[The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of SMART Recovery Australia.]
Ice is a huge problem, and it will take help from the whole community to solve it, writes Fiona Nash, Minister for Rural Health and Minister responsible for alcohol and drug policy.
After returning from the UN Narcotics Conference early this year, I visited a drug and alcohol treatment facility.
I met a charming 30-ish man who cheekily informed me he was a “privileged white male”.
From a torn couch in modest accommodation, he spoke of the realities of ice addiction, the euphoria and connection the drug had initially made him feel, and how while high he engaged in risky sexual behaviour which resulted in him contracting HIV.
This year I’ve met with US White House Drug Policy Adviser Michael Botticelli, many drug and alcohol ministers from other countries, countless health and emergency workers, police, counsellors and visited many rehabilitation facilities. After we announced the National Ice Taskforce in April, I travelled more than 30,000 kilometres holding public ice forums in 13 rural and regional locations.
One grandfather wept in front of a crowd as he told of his grandchildren walking into their mother’s bedroom to wake her before school only to find her dead. He shook as he paced the floor, microphone in one hand, his other alternating between wiping sweat from his brow and tears from his eyes.
One addict said the moments of clarity (or “windows”) in which she would commit to getting clean would last only a few hours. She would be told there were not beds available and resume using ice. The young woman repeatedly trailed off mid-sentence as the drug had destroyed her focus (though neural pathways will grow back, given time).
A working-class mother in a regional town told me she’d paid tens of thousands to send her son to Thailand because there were no appropriate beds available in her state of Victoria.
I was told of a brother and sister who both suicided after becoming hooked on ice in a rural NSW town.
In one rehabilitation facility, an insightful woman explained how initially the drug helped her have the life she’d only dreamed of by allowing her to be outgoing and entertaining. However her habit required money and she began prostituting herself to get it. Later she said the drug “turned on me” and caused horrific delusions and psychosis. Some of her teeth turned black and rotted.
At same table was a former brand director of one of Australia’s most recognised companies. The educated, articulate, formerly wealthy man had taken ice for years before finally becoming hooked (a common story). Then he’d spent his life savings.
A former member of a prominent Sydney business group told me he’d used the drug as a “temporary” anti-tiredness measure when a business partner was unable to work. He stayed awake for weeks, began dealing to support his habit and wound up in jail. It’s worth noting, keeping a person in prison for a year costs a taxpayer upwards of $135,000. Residential rehabilitation costs the taxpayer about $50,000 a year. States are primarily responsible for front line services such as hospitals, ambulances and rehabilitation – the federal health budget funds 160 of Australia’s 800-odd treatment facilities.
From Lismore to Geraldton, police said the same thing: “We can’t arrest our way out of this.”