Centre to ease strain on town

Claire TyrrellCountryman

A dual-purpose drug and alcohol community centre and sobering-up service will be built in Carnarvon in 2013.

The centre, announced on Sunday , would be the first of its kind in WA, and was designed to take pressure off police and hospital services.

WA Mental Health Minister Helen Morton said the facility would provide sobering-up services during night hours and counselling and support services during the day.

"People can use part of the facility for sobering-up, from about 4.30pm until 7.30am, and for the remainder of the day the work that goes on would be around counselling and support and welfare services for people with drug and alcohol addictions," she said.

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Mrs Morton said she realised the need for the service when she visited the regional centre three years ago.

"Some of the cost of the drug and alcohol centre ($500,000) had been languishing in the capital works budget for seven years and the facility hadn't been built because nobody could find the recurrent funding to make it operational if it was built," she said.

"When I came up here three years ago and heard this story, I thought 'this is bloody ridiculous' and made a commitment to the people at the time that I would use what ever influence I had to find the funds to make it operational.

"In becoming a minister about 12 months ago I continued to pursue the issue through Royalties for Regions."

The State Government committed $2.9 million of Royalties for Regions funding for the construction and operation of the centre, on top of $500,000 from the Drug and Alcohol Office.

Currently, sobering-up services in Carnarvon are provided in the police lock-up and/or hospital emergency services.

Mrs Morton said 75 per cent of the work Carnarvon police undertook was alcohol-related and about 12 drunk people were "sobered-up" each week at the station.

"Carnarvon's community drug and service team currently operates out of the old maternity ward of the hospital, which would be demolished and its services replaced by the new centre.

Mrs Morton said the new 10-bed sobering-up service would contribute to her campaign to decriminalise mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction.

"I am sick and tired of drug and alcohol users and people with a mental illness being treated like the dregs of society and taken to second-rate facilities," she said.

"Part of setting up this new facility is to destigmatise drug and alcohol users and provide them with a better facility."

The Minister said mental disabilities and drug and alcohol addiction often went hand-in-hand and their treatment was often part of the same service.

North West MLA Vince Catania said Carnarvon's transient population was part of the reason for its substance abuse problems.

"Carnarvon has a transient Aboriginal population, with people coming inland from Geraldton, Roebourne and Hedland," he said.

"It gets pressures with overcrowding that occurs in a lot of the social housing, which adds to the issue."

There are nine sobering-up facilities set up around the State, but three have been closed due to lack of use.

The new centre is expected to be completed by the latter part of next year.

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