, although Tamworth is a city, the small-town mindset.
Fear of judgement prevents a lot of people from accessing help she added.
For those reasons, Ms Toole said it's an incredibly huge step for someone to say 'I need help'.
"They should be able to do that without worrying if they are seen walking in the door of a program," she said.
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Another challenge for regional and rural areas is providing services for across wide geographical areas.
"We can be inundated, and we can have waitlists," Ms Toole said.
"Sometimes, when a person experiences hopelessness, they have a small window of change, and if we don't get into that window, we can miss helping that person."
Ms Toole said transport could also be a barrier for someone trying to get help.
"We don't have public transport like the big cities," she said.
"Some of them are walking from the other side of town to come to this program."
In 2018, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced an inquiry to investigate the nature, prevalence and impacts of ice and other ATS in NSW; the adequacy of current measures to target crystal methamphetamine and other illicit ATS; and options to strengthen NSW's response to crystal methamphetamine and other illegal ATS, including law enforcement, education, treatment and rehabilitation responses.
The report was delivered to the government by commissioner Professor Dan Howard in January, but the government has not publicly shared its findings.
Ms Toole said she hopes the government uses the report to be more "proactive" in its approach to tackling the problem.
"All areas should have a detox service, the closest one is Armidale, and there's still waitlists," she said.
"We need long-term funding contracts because we are going year by year, which has no stability or consistency.
"So if we are going up for another tender, someone else could get it which is fine but then the client then that has to learn a whole new service, and meet a whole new set of people."
Ms Toole said it is also crucial that other factors - such as mental health and social situations - are acknowledged in solutions.