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Drugs program makes inroads

Monday, 20th January, 2014

Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) facilitator Tony Langdon Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) facilitator Tony Langdon

By Nick Gibbs

The facilitator of a local drug treatment program says “hard work” helps break the link between drugs and crime in Broken Hill, not a “magic wand”.

The Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) program is aimed at defendants with charges before the Local Court who have an established problem with illicit drugs or alcohol. 

Facilitator Tony Langdon explained how the voluntary 12-week program offered a tailored, case-by-case system to help clients overcome substance abuse problems.

“One of the major positives is the program’s proactive approach, it addresses the root cause of drug and alcohol related crime,” he said.

“It aims to break the drug crime cycle.”

Clients can willingly opt into the program or be referred through a range of avenues including via the police, solicitors, magistrates and community organisations.

Eligible participants cannot have charges pending related to physical violence or sexual assault and must be magistrate-approved before undergoing an assessment process.

Treatments offered include individual and group counselling, welfare support and rehabilitation.

Mr Langdon was pleased with how much interest MERIT had received locally, particularly as it is voluntary. 

“We like people to come in here who want to make a change in their lives,” he said.

The program does not offer a guaranteed fix to complex substance abuse problems, but can provide the tools required for those who are ready to make positive changes.

“There is no magic wand, it’s just hard work,” he said.

Barrier Local Area Command Detective Inspector Mick Stoltenberg agreed the program was creating positive outcomes in Broken Hill, but had yet to reach its full potential.

“From the conversations I’ve had with Mr Langdon I would say yes it has been successful, but not as successful as it could be,” he said, explaining the service was underutilised by people in the community who could benefit.

MERIT has been running locally for close to 10 years and continues to receive public funding which reflects its worth, explained Mr Langdon.

The program is a joint initiative from the Attorney General’s Office, NSW Health and the NSW Police.

The Broken Hill and Wilcannia district was the first in the state to include alcohol as well as illicit drugs as both were deemed a considerable problem at the time of introduction.

Current trends reflect the nationwide drift toward an increase in methamphetamine use.

Inspector Stoltenberg agreed the drug did pose a threat locally.

“It’s becoming a risk in the community,” he said.

A large quantity of crystal methamphetamine with a value of about $30,000 was seized by Broken Hill Police in August last year.

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