Drug and alcohol roundup: health issues

silhouette of person drinking wine

Recently the fifth IGCD Stakeholder Forum was held in Melbourne. Delegates from around Australia participated in discussions that would shape the policy on how we would manage drug use for the next five to ten years.

The Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs manages the ongoing work of the National Drug Strategy. The committee is a Commonwealth, state and territory government forum of senior officers who represent health and law enforcement agencies in each Australian jurisdiction and New Zealand, as well as representatives of the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

The committee provides policy advice to relevant ministers on drug-related matters, and is responsible for implementing policies and programs under the National Drug Strategy framework.

National Workforce Strategy was discussed at length and Professor Anne Roche highlighted some key issues. She spoke at length about interjurisdictional differences in jobs and patterns of service delivery as well as the opportunity for shared resource development within and beyond Australia.

Prof Roche also spoke of the aging workforce in this sector and recruitment and retention issues that were echoed many times during the day. This especially was seen as a problem because of the inconsistent funding models that see these jobs as insecure with poor career paths.

Funding was a recurring theme at the IGCD Forum, especially for people on short-term contracts and not knowing if the contract will be continued.

Pharmacy as a sector often relies on the support of specialist drug and alcohol services. It is often hard for pharmacists to know who can be reliably called upon to assist with demanding or challenging clients.

As a result, some pharmacists may avoid interaction rather than risk being in a situation where they feel they have no support when they need it most.

Professor Peter Miller spoke about Alcohol and Family Domestic Violence. He said that 41% of FDV was alcohol related and if alcohol was involved the outcomes were always worse.

He cited two very interesting international examples that have both positively impacted on FDV.

He talked about Brazil where trading hours to purchase alcohol were decreased to midnight. He also mentioned Canada, where increasing the minimum price of alcohol by 10% also brought about positive change.

These ideas seemed to resonate strongly with the participants.

Law Enforcement was addressed in one specific example by Detective Inspector Robert Alison from NSW. He spoke of Kings Cross being the Wild West with every buck’s night in Sydney ending up at the Cross with disastrous carnage, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

The huge changes that included the 130am lockout since February 2014 has seen the Cross transformed. The mood for this to be replicated across the country was palpable.

Pre-lockout, 70 police were deployed to the Cross per weekend, now it is only 24. A huge reduction in alcohol fuelled assaults has changed Kings Cross.

National Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Drug Strategy was discussed by Scott Wilson and Ted Wilkes. Both spoke of problems in their community with alcohol and the lack of funding and continuity of care.

It was clear the gap has not yet been closed and the re-focusing of attention and funds was critically needed to address the problems in this special community.

Australian College of Emergency Medicine was represented by A/Professor Diana Egerton-Warburton. She presented some very interesting results of a survey that included 2000 doctors and nurses from various Emergency Departments in Australia and New Zealand. Just that number is very powerful!

Her research exposed some alarming statistics with regard to ED staff around alcohol fuelled confrontations.

  • 98% had suffered verbal aggression from drunk patients in the last 12 months;
  • 92% had experienced violence or physical threats from drunk patients in the last 12 months;
  • 88% said the care of other patients was negatively affected by drunk patients in the ED;
  • 87% said they had felt unsafe due to the presence of a drunk patient while working in ED; and
  • 94% said drunk patients in the ED had a negative effect on the workload of ED staff.


No work environment should produce statistics like these. How can people continue to present for work faced with these conditions and would they be acceptable at the local branch of your bank?

As we know it is not only ED that works under such pressure and it is important to recognize that many pharmacies are also often placed in very difficult situations. I suspect if a similar survey was conducted with a pharmacy cohort the results may be just as disturbing.


By Angelo Pricolo

Angelo Pricolo is a member of the Pharmaceutical Society Harm Minimisation Committee and a National Councilor with The Pharmacy Guild of Australia. He was the only pharmacist at the IGCD Forum.

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