AN alcohol-addicted man so desperate he was found drinking window cleaner after being admitted to a Sydney hospital, is just one example of the types of people who will benefit from a ground-breaking drug and alcohol treatment program at the Orange Health Service.
Mental Health Minister Kevin Humphries recounted the man’s story at the official opening of the eight-bed Involuntary Drug and Alcohol Treatment (IDAT) unit, the first of its kind outside Sydney.
“He was on the road to personal destruction and that’s what this unit is all about,” he said.
“It’s for people who are chronically addicted and at harm of hurting themselves or others.
“The trials have been outstanding and have shown that it’s successful.”
Patients must meet a high-threshold criteria of severe substance addiction before they can be considered for involuntary admission by a magistrate under the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Act, replacing the repealed Inebriates Act.
Mr Humphries said the unit’s clients had reached a point where they were no longer able to consent to treatment.
“It’s really the end of the line,” he said.
“It’s not for general alcoholic treatment, we have staff spread out all around NSW to treat those problems.”
The unit’s director, addiction medicine specialist Dr Barbara Sinclair, said some of the clients suitable for the treatment could have been admitted to emergency departments up to 50 times with withdrawal symptoms, had police called out for incidents where they were drunk and disorderly up to 80 times, and had notched up 12 failed attempts at rehabilitation.
“We’re already starting to get referrals,” Dr Sinclair said.
“I think it will go statewide because there’s huge demand for drug and alcohol addiction.
“For some of these people, if they don’t stop drinking it can be lethal.”
Mr Humphries recounted another case of a chronic alcoholic who had cost the state more than $1 million in repeat hospital admissions and had been through 19 rehabilitation programs.
The new purpose-built Orange facility costs $2.9 million a year to run and accompanies a smaller four-bed facility at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney.
The IDAT unit in Orange can be used by clients from all over the state and is serviced by 20 clinical and support staff.
The first three patients completing the program at present are from Sydney.
“We did not want to build all those beds in the city, it’s part of our decentralisation plan,” Mr Humphries said.
Treatment includes general medical assessment, input from clinical psychologists, group work with other patients and education.
Treatment at the unit begins with a 28-day admission but can be extended a month at a time up to three months in total.
After the patient is discharged, Mr Humphries says a mandatory six-month follow-up program will be managed by the Mental Health Tribunal.
Western Local Health District Mental Health director Dr Russell Roberts said the unit was part of Australian history.
“We anticipate that three months is enough [for treatment],” he said.
“If they’re not going to get better in three months they’re probably not ready for treatment.”
With the opening of the new unit, the Orange Health Service becomes the largest inland health precinct in the southern hemisphere, Mr Humphries said.
Mental health services at the hospital have 450 staff, with a further 100 mental health jobs including doctors, nurses and other support staff to begin in the next 12 months, member for Orange Andrew Gee said.