By Michael Giles

WE appreciate that emergency services, community services, health and mental health professionals have been overwhelmed by demand for their support since the spread of the ice epidemic.
We’re not supposed to call it an ‘epidemic’ anymore.
And we’re supposed to acknowledge that alcohol still generates the most substance abuse problems.
But when one-in-nine drivers tested for illicit drugs over the Grand Final Friday Long Weekend, returned a positive result, it’s just another indication of how serious the issue has become.
We also appreciate that health professionals and emergency service personnel have been made to bear the brunt of the out-of-control behaviour that ice addicts often display.
And that they have withdrawn their services as a result.
But when a change in government policy makes matters worse, we’re entitled to say so.
Such is the case with the decision by the previous state government to “streamline” intake, assessment and drug referral procedures by forcing addicts, and worse, students with developing drug problems, to go through an additional layer of bureaucracy before they can get help.
Not only that, in changing the assessment and referral system back in September last year, the government also cut funding to local community health services, like the ones in Wonthaggi and Leongatha, in favour of centralised assessment hubs in places like Traralgon (for the whole of Gippsland), Ballarat, Bendigo and Shepparton.
At the time, local community health agencies warned of delays and also of the problems associated with trying to cover wide geographic areas.
They weren’t listened to but their fears have materialised.
Students who contact school welfare officers with problems and addicts who decide they need help to halt their downward spiral are being made to wait four weeks or more for the assessment process to take its course, even when they could see a counsellor in their own area immediately.
The blame for the change has been sheeted home to the previous government but the present Andrews Government has had more than enough time to do something about it.
While the addicts are waiting for the assessment process, they are still potentially inflicting themselves on the community and their own families while suffering the torment of an addiction that they’ve finally decided to do something about.
With kids, when they ask for help, they need to be able to get it immediately, we all know that.
Even with a system that is overloaded, these sorts of bureaucratic bottlenecks cannot be tolerated.