Ice addiction is impacting not only the user, but their families and the wider community in Western NSW and this week the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug Ice visited the region to find out more.
The three-day hearing was held in Dubbo, with police, paramedics, Juvenile Justice, health and hospital workers and drug and alcohol service providers from across the Central and Far West called as witnesses.
They spoke about of the scourge of amphetamine-type stimulant (ATS) use, the associated mental health and crime impacts and how they believed there was a distinct lack of treatment services in regional areas.
While many gave evidence to the Inquiry, 18 people were asked to speak this week.
Self-harming and traumatised
For the past 10 years Jenny Taylor's work in the Western NSW Local Health District has seen her treat ice addicts with a range of mental health issues.
She said ice addiction was not only contributing to crime levels in the community, but to the mental health of those taking this "readily available" illicit drug.
Ms Taylor is currently the MERIT (Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment) team leader and drug and alcohol acting hub manager.
She gave evidence that users often threatened self-harm, they had anxiety and many had suffered from terrible trauma during their lives.
She said ATS use could lead to a number of mental health issues.
Ms Taylor said staff assist users suffering from: psychiatric disorders including depression and anxiety; post-traumatic stress disorders; personality disorders; early psychoses; drug-induced psychoses; paranoia and delusion.
"The population groups where this is most evident is in younger people, around 16 to 18 years, people from indigenous and low socio-economic backgrounds and people with a family history of drug use," she said.
"If a patient has complex mental health issues, it becomes more difficult to get them into rehabilitation services, as many services do not accept patients with such comorbidities."
Ms Taylor said ATS use also impacts on those around them.
If a patient has complex mental health issues, it becomes more difficult to get them into rehabilitation services.MERIT (Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment) and drug and alcohol team leader Jenny Taylor
"ATS use can have a significant impact on families and children and can lead to incarcerations, relationship and family breakdowns, and removal of children, homelessness, unemployment and domestic violence," she said.
In her evidence to the Inquiry, Orana Juvenile Justice Centre nursing unit manager Cindy Wilson said a lot of young people enter the system threatening self-harm.
"A lot of children have parents in custody; parents with major issues with alcohol and other drugs; and children have often been in and out of Out of Home Care and FaCS involvement," she said.
"There is a high proportion of young people with significant trauma in their history.
"We have a high proportion of homeless kids and more so with Aboriginal kids. In any given week, 85 per cent of the young people in Orana are Aboriginal."
I would prefer to die, addict says
"The thought of not using it, I would prefer to die than not, it's too scary to give it up."
Those are the words that one ice addict told NSW Department of Family and Community Services' (FaCS) Teena Bonham she said during her evidence at the Inquiry.
For an hour on the stand, she spoke of ice addition and its impact on families and communities.
"There have been suicides where family members have attributed this to ice use ... they believe it's a spur of the moment thing that people take their own lives," Ms Bonham said.
"They're sleep deprived after four of five days on the drug and they think there's no way of getting it again."
This, Ms Bonham said, was impacting family structures and often children of addicts were being cared for by relatives so they would not fall victim to the impacts of ice such as violence and neglect.
"It is very significant and very common within our communities," she said.
However, not all children have a relative to care for them and of the 117 children who entered care between January, 2018 and May 15, 2019, 79 of them had parents who were impacted by ice use.
"They're [families] telling me that ice is crippling their communities, that they've never seen anything like this before," Ms Bonham said.
"Ice is the one thing that's taking their young people away at a very fast rate."
Recently, an ice addict told Ms Bonham that: 'She truly believed that her children were the devil and she'd kill anyone that was on her country'.
"Her beliefs were real at the time and you couldn't convince her that her beliefs weren't real.
Ice is the one thing that's taking their young people away at a very fast rate.NSW Department of Family and Community Services' Teena Bonham
"I saw her probably a month ago and she actually apologised, she's free of drugs at this time."
In some cases, Ms Bonham said social housing offers no respite.
In many social housing estates, she said there is a decrease in people socialising and a marked increase in isolation and violence between different households and family groups.
"There's been houses burnt out where people in the community are telling us it's been an ice debt retaliation," she said.
When violence does occur, families tell Ms Bonham 'he's not normally violent, it's the ice'.
While some programs were having an impact on users, the community and social housing estates, she said there was just not enough resources.
"The disadvantage in our communities is great," Ms Bonham said.
Higher ice rates in Western NSW
Incidents of possession and use of amphetamines are much higher in Western NSW than in metropolitan areas.
NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research data shows that last year, 96 people out of every 100,000 were identified as users or in possession of amphetamines in the Central West.
That was more than the NSW rate of 90 per 100,000.
In Orana and the Far West, that number jumps to more than double the state average, at 208 people per 100,000.
What's next for the Ice Inquiry?
When NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the inquiry last November, she said the issue required a criminal and health response to prevent the "scourge" from continuing and to change attitudes surrounding illicit drugs.
During its hearings, the inquiry will look at the prevalence and impact of ice, the adequacy of existing measures to target ice and ways to strengthen the response to ice, such as law enforcement measures and rehabilitation.
The Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug Ice is holding public and private hearings in Sydney, Broken Hill, Dubbo, Lismore, Nowra and the Hunter region.
Need some help?
- National Alcohol and Other Drugs Hotline - 1800 250 015
- NSW Mental Health Telephone Access Line - 1800 011 511
- For help in a crisis call Lifeline - 13 11 14