THE release of crime statistics for the region this week makes for unsettling reading. To see that police have detected 403 drug offences across the south-west for the year up to March 31 is a stark statistic. Worse is the fact that these offences have risen by almost one-quarter to the previous year.
The statistics also show Warrnambool as the drug capital of the region, with 148 incidents of drug possession, up by nearly half on the previous year, and 48 drug dealing incidents (up by more than 10 per cent).
Police and community groups agree the issue is not simply a crime problem but also a medical and social welfare problem.
One of Warrnambool’s longest-serving officers Senior Sergeant Keogh told The Standard earlier this year that while drug prevention and policing efforts were proving effective, “we’re not winning the struggle of people using drugs”.
“How we’re doing it at the moment without residential rehabilitation – it’s not working. I think the next step we need to go to as a community is residential rehabilitation,” he said.
And it is not as if the people of the south-west don’t get it. The problem is all too real on our doorsteps, in our streets, our workplaces and sporting fields and in our pubs and clubs. Almost $600,000 has been donated to Western Region Alcohol and other Drug Centre (WRAD) to establish The Lookout, a residential rehabilitation centre similar to others now commonplace in most Australian cities and increasingly so in rural and regional areas.
However, while communities appreciate the need for these centres, many are stillborn due to community opposition to their placement in their midst.
The idea of building these centres in established cities, towns and suburbs is to allow recovering addicts to adjust to the responsibilities and realities of regular life, without relapsing to alcohol or other drug use. It is important to note these centres are “abstinence based”, which means people admitted to them must stop the use of all alcohol and other drugs (often including smoking).
The south-west must not squabble over the often unsettling question of exactly where to build The Lookout. After all, the crime statistics show drugs are being abused next door, down the street and around the corner no matter where we live. We must unite over the when and how to find another way to help beat and treat the drug scourge.