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  • Experts criticise alcohol rehab scheme

    Author: AAP

The NT's mandatory alcohol rehab scheme is a 'highly dubious' way to solve public intoxication, say medical experts.

Northern Territory's controversial mandatory alcohol rehabilitation scheme is not cost-effective and may be discriminatory, say medical experts.

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The scheme costs about $27 million annually, but they say alcohol misuse could be reduced more effectively by methods such as interventions involving the supply of alcohol.

Dr Fiona Lander from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston, and Associate Professor Edward Wilkes from the National Drug Research Institute at Perth's Curtin University, said there was little evidence of the scheme's efficacy.

"It is also disturbing that the scheme is openly targeted at `chronic drinkers who are publicly intoxicated' - not all problem drinkers," they wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Indigenous drinkers, who are much more likely to be homeless or itinerant than other Australians, are thus much more likely to be referred to the scheme.

The authors say this may discriminate against Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

The NT has per capita alcohol consumption levels about 50 per cent higher than the Australian average and alcohol-attributable deaths at 3.5 times the national rate.

"The program only permits referral by police, despite the fact that is is ostensibly a medical intervention," they wrote.

"Use of a treatment as a method of effectively solving a public intoxication problem is highly dubious, and should be of concern to the medical community."

No formal evaluation of the program has taken place, with the government only providing "short vignettes containing patients' success stories" and treatment numbers without reference to relapses.

More cost-effective methods could include restrictions on alcohol prices, and the hours and days of alcohol sales, and increasing the capacity of health care organisations to manage alcohol dependence.


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