Alcohol Merit Program

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Release date: Thursday 30 January, 2014  Embargo: 10.30am                

New figures released today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research show that the health and well-being of defendants referred to the Alcohol-MERIT program improved after placement on the program.

The Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment (MERIT) is a local court program that coordinates entry into drug treatment as part of the bail process for adult defendants.

A typical treatment program is three months in duration and magistrates are provided with a comprehensive report detailing the participant's progress in treatment at the time of final sentencing.

Magistrates are then able to take the participant's progress into consideration when deciding upon an appropriate sentence. The program was first piloted in 2000 and now operates in 65 local courts across NSW.

The MERIT program was recently expanded in some local courts for people presenting with alcohol use as their primary problem.

The Bureau conducted telephone interviews with 123 Alcohol-MERIT participants at two and six months after their baseline interview. All interviews used the same standardized measures of health and social functioning, psychological distress and alcohol dependence.
Changes in health and well-being were assessed by comparing results between (1) baseline and the two-month interview and (2) between baseline and the six-month interview.

Two months after commencing the Alcohol-MERIT program, there were significant improvements in social functioning, lower levels of psychological distress and lower levels of dependence on alcohol. These results were sustained at the six-month interview.

Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said that, while the findings are encouraging, the lack of a proper control group means that it is not certain the improvements in health and social functioning are attributable to the program.

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 02 9231 9190
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