President’s Report – Dr Tamsin Short
To say that 2022-2023 has been a big year for VAADA is no understatement. As we slowly adjust to life after the pandemic, the Victorian alcohol and other drug (AOD) sector continues to face a mix of challenges and opportunities.
Over the past twelve months we have had several changes in the State Government cabinet, with AOD services moving from Minister Martin Foley to Minister for Health, Mary-Anne Thomas, to the Minister for Mental Health, Gabrielle Williams – with more changes likely in the coming year.
The Victorian Government continues to implement the recommendations from the Mental Health Royal Commission and VAADA have been active in providing advice, consultation, and advocacy to the Department to ensure that people with AOD needs, and the services that support them, are included and considered in the implementation.
In February we welcomed 658 people to the biennial VAADA Conference – the highest attendance to date and a wonderful opportunity for our sector to connect and reconnect in person, and share learnings and research from across Victoria and from our interstate and overseas colleagues.
We were thrilled to see legislation making the North Richmond Medically Supervised Injecting Room a permanent program pass through both houses of Government this year. Like so many consumers, families and community members, VAADA is eagerly awaiting the announcement about the second facility in Melbourne’s CBD; we know that every day without this service is a day when more lives are at risk of being lost to preventable overdose.
Following years of advocacy, VAADA was also pleased to see the announced removal of dispensing fees for opioid replacement therapy (from 1 July 2023), although we remain concerned about the accessibility of pharmacotherapy in the community – particularly for ‘hardly reached’ and regional communities. There is still much work to do in this area to ensure this life-saving treatment is affordable, accessible, and sustainable.
The Board was very pleased to see two key initiatives from our Strategic Plan commence this year, including the Data Collaboration Project and the Service System Design Project. The Service System Design project is working with Professor Alison Ritter and the UNSW to map the AOD system as it currently is, and consider how it should be, taking into consideration the various intersections with related systems including mental health, criminal justice, primary care, and housing. This work will become increasingly relevant as our sector moves through the upcoming reforms, and as VAADA works with our key stakeholders to ensure the AOD service system is able to meet the needs of our community.
Similarly, the Data Collaboration Project seeks to bring together the breadth and depth of data collected across our sector to better inform our understanding of AOD service delivery across Victoria. There have long been challenges in the collection and utility of AOD data and this project offers an opportunity for agencies to improve the visibility and utility of data to better inform service development and delivery.
Finally, the end of the 2022-2023 financial year brought a sad and significant milestone for VAADA with the retirement of our longstanding CEO, Sam Biondo. Sam has been the VAADA CEO for over 16 years, and has led the sector through two reforms, multiple changes in Government, significant AOD policy change and one global pandemic. His passion, dedication, and dogged determination has left a strong foundation for our organisation and a legacy that will not be forgotten. Thank you, Sam, for all that you have done – and best wishes for your retirement!
Dr. Tamsin Short
President of the VAADA Board