Latrobe Valley health and community organisations are lobbying the state government to build a residential drug rehabilitation facility in the region, however, Member for Gippsland Darren Chester says a site near Bairnsdale should be prioritised.
It comes after the state government announced $9.72 million to buy land in Gippsland to build an 18-bed residential drug rehabilitation facility in April last year.
Led by the Latrobe Health Assembly, representatives from Latrobe Community Health Service, Latrobe Regional Hospital and Latrobe City Council have written to the state government seeking support for the funding to go towards a Latrobe Valley-based facility.
However, a community-led project at Lucknow, near Bairnsdale, has already obtained council planning approvals and building permission and the federal government has allocated $3 million towards the project.
"I see no reason why there cannot be two residential rehabilitation centres in Gippsland at some stage in the future but the most important consideration must be which project can be up and running as soon as possible to reduce the impact of drugs on our community and save lives," Mr Chester said.
"The Hope Centre [at Lucknow] is well advanced. It has secured the involvement of Odyssey House in Melbourne and the support of various businesses and philanthropic organisations.
"It would take at least two years to get this half-formed idea for a rehabilitation centre for the Valley to the same stage the Hope Centre has now reached so we need to concentrate our efforts to get the Hope Centre up and running now."
However, Latrobe Health Assembly chair professor John Catford said the scale of alcohol and drug issues in the Latrobe Valley presented a compelling case for having the facility locally.
"The scale of the alcohol and drug-use issue here in the Valley is very significant. It is one of the highest areas of usage anywhere in Victoria and certainly dominates the situation here in Gippsland," he said.
"For example, [in] 2014/15 there were more then 720 episodes of care [relating to illicit drug dependencies] provided to residents of the Latrobe Valley which is something like two and a half times the next highest Gippsland local government area."
Latrobe Community Health Service chief executive Ben Leigh said the Latrobe Valley was a "sensible" location for the facility.
"We certainly have sites here, locations, that would be perfectly suited that would enable participants of the program to have the seclusion and privacy that they would require as they recover from their dependence but also a connectivity to transport and infrastructure that they can reintegrate into their communities," he said.