Community Drug Action Teams – Condone or condemn?

4 September 2014 | Posted In: #122 Spring 2014, Community Safety, Drugs and Alcohol, Planning for People and Social Issues, | Author: Charmaine Jones



This is the double–edged sword that cuts through the third tier of the National Drug Strategy: Harm Reduction (the other two tiers are supply reduction and demand reduction). If we implement strategies which reduce and mitigate harms to the individual and communities created by illicit drug use, we are seen as condoning such use. If we do nothing, we are condemning people to a whole sphere of danger, in some cases, including death. Charmaine Jones explores the role of CDATs.

CDAT graphic

Australia has been at the forefront of harm reduction practices for illicit drug use. As soon as it was identified that HIV was a blood borne virus, Needle Syringe Programs (NSPs) which provided free and accessible syringes and condoms where introduced around the country. More than 30 million clean syringes are handed out free across the country each year. Studies into the scheme have concluded that for every dollar spent, more than $4 has been saved to the health system by preventing the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. For more on this see Harm Reduction in Substance Use and High-Risk Behaviour – edited by Richard Pates, Diane Riley, Wiley Publishers 2007.

NSPs are a national initiative but since 1999 NSW Health have also funded harm reduction activities at a local community level in the shape of Community Drug Action Teams (CDATs).

CDATs are coalitions of representatives from government and non-government agencies, local community, local business and welfare organisations set up to respond to the impact of alcohol and other drugs in their community, working within a harm reduction and prevention framework. NSW Health had overseen the work of the more than 80 active CDATs across the state since the program’s inception, until late last year when it handed the funding for and management of the CDATs to a non-government organisation, the Australian Drug Foundation (ADF).

The ADF supports CDATs with access to the latest research on effective community development and health promotion activities. Regionally based Senior Community Development Officers help CDATs plan and run educational programs, community forums, develop resources and campaigns as well as many other activities and events.

Inner Sydney CDATs are based in Surry Hills, Randwick, Redfern Waterloo and Marrickville and open to all community members interested in working collaboratively to implement programs and activities that will reduce harm to individuals and communities, and assist in creating safer and healthier communities.

Each team works to reduce the local impact of alcohol and other drug problems by identifying gaps in services, and working with organisations and other community groups on local projects. Inner Sydney CDATs projects have ranged from debate nights, open forums on alcohol and methamphetamine (ice), to support activities for street drinkers, liver testing and advocating for wet centres.

There is much research that can be used to guide CDATs: National Drugs Strategy Household Surveys (NDSHS), Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS), NSW Bureau of Crime Statistic and Research are but a few examples – but the real strength of CDATs is the ability to collate data and understand issues at a community level. The Oxford St end of Surry Hills has been challenged with alcohol induced violent assaults, while the southern end has dealt with the issue of discarded syringes.  It is an intimate knowledge of the neighbourhood’s streets that mean CDATs can be proactive and flexible in ways state-wide and national drug and alcohol programs cannot.

In upcoming issues of Inner Sydney Voice, we will explore the work of the Inner Sydney CDATs in more detail. In the meantime, if you are interested in joining your local CDAT, you can visit or call the Australian Drug Foundation on 9972 3160.

Charmaine Jones is the Executive Officer of ISRCSD which provides the secretariat for the Redfern Waterloo CDAT.