Push for local rehab to take on addiction

Toby HusseyAlbany Advertiser
SAC's Oscar Colbung and Asha Bhat.
Camera IconSAC's Oscar Colbung and Asha Bhat. Credit: Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

Plans for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Albany appear to be moving forward, with the organisation responsible for the plan meeting a third Federal minister earlier this week.

Southern Aboriginal Corporation leaders met with Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt on January 17 to discuss their proposal for a 44-room rehabilitation centre to be built within a 30-minute drive of Albany Health Campus.

Those leaders, SAC manager Oscar Colbung and chief executive Asha Bhat, discussed the plan with the Federal Health and Indigenous Affairs ministers in 2018.

Ms Bhat said addiction was a serious problem in the Great Southern, and the closest rehab facilities — in Esperance and Mandurah — were too far from Albany.

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“Meth is a big issue in this region,” she said. “We want to take the lead to address this issue.”

In 2018 it was revealed methamphetamine use in regional WA was nearly twice the national average, and the highest in Australia.

Wastewater testing by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission showed each day, 65 doses of the drug were taken for every 1000 people in regional WA.

The national average is below 40.

SAC, which represents and provides resources to indigenous people in the Great Southern, has been developing its rehab plan since 2016.

The proposal is SAC’s biggest project ever, and leaders hope to obtain funding commitments at this year’s Federal election. If that can be achieved, SAC plans to have the facility operating by 2021.

The initial 22-bed facility would eventually expand to 44 beds for recovering drug and alcohol addicts.

A detox centre has also been planned, and both would be open to everyone living with addiction.

Under the SAC’s plan, the Commonwealth would entirely fund construction of the facility and share operation costs with the State Government for five years. A land buyer would also need to be sought.

The cost is touted as being as high as $20 million for five years, including construction, but Ms Bhat said the project could create up to 100 jobs.

“This not only helps close the gap, it will benefit the whole community,” she said.

“Some of our clients will come (to us) and have issues with addiction that impact their families: domestic violence, unemployment, homelessness. We want to take the lead to address the issues.”

Aboriginal elder Oscar Colbung said drug addiction was “getting worse” in Albany. “The community has been saying for a long time that it’s getting out of control and we need to do something about it,” he said.

A submission is with the Mental Health Commission.

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