Aboriginal health professionals get valuable tool to tackle tobacco and other drug problems.

For the first time in Australia, Aboriginal health professionals will have access to a plain English, up-to-date and evidence-based handbook to help them in their work to tackle alcohol, tobacco and other drug problems.

The Handbook for Aboriginal Alcohol and Drug Work available to NACCHO members as a download


The book is the result of a unique partnership between a University (University of Sydney) and Aboriginal and mainstream alcohol and drug agencies. This collaboration has resulted in a publication that, while firmly founded on evidence, remains a very practical tool.

As well as advice on alcohol and drug treatment and prevention, the handbook contains sections to help with the many other complex challenges that Aboriginal clinicians face in the field, including the wide range of physical, mental, social and legal problems that many of their clients experience.

The project started in 2010 with a grant of $20,000 from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) as part of the 2009/10 Innovative Small Grants Funding Round, and continued with the support of the NSW Ministry of Health.

FARE Director and addiction medicine specialist, Professor Kate Conigrave, says the handbook will fill a significant gap in the provision of evidence-based, plain English resources for Aboriginal health professionals.

“Much has been written about Aboriginal people. Far less has been written for them. Aboriginal clinicians have long demanded such a resource. The challenges they face in their work can be very complex – with several different physical, mental and social problems in the one individual, and sometimes with whole families or communities affected. Up to now, there has been no plain language, yet comprehensive handbook available to help them in their work,” Professor Conigrave said.

Many sections of the book were either written or reviewed by Aboriginal professionals who work in the alcohol or drug field. The response from reviewers to date has been very enthusiastic – particularly that quality information is presented in a highly accessible language.

The handbook will be distributed to Aboriginal alcohol and drug professionals from around Australia at the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee Conference in Fremantle today, and an electronic copy of the book will also be made available free to the public on the University of Sydney’s Addiction Medicine website:


One of the Editors, Steve Ella said the challenges faced by Aboriginal alcohol and drug workers meant that a hard copy resource was needed.

“Often Aboriginal workers don’t have access to technology. They do a lot of outreach work, and in rural and remote areas, workers may need to transport clients at times up to 1000km to the nearest detoxification centre or residential treatment program. So it is very important that they have access to this handbook all the time, so they can reach into the glove box of their car to get help if a crisis crops up on the road,” Mr Ella said.

Professor Conigrave is critical of the Commonwealth Government’s recent ad hoc approach to the funding of treatment and services which has seen services cut and jobs lost throughout Australia.

“It is ironic that the same week that this handbook was being printed, three of its four Aboriginal editors discovered that their agencies were to lose their federal funding. One of these decisions has been reversed, but two of the editors are to lose their jobs by the end of the July. These two, Jimmy Perry and Warren Miller, have worked for years to support remote Aboriginal communities across South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia to reduce alcohol and drug problems,” Professor Conigrave said.

The Commonwealth’s decision to cut funding from ‘Makin Tracks’, means that rural and remote Aboriginal communities in South Australia no longer have access to these experienced and professional Aboriginal alcohol and other drug educators.

“Commonwealth and State governments need to better support the qualified and committed health professionals working in the community. As valuable as the Handbook for Aboriginal Alcohol and Drug Work is, to be truly effective in combatting the high toll of alcohol and other drug misuse, it is critical that these sorts of resources are matched with a skilled Aboriginal workforce,” Professor Conigrave said.

Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE)

FARE is an independent, charitable organisation working to prevent the harmful use of alcohol in Australia. Since 2001, FARE has invested over $115 million in research and community projects to minimise the impact of alcohol misuse on Australians. For further information visit FARE’s website: http://www.fare.org.au

University of Sydney, Indigenous Substance Misuse Program

is part of the Discipline of Addiction Medicine and is committed to being responsive to the needs and priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and agencies.

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