Matt Noffs asks why NSW is dragging its heels on tackling youth drug problems. Photo: Rob HomerYouth drugs expert Matt Noffs has used the launch of three new Queensland Street Universities, focused on helping young people affected by drugs and alcohol, to attack the NSW government for failing thousands of marginalised youngsters across the state.
On Friday, The Ted Noffs Foundation launched the centres on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and in Brisbane, after the Queensland government channelled almost $4 million towards the projects.
“At a time when every state is staring at shrinking welfare budgets, the Queensland government has stepped forward with strong investment in youth and early drug intervention services. Why is NSW dragging its heels on this?” Mr Noffs asked.
He pointed to the Baird government’s pre-election package to tackle the drug ice, announced in March, which invested heavily in law enforcement and three new stimulant treatment services for adults.
“We know that most problems with ice and all drugs originate in youth and yet there is no significant investment or coherent strategy that reflects that.”
In 2006, the Ted Noffs Foundation unveiled its Street University concept that offered free education, mentoring and support for troubled youngsters who had peeled away from the mainstream education system.
On the back of corporate donations, federal government and RSL social grants, the first university was launched in Liverpool, in Sydney’s west, with a second following in Mount Druitt.
Hundreds of youngsters have since picked up new skills to secure jobs, start businesses or secure places within traditional universities. The university’s counselling service has also proved crucial to many hampered by drug dependence, family trauma, domestic violence, sexual abuse and mental health problems.
In Queensland, hundreds of clients, some as young as 12, have already approached the universities, during their trial phase, looking to gain access to services. More than a third of those report having attempted suicide at least once in their lives. Of those with drug issues, a third cite amphetamine-type substances, such as ice, as their main concern.
Mr Noffs has questioned the NSW government’s drug strategy that in recent weeks funded a “dob in a meth lab” advertising blitz. “Every time I meet with Mike Baird, he tells me, with genuine sincerity, how much he wants to improve the lives of youngsters across the state,” said Mr Noffs.
“So let’s start looking at places like the Central Coast, North Coast and Bathurst where youngsters who have fallen foul of ice are crying out for specialised treatment programs. These are places where socially disadvantaged kids are begging for opportunities to express themselves and learn something new. Let’s give them that chance.”
A NSW Police spokesman said the “dob in meth lab” campaign had cost $140,000 and prompted a 40 per cent rise in illegal drug intelligence reports.
NSW Minister for Mental Health Pru Goward said helping young people fight the “curse” of ice use and addiction was “a priority” for the government. “In March this year we announced a wide-ranging plan that included a program developed with health professionals to address the needs of ice users aged 16 years and over.”
She said extra funding had been committed to non-government treatment services and that NSW Health had also recently provided $4.5 million to the Australian Red Cross, Australian Drug Foundation and Life Education NSW to deliver youth-orientated services in communities including the Central West, Central Coast and Mid-North Coast.
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