NT drunk tanks cost millions

IT CAN cost taxpayers more than $26,000 for a single person to be treated for alcohol abuse in Katherine, in just six months.

While Katherine has to send people addicted to alcohol to Katherine or Alice Springs for treatment, the Katherine six-bed Mandatory Alcohol and Rehabilitation Service Unit at the hospital spent $3.4m on assessments in the past three years.

The high cost of the former CLP government’s controversial Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Program was released by the NT Department of Health today.

Assessment and mandatory treatment services were initially established in Darwin, Nhulunbuy, Katherine, Tennant Creek, and Alice Springs.

The services in Nhulunbuy were discontinued in 2014, and the treatment service in Tennant Creek was discontinued in January 2016.

Assessment services remain in Tennant Creek and are delivered from the hospital, which is also the case in Katherine.

Darwin and Alice Springs have standalone assessment centres.

The Katherine Mandatory Alcohol and Rehabilitation Service Unit has a capacity of six beds (three male and three female).

The MARS unit in Katherine is located within Katherine Hospital, in a pre-existing ward that was made into a secure ward for the purpose of AMT.

Numbers being treated fluctuate but in one reporting period between January and July in 2015, Katherine treated 18 people.

Katherine clients who receive mandatory residential treatment orders need to travel to either Darwin or Alice Springs. The Darwin service doesn’t take clients on the weekend, and consequently Katherine clients may stay in the MARS Unit over the weekend for transporting on the Monday.

Health Minister Natasha Fyles said the evaluation was commissioned by the former CLP government in 2015.

"The CLP scrapped the Banned Drinker Register and replaced it with a program that didn't work," Ms Fyles said.

"As promised at the election, we are bringing back an improved BDR on September 1."

The report shows the AMT that started in July 2013 was a costly program that delivered minimal long term gains for the relatively few people who participated.

The former CLP Government tried to reduce alcohol-related harm by directing problem drinkers to mandatory treatment options.

“We’ve listened to concerns from experts and community that rehabilitation has to be offered on a voluntary basis.

“In line with our election promise we are transitioning from the AMT to the Banned Drinker Register.

“Problem drinkers will be banned from buying takeaway alcohol and diverted to a range of therapeutic and wrap-around services.

“We welcome the release of this Independent evaluation carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers Indigenous Consulting (PIC) and Menzies School of Health Research over a 12 month period.

“All 28 recommendations have been broadly accepted by Department.”

The Northern Territory (NT) has for many years had the highest rates of alcohol related problems in Australia with alcohol consumption rates per capita in excess of the national level since the 1980s, and Territorians reported to be consuming alcohol at 1.5 times the national average.

This is the case for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups (1.7 times and 1.5 times the national average respectively)7.

The per capita alcohol consumption of the NT is reported to be the second highest in the world, estimated at 15.1 litres of pure alcohol per year per capita, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders consuming approximately 16.9 litres.