The Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs

Correction: In the version of the below article sent with the June APSAD newsletter, IDRS was incorrectly spelt out as the Intellectual Disability Rights Service instead of the Illicit Drug Reporting System. We apologise for this error and the corrected article is included below.


Western Australia Representative Update

Hello from the state with a never-ending summer, where we have only just seen the start of some wind, rain and storms that never come. I look at the weather map each day, then shiver in comradery with many of you as I step out into the winter sun.

A significant change is coming for the alcohol and other drug (AOD) sector in WA.

As of 1 July 2024, a new Office of Alcohol and Other Drugs will be established. The Office will sit inside the Mental Health Commission and be responsible for influencing future policy and strategy to strengthen action on AOD issues across Western Australia.

The establishment of the Office was a result of the 2022 Independent Review of the WA Health System Governance, which found AOD governance needed improvement. It recommended dedicated leadership, stronger accountability and better collaboration on planning, funding and performance, transparency and impactful leadership. In response, a package of reforms was announced that included establishing a working group to consider optimum governance arrangements for AOD into the future and to respond to calls and concerns from the sector to lift the prominence and profile of the AOD sector within the Mental Health Commission.

The Cook Government is also clear in their commitment to decreasing the harm associated with alcohol and other drugs, and to elevate the focus on AOD within the health and mental health systems.

Great segway, as I am excited to be sitting on the steering committee for the Development of the National Practice Standards, an initiative that aims to support AOD services and practitioners in providing evidence-based support to clients with co-occurring mental health conditions, driven by the fabulous Dr Christina Marel and the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use. I have assisted in identifying WA steering committee candidates and it is exciting to see so many key WA AOD agencies leading the charge, who conscientiously implement WA state practice standards and developing AOD strategies and frameworks, aiming to provide clients with a one doorway access, clear supported referral pathways and recognition that mental wellbeing needs to encompass all aspects of the person.

My ‘baby’ of take-home naloxone is never far, so I am really pleased to see the latest Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System and Illicit Drug Reporting System reports showing that Western Australians who use heroin and other drugs have increased awareness of naloxone availability and have been trained to use it (I may have trained the odd few over the last 10 years). The percent reporting ever using naloxone to resuscitate someone who had overdosed significantly increased to 44%, with 24% of participants having done so in the past year.


WA update

Staying with naloxone, the 2023 Council of Ambulance Authorities Awards for Excellence awarded the National Excellence in Clinical Practice award to St John Ambulance WA (SJAWA) for the groundbreaking first, and only of its kind in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere, ‘Leave behind naloxone’ Project. A joint initiative between the Mental Health Commission and SJAWA, to provide a clinical model of patient centred care and safety net for vulnerable people who use opioids and refuse transport to hospital, which saw the State Operations Centre adapt its call taking processes, clinical guidance and internal systems protocols and implement the ability to ‘leave behind naloxone’. This initiative has reduced opioid related harms and deaths in WA and has seen other positive outcomes including reduced need for police attendance at overdose; a reduction in ambulance transportation to emergency departments (ED) at peak times, which aides a return of ambulances to respond to the community; positive relationship building between SJAWA and people at risk of overdose and community resilience building.

We have the annual WA Addiction Symposium in October 2024, where I will be presenting on the topical landscape of novel and counterfeit benzodiazepines, the second highest drug class being detected at Australian drug checking services. With novel opioids also increasing in detections, it will be an important harm reduction conversation for doctors, pain specialists and pharmacists to consider with patients.

The Emerging Drugs Network Australia (EDNA) is very pleased to announce that it will be contributing data to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). EDNA is a national toxicosurveillance and reporting system of illicit and emerging drugs involved in ED presentations. The key benefit is its capacity to improve detection, monitoring and tactical responses to emerging drug-related threats in the community via rapid laboratory confirmed toxicology data. Dr Jess Soderstrom – Royal Perth Hospital Head Toxicologist and ED physician, notes that since EDNA commenced in Western Australia in April 2020, it has detected a total of 476 novel psychoactive substances across 306 ED presentations, including 46 different types of novel benzodiazepines, designer stimulants and psychedelics, synthetic cannabinoids and more recently, novel opioid detections involved in ED presentations and deaths across multiple states.

The EDNA national network, together with expanded and additional state-based toxicosurviellance systems (EDNA-Victoria and the New South Wales Prescription, Recreational and Illicit Substance Evaluation program), have commenced contribution of novel psychoactive substance detections from ED presentations across six Australian states to the UNODC SMART Forensics. SMART Forensics provides science-based responses to drug-related challenges by identifying and communicating emerging global drug-related threats to relevant stakeholders worldwide through its early warning system. This is the first time Australia has developed the scientific and collaborative capacity to contribute this type of information to the UNODC’s global surveillance network.

I look forward to seeing you all at the APSAD Symposium in Melbourne, I will bring my umbrella!


Grace Oh

Western Australia APSAD Council Representative
Australian Drug Education & Consultancy, Perth, Australia