Drug atlas an essential planning tool to help battle addiction

August 16, 2016

WA Primary Health Alliance Mental Health Atlas project lead Frances Casella and Mental Health General Manager Dr Daniel Rock

An atlas that maps out all the mental health and drug services in WA is being touted as an essential planning tool to help combat drug addiction in the state.

The atlas is being developed by the WA Primary Health Alliance along with the Mental Health Commission and the state’s health services.

It will be the first time an entire state has mapped out all its publicly available mental health, drug and alcohol services.

The Alliance’s Mental Health General Manager Dr Daniel Rock said the atlas would help communities struggling with drug and alcohol issues identify service gaps.

The atlas would classify and geo-locate all the support services and would map that against other social indicators.

Dr Rock said providing that level of detail would hand the decision-making power back to local communities, who knew what services were needed in their area.

“A central solution to alcohol and drug problems or mental health problems won’t work. A local solution works best because they are adaptable to local circumstance,” he said.

The maps have been used in parts of Australia, including Western Sydney and Brisbane.

The technology originally comes from Europe, where around 17 countries have been mapped.

Professor Luis Salvador-Carulla has been involved in creating the atlases in Europe since the mid 1990s and is currently the head of the Mental Health Policy Unit at the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney.

He said the information mapped out on each atlas was gained by interviewing all the service providers and then locating them on the map.

The mapping technology also used an international code system, which allowed countries to compare the atlases across the world.

“We can now compare services in Perth, in Melbourne or in Brisbane but we can also compare them with New York or Paris or London,” he said.

“So we have a better capacity to understand how the patterns-of-care provision look like in our city in comparison to the rest of the world.”

Professor Salvador-Carulla said the atlases had shown striking differences in care for mental health in Australia.

“One of them is this lack of day care, [the] other is a lack of alternatives to hospitalisation in the community setting where you can have acute care treatment out from the hospital,” he said.

The WA atlas was expected to be available in September, but the use of the technology was growing across the country.

“We hope that by mid 2017 we will have mapped around 50 per cent of Australia using this system,” Professor Salvador-Carulla said.

“What this will allow is a better comparison of the mental health care system in WA in comparison to the other states.”

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