By ERWIN CHLANDA
Petrol sniffing, once one of the greatest sources of misery in Central Australia, has turned into a success story.
The strategy of how to all but eradicate the scourge was developed, promoted and implemented by a small Alice Springs based team attached to Tangentyere Council, the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS).
In the next few days its head, Blair McFarland, will be meeting with SA Substance Abuse Minister, John Hill, and his WA counterpart, Helen Morton.
Both have painful and recent memories on sniffing deaths.
A boy from Balgo was taken to Alice Springs for rehabilitation. When he returned home he relapsed and sniffed himself to death in the Halls Creek rubbish dump.
Police were powerless: there is no law under which they can act in WA.
The same applies in SA where the hanging suicide of a sniffer was the traumatic subject of a recent coronial enquiry.
Both Ministers have asked CAYLUS for help – and it is well equipped to provide it.
Saving young people may soon be added to the better known export products of Central Australia, tourism and cattle.
Mr McFarland’s team campaigned for the introduction of Opal fuel and assisted the NT Government develop the Volatile Substance Abuse Prevention Act. It:-
• Gives the community the power to stop sniffing without criminalising people with substance abuse problems.
• Gives police powers to stop people sniffing and take the fuel away from them;
• Allows for referrals of habitual sniffers to the Health Department;
• Empowers a Magistrate to commit sniffers to 16 weeks of compulsory rehabilitation.
Making legislation that can stop people sniffing is now what the neighbouring states are looking at as well – and the success in The Centre is a major incentive.
A report in 2008 by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing into the impact of Opal found that Central Australia and the APY Lands, across the SA border and within CAYLUS’ scope of operations, are the regions with the largest decreases in prevalence of sniffing, with 94% and 93% decreases respectively.
The report also found “a statistically significant relationship between the distance from each community to the nearest ULP (unleaded petrol) outlet”.
Mr McFarland says the situation has improved even further since 2008 and petrol sniffing in The Centre is now virtually extinct.
“There are still outbreaks but we have developed the tools to deal with them. The next challenge is addressing the underlying causes of sniffing.”
Pictured at top: Central Australian Youth Link Up Service bush trip. Blair McFarland with hat.