SUPPORT: Bridges program leader Brett Hayes said a rehab facility is not what Bundaberg needs.
SUPPORT: Bridges program leader Brett Hayes said a rehab facility is not what Bundaberg needs. TAHLIA STEHBENS

THE ICE DEBATE: Rehab or no rehab?

TWO years ago more than 150 Bundaberg people with drug and alcohol issues were on a wait list, desperate for help.

Such was the demand for help at the region's primary support organisation, Bridges Health and Community Care, that the numbers were ballooning out of control on the back of a worrying rise in the use of the drug, ice.

It was a terrifying time for many in the community as the number of lives spiralling out of control rapidly rose.

Today, Bridges CEO Sharon Sarah said things were markedly different.

There's no one on a waiting list for support and if there is anyone who needs help for either themselves or a loved one, the services are there.

Bridges has doubled its workforce in Bundaberg as a result of additional funding and will also shortly be rolling out some education programs across the Wide Bay region.

In fact, Ms Sarah said she was keen to see more people using the services on offer and wanted the courts to refer more users so they can intervene at an earlier stage.

Last month, the NewsMail reported the number of deaths in the Bundaberg region, attributed to accidental drug overdoses, had more than doubled in a decade - following analysis of a four-year period from 2012-16.

The deaths of 60 people sparked renewed calls for an ice rehabilitation centre in Bundaberg.

It wasn't long after these calls were made that Ms Sarah invited the NewsMail to Bridges to show the expansion of support services now available and to discuss the current situation.

Her message was that a residential rehab centre wasn't the priority.

Bridges program leader, Brett Hayes, explained why.

From his experience working within drug and alcohol services, it's the after-care support that plays the biggest part in a user's recovery.

The program leader is a former employee of multiple residential rehab facilities and said the amount of people that actually finished their time in rehab was only a percentage of the people who went in.

The number of people who stayed on track afterwards dropped even further.

While residential rehab certainly has its place, Mr Hayes believes a facility in Bundaberg is not necessary.

From the many clients the Bridges withdrawal service processes each year, only a small percentage of people would choose a residential rehab service as their next step.

"There's a gamut of services that are already here in Bundaberg, and the issue is, they're looking at a rehab facility as if it's going to fix everything, but residential rehabs aren't for everybody,” Mr Hayes said.

"For many, they're leaving their families and being removed from the realities of everyday life.

"You get people in there and they're doing really well, but, within a few weeks of getting out, many of them would have relapsed because they haven't learnt how to navigate through life's hurdles.”

What is needed are short-stay residential homes where recovering users could support one another to get back on their feet, with the help of a case worker.

"If we had that service, they could come in to the day rehab and go home to a safe house where they can still deal with everyday life rather than be in a facility for several months with no worries or concerns about everyday life,” Mr Hayes said.

With the amount of clients they see, Mr Hayes said they just didn't see the need for a residential rehab facility, with the Rockhampton and Brisbane facilities not far away, if required.

Mr Hayes said when it came to addiction and substance abuse, relapsing was often triggered by boredom, loneliness, anxiety, and feeling a lack of self-worth.

Often, users have become so accustomed to doing things the "wrong way” that, doing the right thing, feels foreign to them.

"For them, they have to practise what feels abnormal until it becomes their new norm to really change their lives around,” he said.

"They're used to a chaotic life full of dramas and chasing drugs, whereas now they've got to try and sit in the quiet life which is sometimes hard for people.”

The Bridges facility assists in the whole journey of rehabilitation, from withdrawal to continued counselling, and helps its clients work through their issues in a safe way.

A Bridges client, who had formerly experienced residential rehab facilities, said the day rehab helped her work through challenges as they arose.

She said the residential rehabilitation facility was good in the sense that she learnt how to occupy her mind away from using, but, negative because of how sheltered she had become.

"My family came to see me for an outing at week four and I realised that I just wanted to go back to the house,” she said.

"My responsibilities came flying back and my anxiety was out of control.”

The client, who almost died from an ice overdose in February, sees residential rehab as "theory”, whereas day rehab is the "prac,” where she can learn communication methods to put into practise at home.

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