Drug treatment services impacted by COVID

·2-min read

More than 130,000 Australians were treated for alcohol and other drugs during the pandemic, marking a 22 per cent increase over six years, new data shows.

People aged 10 and over were treated for substances like alcohol, amphetamines, cannabis and heroin during 2020 and 2021, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Roughly 62 per cent of these people were male and more than half were aged 20-39.

Of those treated, an estimated one in six identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

Alcohol was the most common principal drug for which people received treatment across the country, while the second most common drug was amphetamines, with the exception of Queensland and the Northern Territory (both cannabis).

The number of people seeking treatment rose from about 114,400 in 2013-2014 to 139,300 during the pandemic, as services went online due to lockdowns and other restrictions.

Meanwhile, demand for certain treatments and the ways in which they were delivered significantly changed during the pandemic.

Some counselling facilities moved to online and telehealth services due to social distancing requirements and other restrictions.

Counselling provided in major cities and inner regional areas increased during the first and second waves of the pandemic from 22,936 in April to June 2020 to 24,443 in July to September 2020.

By contrast, other treatment services requiring tailored physical settings such as rehabilitation, initially decreased.

During the first wave of the pandemic, there was a decrease in treatment episodes for rehabilitation with roughly 3000 in April to June 2020, a drop from 4000 pre-COVID in January to March 2020.

'While there have been changes in the settings and delivery models in response to public health measures, the number of people supported by publicly funded alcohol and other drug treatment services remained steady at 139,300 in 2020-21," AIHW spokesperson Gabrielle Phillips said.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency said there is a disproportionate impact from alcohol and drug-related harm on Indigenous people.

"The government is committed to working in partnership with First Nations peoples to ensure strong communities are maintained and alcohol-related harm is reduced," a spokesperson for the agency said, pointing to $70 million in annual funding for about 75 culturally safe treatment and support services in Australia.

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