A Dubbo mother desperate to beat drug addiction took the first step of the 400-kilometre Long Walk to Treatment (LWTT) amid loud cheers at Victoria Park on Friday.
Shantell Irwin will be one of 100 walkers who will take part in the 15-day event that will end in Sydney with the delivery of a baton containing an open letter to the NSW Parliament.
It highlights the plight of 200,000 Australians who each year are “unable to access the drug and alcohol services they need”.
Running the LWTT are the Uniting Church Synod of NSW/ACT and its advocacy and services agency Uniting, which report that people in regional areas are “often hit hardest”.
Former Dubbo minister and now Moderator of the Uniting Church NSW/ACT, Reverend Simon Hansford, travelled to Dubbo for the launch of the LWTT.
He said Ms Irwin was not able to access long-stay live-in rehabilitation in her community and the costs and logistics of accessing it in Sydney were prohibitive.
Reverend Hansford said the Uniting Church and about 55 other groups representing the likes of lawyers and doctors were campaigning for “harm minimisation, treatment and decriminalisation”, a new model that could shift funds to new services and facilities.
“The war on drugs actually isn’t working,” he said. “Harm minimisation, treatment and care does.”
Ms Irwin and Dubbo mayor Ben Shields cut a ribbon at the start of the LWTT.
Earlier Cr Shields concurred that drug dependency was a “medical issue” and called the absence of an “adequate” rehabilitation centre in the city “appalling”.
“We’re certainly working towards fixing that problem and again I make a plea to the powers-that-be at the high levels of government to get their act together,” he said.
Reverend Hansford said the public could help by signing a petition at fairtreatment.org/walk. He said it asked for a summit which would help determine “the best way forward”.
“There is a consensus in the large part of the community that punishment is not the way forward for people who are addicted,” he said.