Cuts will hurt recovering addicts

Colac Area Health chief Geoff Iles

RECOVERING heroin addicts will have to travel to Geelong for treatment under plans to cut Colac’s methadone funding.

Colac Area Health’s methadone program, which the Department of Health funds, would end if the department cuts its funding of the service.

Sources have told The Colac Herald the department hopes private clinics would take over the program, with at least one of Colac’s three pharmacies dispensing methadone.

Sources said a departmental letter suggested Colac addicts could travel to Geelong or Melbourne to seek treatment if they were unable to receive methadone in Colac.

But Melbourne would be the only immediate option for addicts not already in Colac’s program.

A spokeswoman for Geelong’s Barwon Health said the organisation was “very aware” of the issue and “any patient with the Colac program will be transferred to the Barwon Health program” where they could receive methadone scripts.

She said new Colac patients wanting to join the program could “experience a waiting list”.

Sources described methadone withdrawal as worse than heroin withdrawal and said there were security concerns for people who went without their medication and for the organisations that dispensed methadone.

Corangamite Clinic manager Andrew Wright

Accredited doctors prescribe methadone and buprenorphine at Colac Area Health to help more than 20 Colac and district opiate-based drug users kick the habit.

Users report to a doctor at the hospital and receive their medication from the pharmacy on site.

The Colac Herald understands Colac’s program would cost the government about $100,000 annually to continue.

Health officials agreed to fund methadone services in Colac about 18 months ago while the department completed a state-wide review of the program.

Community Services Minister Mary Woolridge

Colac Area Health chief Geoff Iles said he had received departmental advice the program could be axed.

Methadone services at Colac Area Health, which started more than eight years ago, will continue until departmental and government health officials make a decision about the program’s future.

Corangamite Clinic’s operations manager Andrew Wright said Colac Area Health officials had told him about the funding cut but he was yet to hear from the department.

Mr Wright said his clinic, which has previously offered the program, would have a review before deciding whether it could offer a methadone program again.

Colac Police, who did not want to comment, were in the dark about the funding cut when The Colac Herald called.

A health department spokesman said bureaucrats would consider the impact methadone changes would have on Colac.

Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge will receive a recommendation from the department about the program’s future.

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