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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2711


Senator REID(10.30) —Tonight I want to raise a matter only briefly. I cannot possibly deal with it at the length it needs to be dealt with. I guess in a sense I am just posing some questions to which I would like answers. I will deal with the question in more detail at some later stage. I see a number of young people from time to time who are, or have been, heroin addicts, some of whom take part in the methadone program at the Woden Valley Hospital and some of whom would like to do so. I ask: On what basis can a person be admitted to the methadone program at the Woden Valley Hospital? What assessment is made of the condition of the addict at the time he presents himself to become a member of the program? Is the degree of addiction at the time assessed so that the amount of methadone that he is given is commensurate with the degree of addiction? At the other end of the scale under what circumstances are people removed from the program, or put off it? Are they taken off in a sufficiently gradual way to see that they do not return to heroin? Is the drug that is being used there, methadone, appropriate for everybody or should some of the other drugs that are available to assist in getting off heroin addiction be used? I believe it is also a question of finding out whether the program is administered merely in accordance with the national methadone program as laid down or whether there is any real support, counselling, care and compassion for these young people to try to assist them to get off their drug addiction and get back into the community.

Stories are presented to me from time to time about the way the program operates at the Woden Valley Hospital. It is difficult for me to assess what I am told. I think it is time that we gave some thought and consideration to the future of some of these young people, many of whom, I believe, genuinely want to get rid of the addiction and in a sense, return to society. I ask: How long does it take for the methadone dose to be administered? I hear stories of people having to spend so much time at the hospital that it is impossible for them to have a job as well because they can never get to work on time. If that is the case, can we not work towards having a program whereby they could go to the hospital at, say, 7.30 and still go to work at 9 o'clock, instead of their treatment at the hospital taking up half the day? Some of those people believe they could have jobs if the program were administered more sympathetically. In a sense they have become slaves to the hospital by having to go there to get their methadone dose.

I fully appreciate the problems that could arise by the drug being administered in another way-it could be used for bartering and trade-but we are creating a situation whereby those people do become slaves to the hospital. I am told that it is not easy for them to come to an arrangement whereby they can leave Canberra, even for a weekend. I would like to know more about the program: How many people are on it and to what extent is counselling and sympathetic and understanding support given to the people who are participating in it? In particular, what are the steps taken when anyone is removed from the program; what is the basis of their removal; is it done in such a way that we can be reasonably certain that there is no likelihood of their going back on to heroin almost immediately?

I am told by young people in Canberra that one can obtain the drug easily. It has been said to me several times that if I gave them the money they could be back with it in 15 minutes. I certainly have no intention of doing that. Equally , I have no reason to doubt that perhaps, unfortunately, that is the case. This situation is partly responsible for the fact that the incidence of petty crime is growing in this and other areas. It is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Are we running programs that encourage young people to take part to try to get off the habit? Is that part of what we are trying to do? Merely cutting out heroin and fighting the problem in that way is not sufficient. As I said, a lot more is involved in evaluating whether or not a methadone program is the right program. After three nights of sitting, tonight is not the time to try to develop or debate the matter. However, I wanted to raise it so that I can perhaps pursue the questions I have raised later, I think we need to show some care and concern for young people who have, for one reason or another, got themselves into this unfortunate situation.