Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Harsh reality of 'ice'

Community members, emergency services, experts and an ex-user share their concerns on the growing use of crystal methamphetamine.

ROB HENSON May 1, 2014 3:30am

Discussion: Paramedic Jason Green, Cobram police Acting Senior Sergeant Gerard Warren and Member for Murray Valley Tim McCurdy watch on as Odyssey House senior case manager Keir Larter speaks.



The full extent of the highly-addictive drug ‘ice’ and its violent effects was revealed at a Cobram community forum last week.

The ‘ice’ forum featured statistics, advice for parents and harrowing personal accounts from counsellors, police, a paramedic and an ex-drug user.

A crowd of about 100 heard that while alcohol was still the number one drug issue for Victoria, the surging amount of ice users was a growing concern.

Primary Care Connect’s Garry Semmens said ice was ‘‘the new epidemic’’ and ‘‘worse than heroin’’.

‘‘At least with heroin, it was a lot more receptive to treatments,’’ he said.

The forensic alcohol and other drugs counsellor said the drug might help explain worrying suicide statistics.

‘‘In the Western District in the last three months, I believe they’ve had 60 suicides. In this region, we have three every two weeks,’’ Mr Semmens said.

‘‘That is not reported in the papers, but the road toll is. Maybe we need to rethink.’’

Cobram police Acting Senior Sergeant Gerard Warren said police intelligence estimated drug use was up 600 per cent since 2009.

‘‘The problem is the acceptance and use of hard drugs is being accepted by young people,’’ he said.

Sen Sgt Warren said even ‘‘small-time users’’ were typically more than $10000 in debt due to their addiction.

‘‘I’d say we would be hard pressed to find someone in here who hasn’t been affected by this drug, whether it be directly or indirectly.’’

When a member of the audience questioned why police had not taken more action against suspected ice dealers and searched their homes, Sen Sgt Warren said police must respect the ‘‘burden of proof’’, amid a culture of secrecy from users and suppliers.

‘‘I could kick down 10 doors right now, and probably about eight would have it (the drug).

‘‘But we have to know for sure, and we’re relying on people out there for information.’’

State Member for Murray Valley Tim McCurdy said the drug was insidious and had been referred to as a ‘‘velvet sledgehammer’’.

‘‘It really does sneak up on you before you even realise it, because your introduction is through a pipe, and when you’re smoking, people don’t see themselves as a drug addict,’’ Mr McCurdy said.

After sitting on a parliamentary committee leading an inquiry with public and private hearings around Victoria, Mr McCurdy said the problem was ‘‘not an epidemic’’ but use was growing fast.

‘‘We’ve heard of people staying awake for 10 to 12 days, which can’t be good for you,’’ he said.

‘‘A 15-year-old girl punched a hole through a security door — they think they’re bulletproof.’’

Paramedic Jason Green said the sedative drug midazolam was injected to sedate users, and physical restraints could be used, but both were often ineffective.

‘‘Give me 10 milligrams (midazolam), I’m asleep. We can go up to 40 milligrams, but we’ve given (‘ice’ users 80 milligrams and they’re still kicking,’’ Mr Green said.

‘‘(When restrained) they end up with fractured arms, because they don’t know what they’re doing, they just keep pulling and pulling until their arm breaks.’’

Mr Green referred to a 2011-12 report which reported a 109 per cent increase in ‘ice’ attendances for ambulances in Victoria.

‘‘That’s 671 known attendances. Related to alcohol, (it had a) 27 per cent increase, but (that was) 11500 people. So alcohol is still the primary concern for us.’’

Ex-user Tate Maher, 20, received warm applause for bravely speaking out about his ‘‘downward spiral’’ of using and eventually dealing the drug over six years.

Mr Maher said marijuana was a ‘‘gateway drug’’ in his experience.

‘‘You hang around with a crowd of people. Soon enough someone comes around with something new, different, they offer it, you might ‘um’ and ‘ah’, try it once, and then it’s just a downward spiral.

‘‘It goes from (using) one ‘point’ (one tenth of a gram) to two points to dramatic amounts I don’t even want to go into,’’ he said.

‘‘I worked out in one 12 month period, I would have spent — if I wasn’t dealing — $300000 (on the drug).’’

Odyssey House senior case manager Kier Larter said in the past four years at his rehabilitation centre, the number of people reporting ‘ice’ as their primary addiction had tripled.

Mr Larter said the program was mostly successful, albeit small, with just 15 beds covering the Hume region, an area of almost 160000 residents.

‘‘In the post rehab phase, generally after six months, 58 per cent are still going well — they’ve cleaned up their lives, less interaction with police, child protection, courts.

‘‘Also important to note, after two years, it (that statistic) doesn’t drop too much.’’

He said users go ‘‘from zero to 10’’ in mood, but the withdrawal symptoms were ‘‘horrible’’.

‘‘And they don’t just go to zero, they go below zero on the way down. So the reason they keep using is to get back to zero, to maintain themselves for everyday life.’’

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