FOR almost 20 years, Dr George O’Neil and his staff have treated meth, heroin and other drug users through naltrexone implants and other methods.
The waiting room at his Subiaco clinic is full and patients are also waiting outside.
One of them, now a non-user, tells me he had been addicted to meth for 25 years.
Inside a small room, Dr O’Neil speaks with a patient – Michael – who has come for a replacement implant.
“Addiction is a physical illness, it is also a heart and soul illness, it is also a community illness,” he says.
His clinics use two types of drugs that operate as obstructions or blockers – one for the opiate system and one for the valium or GABA-A system.
The GABA receptors are known as “reward centres”, causing pleasure – or the high associated with drug use.
Dr O’Neil developed the naltrexone implants for heroin but now treats hundreds of people each year for methamphetamine addiction.
“In the case of amphetamines the anxiety you see in addicts is related to the terrible damage in their system.”
Dr O’Neil speaks to Michael and his wife with professionalism and kindness as though they were members of his family.
“Back in the community he is being a non-user… he is not an addict with all that that entails,” he says.
“We have to love the patient first – and if we don’t they will pick the hypocrisy from a distance.”
The programs had received $3.5 million a year from the previous Liberal state government, until it passed funding cuts of $1.1 million over three financial years. “I need the new government to send some doctors to talk to me… to understand the pharmacology,” Dr O’Neil said.
“We need to fund wages, production of implants, the centre in Northam – a whole range of 24-hour care because if they don’t have it they can’t get better.
“In Subiaco right now we have three surgeons working flat out.
“Every time I treat addiction, I am treating a whole family in distress.
“We have a 68-year-old, 70-year-old and 75-plus-year-old surgeon here. You can’t get young doctors to work in an un-funded area.
“The typical addict is 25, with two kids aged around three or four years old. Their partner is quite often a user as well.
“You change about 260 years of lives if you invest $100,000.
“If you don’t invest, you are waiting around and seeing the jail population increase – and our communities falling apart.”
Dr O’Neil’s production lab manufactures the implants and the medication at a cost of about $4 million a year.
“We have 150 beds at a cost of $150 per day. That’s $8 million a year,” he said.
“The 150 prison beds cost $16 million a year. We are trying to get people out of jail and get them recovered.
“We have a one-week intensive care detox that costs $8000 per patient – that’s $8 million per year.”
In total, Dr O’Neil’s work costs $20 million per year, almost all of which is funded by his family’s private business investments.
A Mental Health Commission spokeswoman said Dr O’Neil’s Fresh Start program would receive $3 million this financial year (2016-17) for the provision of residential rehabilitation beds at Northam and support services at Subiaco.