National Ice Taskforce chair Ken Lay, who is a former Victoria Police chief commissioner, set some parameters on how to tackle the ice (crystal methamphetamine) problem confronting communities across Australia, when he said, “we need to look at the health aspects of it, we need to look at the education aspects of it, we need to look at the support we put around families, the support we put around users”.
“It’s a far broader than a law enforcement approach and the truth is, for the last 10 years we’ve been trying to arrest our way out of this and we haven’t succeeded so we need to look to other solutions,” he told ABC Radio’s AM program on May 8.
The taskforce’s interim report was tabled at the recent COAG (Council of Australian Governments) meeting held in Sydney.
On Monday July 27, a Yamba Chamber of Commerce-coordinated information session at the Yamba Bowling Club was a step towards educating people about the drug and the strategies to minimise harm to both communities and users.
More than 100 people attended the information session, at which Coffs/Clarence crime prevention officer Dave Fish, federal Page MP Kevin Hogan, senior correctional officer David Ross and ice user Patrick Smith made presentations.
Officer Fish explained that ice – which is usually colourless to white crystals or a coarse crystal-like powder also known as crystal, crystal meth, meth or shabu – comes in different purities: ice is about 80 per cent pure, whereas speed (a powder) is typically around 10 to 20 per cent pure.
“When ice is smoked, it hits the brain in five to seven seconds … when you take it, you don’t know what to do, it feels so good”, he said.
However, he said, the high – which can increase the brain’s manufacture of dopamine by 1,200 per cent – reduces quickly over time and leads to higher usage and more severe side effects, such as violent outbursts, psychosis, sleeplessness, depression, heart and kidney problems and an increased risk of stroke.
He said there was no medical antidote for people high on the drug, just sedatives to relax while coming down – “counselling is the only answer”.
Statistically, regular usage of the drug has, according to an Australian Crime Commission report, The Australian methylamphetamine market – The national picture, remained static at 2.1 per cent since 2010, as per the last National Drug Strategy Household Survey conducted in 2013.
The escalation of ice-related violence and other issues can be attributed to a reduction in usage of the powdered form (speed) from 51 to 29 per cent over the three-year period; whereas the reported use of ice increased from 22 to 50 per cent.
Daily use of the drug also doubled from 12.4 to 25.3 per cent.
Officer Fish said that detections in NSW had risen from 2,867 in 2010 to 7,058 in 2014.
He warned that “by the time a person is ready to go to hospital [showing symptoms of ice abuse]; they are already too far gone”.
“We need to help people before they get to this stage,” he said.
Officer Fish said there was a website, yourroom.com.au, that ice and other drugs users could access as a first point of call to get information.
People who are caught up in the judicial system as a result of their drug use, he said, have the option of engaging in the MERIT (Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment) program.
“It’s hard to get a bed in rehab, MERIT gets one,” he said.
MERIT aims “to treat adult offenders who have an admitted illicit drug use problem, with the view to reducing drug related crime”.
Successful completion of the program can potentially reduce a convicted person’s sentence.
On the enforcement side, officer Fish said the public can assist by dobbing in dealers, suppliers and manufacturers of the drug.
“It’s physically impossible to arrest all users and put them into care,” he said.
Officer Fish said calling Crime Stoppers would ensure that those who make a report would remain anonymous.
“There’s no way you can be subpoenaed to court,” he said, “but it is better to talk direct to police.
“If people are prepared to give more we can do more … [but] a little bit of information might complete the jigsaw.”
Page MP Kevin Hogan reiterated the points made in the interim report tabled at COAG, which states “there is no single approach to stop this horrible drug in its tracks but the Taskforce has identified six key areas to guide work toward the development of the National Ice Strategy which include: focusing law enforcement actions; targeting primary prevention; improving access to early intervention, treatment and support services; supporting local communities to respond; improving tools for frontline workers; and, improving and consolidating research and data”.
Correctional officer David Ross spoke about his and other officers having to deal with an escalation in violent incidents by offenders over recent years, particularly while transporting offenders.