Moments into the ABC’s documentary series Ice Wars comes a scene that sums up the battle between police and the drug dealers of Australia.
It’s when a squad of heavily-armoured, helmeted police smash through the front door of an ordinary suburban home, screaming as they charge in to capture the criminals who have set up a methamphetamine factory inside.
Looking for all the world like a Hollywood action film, it’s the adrenalin-charged end to a long investigation … but most confronting is that all the drama is anything but unusual.
“That was actually the second time we knocked that house over,” says Detective Chief Superintendent Mick Smith of the NSW Drug Squad’s Chemical Operation Unit, better known by their nickname “The Lab Rats”.
“In fact, there was another house two doors along we had knocked over about 18 months earlier … It was a real meth cul-de-sac.”
It’s that ‘normalisation’ of ice – that it’s now just a part of the Australian suburban landscape – which convinced police to allow cameras an inside view of their daily fight and show how bad the problem has become.
“1.3 million people in Australia have tried ice,” Smith says. “Some of your friends and members of your family would have to have tried ice.
“But unless you’re actually touched by the situation … that you own a house and someone’s cooked meth in it or whether you’ve got family members who are addicts you really are not aware of the problems it causes.”
Ice Wars is out to change that.
Over four episodes, the cameras follow Smith’s Lab Rats and other branches of the police force as they go about the business of getting ice off our streets.
In some cases, that’s quite literally, such as when the team joins a police Random Breath Test stop in Nowra on the NSW south coast. Of 15 cars pulled over, six drivers test positive for ice and are arrested, for a rate of one in every two-and-a-half drivers under the influence.
Or in the NSW town of Wellington where frustrated locals say they are under siege and it feels like every second house has a dealer.
“It is everywhere,” said Ice Wars executive producer Alex Hodgkinson.
“When you have something that is cheaper than beer and with such an attractive sounding name … you are dealing with everyday people, it’s just filtered everywhere.
“There was – and I’m looking at it from my desk – a meth lab in a very expensive townhouse just a few steps away from my office.”
Proving how ice can touch anyone, the series also joins the health workers dealing with the physical and emotional toll on users and gives voice to the addicts and their families, including former surf champion Tom Carroll who turned to the drug after retiring from the world circuit, and Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, who is fighting to save her addicted son.
Then there are the functional addicts, who go to work every day – some in our armed forces, Ice Wars reveals – with nobody knowing.
“I think people will be surprised,” said Hodgkinson. “I think they will be shocked.
“But this is very real and that’s what we really wanted to show. It is what it is.
“If you go into a hospital there are more people on ice, if you travel out in the country it’s more of an issue. It’s just exploded and we just wanted to show that.”
For the police, the motivation is even simpler. They just want more help.
“If we get more feedback from the community about houses they have concerns about, or people who are involved, then we’ll be busier,” Smith says. “The busier we get, the happier we are.”
Watch a clip from the show below:
Ice Wars premieres on the ABC on Tuesday February 7 at 8.30pm.