Supplied Qld Govt

Regional health prepares for $300m ice epidemic funding

NORTH Coast health workers will share in almost $300 million to break the nation's growing addiction to ice.

The federal funding will be coupled with up to $380 million a year for mental health programs in what North Coast Primary Health Network CEO Vahid Saberi says was a "huge philosophical shift".

Mr Saberi was in Canberra on Monday to learn how the money would be rolled out.

He said primary health networks would be funded to create regionally-specific solutions, rather than the traditional drip-down method of programs centralised in big cities.

"This is a major shift in the way Commonwealth funding works," he said.

"They would generally give them to the big metro services to carry out in the outpost regional areas.

"Often quite a lot of it is lost on the way and they don't quite understand the reality of regional areas.

"Our solutions might be completely different from those in the Hunter or North Queensland because health is not formulaic."

Ice arrests surged by 40% in Tweed-Byron over the two years to June, earning it the seventh highest per capita rate of possession charges out of the state's 28 regions.

Coffs-Clarence police saw a 14% increase over the same period.

The National Ice Taskforce's final report, released on Sunday, suggested there were more than 200,000 methamphetamine users across Australia.

Mr Saberi said existing services such as North Coast drug rehab centre The Buttery, which has waiting lists of up to six months, would be likely recipients once funding was finalised.

"We'll look at The Buttery and expanding our detox programs," he said.

"But there needs to be a lot of prevention work.

"I've had a lot of Aboriginal Medical Service GPs telling me they don't know what to do, that there isn't a treatment.

"The planets have aligned with the State Government coming to the party to establish an ice treatment program in Lismore as well."

The NCPHN held an ice symposium in May, bringing together police, ambulance and health workers and drug and alcohol services.

The group raised about $350,000 of its own money and now employs three officers providing education to schools, families and health service providers.

Mr Saberi said symposium members would be called on again to decide how to spend the new funds, in a planning process he estimated would take six months.

"We don't know home much money we will get," he said.

"But I spoke to (Page MP) Kevin Hogan on Friday and he has been very active to make sure we get the funds that are due to us for our population.

"We will build on the work we've already done."

But any program would have to be flexible enough to handle the arrival of a new drug on the scene.

"The challenge is that ice is a substance. It could be something else in two years," Mr Saberi said.

-APN NEWSDESK



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