Drug program offers offenders way to break cycle

Tim EdmundsAlbany Advertiser

A fork-in-the-road opportunity is presented to four people to end their cycle of drug -related offending.

It’s Thursday in the Albany Magistrate’s Court and a clear theme of drugs is evident through the court list.

The list of people attending is no different to any other Thursday, which is the main sitting day.

Simple possession of cannabis and methamphetamine and associated paraphernalia to the more serious sell or supply charges and drivers with illicit drugs in their system made up a total of 58 charges last Thursday.

This is an average day where 24 people shared the charges, all with different backgrounds to their offending but some are at the point where they can be assisted.

Sitting at the back of the court wach week, Palmerston diversion officer Gary Parker offers that chance.

Palmerston’s Pre-Sentence Opportunity Program (POP) to assist people with drug-related problems in the court system provides the opportunity for those wanting to escape the drug cycle, according to Mr Parker.

While some make the decision that they need help before they are sentenced, others decline.

“The only people we can help are the ones who want help,” Mr Parker said.

“Those people who are happy to see me, I’m more than happy to see them.

“The skill in my job is assessing their motivation. I will err on the side of giving them the chance or the opportunity.”

Offenders must admit they have a problem, plead guilty to the charges that are likely to result in a fine or community-based sentence and not have an extensive criminal history.

Last Thursday two men caught possessing methamphetamine were referred to the program and two women with cannabis possession charges were also given the all-clear to undertake the treatment program before sentencing.

Another had completed the program and was commended by the magistrate before he was fined $200.

Of Palmerston Great Southern’s average of 600 annual clients only about 10 per cent come through a court diversion program.

“I see the people when they get put on the program and I see people when they come back to court in 12 weeks. The difference in the person’s demeanour, their look ... and the magistrate would note they are looking so much better,” Mr Parker said.

“That’s the way I see it. I look at them and they look different.”

Palmerston Great Southern manager Ben Headlam said 97 per cent of people who accessed the service through court diversions last year completed their treatment as planned, up from 90 per cent in 2015.

Mr Headlam said it was a concern that ice had overtaken cannabis and alcohol as the primary drug of many clients.

“This year we are seeing 40 per cent of our clients in the Great Southern identifying meth as their primary drug of concern,” he said.

“It has been steadily rising and I’m not sure how much more it is likely to rise. But that is the primary drug of concern we are dealing with.

“It doesn’t reflect usage rates in the community and in terms of harm to the individual and the community alcohol is still by far the most harmful drug.”

In contrast, 2014 data showed the number of clients using ice was closer to 12 per cent.

In response Palmerston, with the support of the State and Federal governments, has developed a meth-specific program which offers a faster response to individuals, a meth support group for parents and family members, access to programs for families with complex needs and fast-track assessment for residential support.

Two counsellors will be based in the Great Southern, one in Albany and one in Katanning.

“Addiction is addiction and working with people’s addiction is not about the drug they are taking, it’s about what is happening in their lives,” Mr Headlam said.

“People who are using methamphetamine have a different experience to people who are using say alcohol or cannabis, and much of that experience is because there is a perception that exists about methamphetamine in the community and a stigma that is attached to that, so accessing a service like ours that isn’t necessarily catered for, just methamphetamine, can be quite daunting.”

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