An increasing prevalence of people injecting the drug ice is putting more regional frontline workers under pressure.
Ballarat Community Health harm minimalisation coordinator Pauline Molloy said travel was a big hurdle in tackling the surge for both those seeking help and for health workers needing support in the field.
Ms Molloy said ice, the crystalline form of methamphetamine, was a public health issue and injecting the drug was creating a whole new set of risks to those who smoke it. Physically, this included risk of blood-borne virus and harm risks for injecting under side effects of the drug, like blurred vision and constricted veins.
BCH teamed with health safety organisation Penington Institute to better equip the region’s workers in adapting techniques to ice users for needle and syringe programs, known as NSPs or needle exchange.
The program, Injecting Ice in the Country – Healthier Approaches, was designed with regional health workers’ input and needs in focus.
Ms Molloy said NSPs were not about promoting drug use but recognising a need to make it safer and a chance to intervene and refer people to other appropriate health professionals.
But Ms Molloy said there was often a strong stigma in rural and regional areas in people seeking help from NSPs, especially with more country users tending to be employed than city users.
People often think drug users are just 'inner-city' and we know they're not...The country has issues and needs back-up
Training was aimed at determining the best response from health workers, considering the wide varying mental and physical conditions of clients. For example, when highly stimulated and with difficulty concentrating, to those depleted and disoriented in withdrawal.
Penington Institute project lead Crios O’Mahony is rolling out the program across regional Victoria under the state government’s ice action plan.
“(Injecting ice) is a growing issue in the country and often doesn’t get the level of support as in the city,” Mr O’Mahony said. “People often think drug users are just 'inner-city' and we know they're not...The country has issues and needs back-up.”
A Penington report finds ice use in regional Victoria is almost double Melbourne consumption.