Government's drug testing plan slammed by medical experts, compared to mooted Kremlin HIV strategy

| 03.10,19. 04:54 AM |


Government's drug testing plan slammed by medical experts, compared to mooted Kremlin HIV strategy


Photo: The Government is pushing to drug test welfare recipients in certain areas of the country. (Jonathan Beal: ABC)


A push to drug test welfare recipients has been described as "damaging and punitive" by addiction specialists, with one declaring it sends "a shiver down my spine".


The Federal Government wants to revive a plan to test about 5,000 new recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance for drugs including ice, heroin and cocaine in three trial locations.


Anyone testing positive would be placed on income management for two years, or for the length of the trial.


The idea was first proposed in 2017, but failed to pass Parliament.


A number of drug experts and welfare groups have spoken out against the bill since it was first flagged.


Martin Lloyd-Jones, from St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne's Department of Addiction Medicine, told a Senate inquiry he did not understand why the Government was pursuing the plan.


"I have to state it remains enigmatic why a bill continues to be championed when on each previous occasion it has been comprehensively opposed by the medical profession," Dr Lloyd-Jones said.


"Rather than focusing its efforts on these damaging and punitive drug testing trials, the Government's focus should be on providing access to treatment, when and wherever it is needed."


Dr Lloyd-Jones said the proposed $10 million to boost drug-treatment services in the trial sites would do little to help those dealing with addiction.


"Currently the AoD [alcohol and other drug] workforce, as you have heard today, cannot meet the demand for people actively seeking treatment, so I have to ask, who will provide this additional treatment, and where will it be?"


Clinical associate professor Adrian Reynolds from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians said the plan would be both ineffective and harmful.


"I once worked with the United Nations in Russia — here they were going to test everyone for HIV/AIDS, and those who came up positive were going to be placed on an island," he said.


"This reminds me of that experience 20 years ago.


"It does send a shiver down my spine."


In a statement, a spokeswoman for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston criticised the comments.


"It is disappointing to note the fearmongering around the Government's proposed drug testing trial," Ms Ruston said.


"The trial is a genuine attempt to help unemployed Australians overcome substance abuse, which is a barrier to work."


Key stakeholders left in the dark by Government


Several experts who gave evidence at the inquiry said they had not been consulted by the Federal Government prior to the plan being floated in 2017, or even prior to it being revived.


"We wonder as clinicians how the people of Australia would feel if our Parliament had the bright idea of treating cancer or heart disease without consulting cardiologists and oncologists," Dr Reynolds said.


"It feels like that to us. We request the Government give careful reconsideration to what the experts are advising on these matters."


The Mayor of Mandurah, a West Australian council area chosen as a trial site, said he also was not made aware of the plan prior to the Government's announcement.


"We sit here again today having not been consulted further. The first time we read about the fact this was being revisited in the Parliament was in the media," Rhys Williams told the committee.


"There has been no consultation with the local government, and that's disappointing because we've got a better idea of what's happening on the ground than the data being used to determine this is an appropriate trial location will tell you."


The deputy secretary of the Department of Social Services' Social Security Stream, Nathan Williamson, conceded stakeholders were not involved in the initial planning process.


"We did not undertake any consultation prior to the Government's announcement," he told the Senate inquiry.


"It was considered by the Government and then announced."


"In other words, the community's right — there was no consultation about this," Greens senator Rachel Siewert replied.


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