A former ice addict has welcomed the government’s plan to tackle the deadly ice epidemic, but urged a greater focus on recovery and erasing the stigma of the drug.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott launched a national taskforce to curb the growing use of crystal methamphetamine, condemning it as “far more addictive” and “more dangerous” than any other illicit drug.
Approximately 200,000 Australians were using ice, and of those approximately 50,000 use it weekly, Mr Abbott said.
But one former ice addict told The New Daily that more must be done to help these addicts quit.
At the age of 28, Samantha (not her real name), a mother, started taking the replacement drug methadone with the help of a councillor after realising her life needed to change.
“I woke up and realised I had been lying on a mattress covered in mould for three days, going in and out of consciousness. I nearly died,” she told The New Daily.
“I then looked at my children and saw how we lived and where we lived and knew the opportunities they weren’t going to have, and the future they were going to have.”
Crashing lows follow drug highs
Samantha, whose drug use began in her early teens, welcomed the government initiative, saying urgent help was needed to combat the addictiveness of the drug.
“You feel like you have the meaning of life, and the answer to every problem you’ve ever had is right there. You don’t know what it is but you feel like everything is going to be okay,” she said.
“It really lifts your mood to a point where you think you can cope with anything.”
One night on ice, Samantha chased cockroaches around her home with a fly swat for 13 hours.
Crashing lows soon follow these highs, and with it crime, poverty and violent partners, also on ice, who almost killed her, and four kids under 16 watching her despair.
The Salvation Army’s Major Brendan Nottle, who works in Melbourne’s CBD, described the degree of violence that accompanies the use of ice as “extreme”.
“This drug is not only destroying the lives of those who become addicted to it, it is also impacting their families and society at large. This is a massive community issue and unless we work together, the impacts will be far reaching,” Major Nottle said.
Ice has already taken hold of many rural and regional towns, finding its way into the hands of children, adults, the indigenous community, and depressed farmers struggling on the land, reports have found.
The wave of ice has also hit major cities, with Victoria Police crime statistics showing theft and assaults are rising as a result.
Families, friends and the local communities are suffering, as police resources are stretched and the lives of paramedics and emergency department workers are put at risk.
The problem is that there is a seven-month wait to enter some detox centres, with regional sites often closed on weekends and school holidays, Samatha said.
There needs to be greater access to home-based treatment, she said.
Law enforcement ‘is not the answer’: Lay
Victoria Police commissioner Ken Lay, appointed to head the national taskforce, has agreed law enforcement “is not the answer”.
“For social problems like these, law enforcement isn’t the answer,” Mr Lay said on Wednesday.
Options in both the health and education space need to be examined, he said.
“Unless you get into the primary prevention end, unless you stop the problem occurring you simply won’t arrest your way out of this.
“Ice has been on the scene for over a decade and we’ve had a really strong law enforcement approach and it hasn’t resolved the problem. The time’s right now to look at the other options.”
In March, an Australian Crime Commission (ACC) report on ice found violent crime was on the rise and untold harm was being done to communities because of the “mind-eating” drug.
Methamphetamine is the most dangerous and the highest-risk drug to the nation, with high prices in Australia seeing more international criminals importing the product, the report said.
Burnet Institute head of alcohol and other drug research Paul Dietze has welcomed the taskforce, saying the priority should be on collecting evidence of the extent of the problem.
“We need to develop the evidence base so that we don’t just flounder around in the dark and react to wild allegations about the impacts of this drug,” he says.
But evidence to support the Prime Minister’s claim that ice is the worst drug in the nation’s history is scant, Professor Dietze said.
“I’m not sure on what basis he’s making that claim, but we really do need to have improved evidence so that we can actually make an assessment.”