State opposition MPs have slammed the state government’s decision to reduce funding for the WA Methamphetamine Helpline by $154,000.
The funding decision means the number of funded counsellor shifts per week will be reduced from 75 to 65.
The helpline is operated by the Mental Health Commission’s Alcohol and Drug Support Service counselling team. A commission spokesperson said in the last two years, its helpline received 21,000 contacts from Western Australians seeking support.
“The Meth Helpline contacts equate to about 10 per cent of all contacts to the service,” they said.
“If a call is missed, the caller has the option of leaving a message and they will be called back.”
Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said the funding cut was extremely concerning.
“This is a crucial service, implemented under the previous government, as central to fighting this epidemic,” she said.
“We are in the midst of a meth crisis and this government has turned it back on our community. This will put further pressure on regional providers in the Busselton and outer regions.
“The local member for Bunbury, who sits on the Methamphetamine Taskforce, by his own admission today (July 9) said he was unaware that this funding had been cut.”
Bunbury MLA Don Punch said it was important to remember the service was being maintained and the helpline remained available to those who needed it.
“As soon as I became aware of this reduction in funding I requested further details from the Minister for Health to understand this decision and any impacts it may have on the service,” he said.
“I believe the impact of this change to the helpline will be minimal, both in terms of demand on service providers and community access to services.
“Much of the work undertaken by the helpline is referrals to other service agencies, so I don’t believe changes to counsellor hours is going to result in significant additional demand for community based services.”
Mr Punch said he was committed to advocating for the community services sector and the work they do to support people dealing with addiction.
“In my community we are fortunate to have a number of excellent community service organisations working with individuals and families experiencing the impacts of meth addiction and I believe in many instances these organisations are the first place people in Bunbury reach out to for support,” he said.
“There will always be an important role to be played by helplines and I will be letting the Minister know of my belief it is essential the WA Methamphetamine Helpline continues to be available to people who don’t know where else to turn, and the resources available to the helpline should be commensurate with the level of need for the service in the community.”
Health and Mental Health minister Roger Cook said the helpline’s call volume would be closely monitored.
“We are confident that support will continue to be available for those who seek it,” he said.
Mental Health shadow minister Sean L’Estrange echoed Ms Mettam’s concerns.
He said there was no indication the number of meth users in WA was going down.
“As recently as April this year, WA was given the unenviable title of ‘Ice State’ when wastewater tests revealed our state had the highest level of meth use in Australia,” he said.
“The report by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission also showed that meth use in WA was increasing, while the rest of the nation’s rates of use had either stabilised or declined.
“The government’s Methamphetamine Action Plan Taskforce report identified that people found it difficult to know where to go when seeking help and that the system was complex and difficult to navigate. The Meth Helpline addresses these issues by providing an invaluable first point of contact for many people who do not know where else to find help.”