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“Nothing changes if nothing changes:” evaluation of an Aboriginal residential rehabilitation service

Treatment/Initiatives Stream
12 Oct 2016
Ballroom 4

“Nothing changes if nothing changes:” evaluation of an Aboriginal residential rehabilitation service

Background: Risky levels of drug and alcohol-related harm among Aboriginal Australians are both a consequence of, and contribute to, the disproportionate health and social gap between Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal Australians.[1] High quality Aboriginal drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation services are an important form of treatment for Aboriginal substance users and are therefore making a vital contribution towards the Government’s target to close the life expectancy gap within a generation. However, limited available evidence exists about the models of care being delivered, client characteristics and the range of data being collected.

Orana Haven Residential Rehabilitation Service (OH) is a 3-month voluntary rehabilitation program for Aboriginal males. OH has been in operation since the 1970s and is the only service of its kind in Western NSW. The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) have been invited to partner with Orana Haven Residential Rehabilitation Service (OH), located in remote NSW, to help them to evaluate, tailor and monitor their program from 2015-2017.

Aims: 1. Describe the demographic and client characteristics of OH between 2011 and 2016, and examine whether those characteristics have changed over time; 2. Analyse the perceptions of staff and clients about their experience of their own substance use and the OH program, especially in relation to OH’s primary purpose of providing culturally safe drug and alcohol treatment.

Methods: This research adopted a mixed methods approach to evaluate the program, including the analysis of five years of demographic, referral and service utilisation characteristics of clients, and semi- structured interviews with staff and clients to understand the perceptions of the program.

Results: Preliminary results indicate that 309 clients (average age 34 years) accessed treatment from OH from 2011-2016, with the median length of stay of 54 days. 85% of clients identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and 75% were referred from Corrective Services. Preliminary themes from the qualitative analysis include: hopes for the future, impact of substance abuse for both clients and staff, and the importance of culture and spirituality in a residential rehabilitation service.

Conclusions and Implications: The implications of this research is to highlight the value of Aboriginal residential treatment to clinicians, academics, policymakers and senior bureaucrats more broadly, as well as make recommendations to strengthen the OH model of care to ensure it continues to be leading service in the field of Aboriginal substance abuse treatment, both in Australia and internationally.