Funds for WA Meth Helpline counsellors cut
FUNDING has been quietly slashed to WA’s Meth Helpline, which helps thousands of “ice” users and their families each year, prompting fears many calls will now go unanswered.
Mental Health Commissioner Tim Marney yesterday confirmed the helpline’s budget had been cut by $154,000 for 2018-19.
The cut equates to 10 fewer shifts a week by trained counsellors who answer calls.
The funding reduction to the service, which was a centrepiece of the former Liberal government’s meth strategy, came into effect on July 1 — the same week the Labor Government’s meth action plan task force released its community consultation report.
The Sunday Times has been told the funding cutback had been done without consultation with the sector or public. The Meth Helpline number — 1800 874 878 — remains open, but now with fewer staff to answer calls.
The Alcohol and Drug Support Service, which staffs the Meth Helpline that only launched in September 2016, had its funding increased from $1.1 million in 2015-16 to $1.16 million in 2017-18.
In its first six months of operation, counsellors and volunteers answered more than 3000 meth-related calls, mainly from users and their families.
“Seven trained counsellors are dedicated to providing West Australians with professional advice relating to alcohol and other drug use. This equates to 65 shifts across the service. Prior to the reduction there was 75 shifts,” Mr Marney said.
Mental Health Minister Roger Cook said: “The Meth Helpline is still active and continues to serve the public and the call volumes will be closely monitored.
“We are confident that support will continue to be available for those who seek it.”
A drug support worker, who refers ice users to the helpline, told The Sunday Times the service saved lives and having fewer resources would be damaging.
“There are calls already going unanswered. To help people you’ve got to be ready when they ask for help. It’s a real shame,”the worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.