A former ice addict has welcomed a state government inquiry into the impact of the drug on communities.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian recently announced a special commission of inquiry into crystal methamphetamine, to report on the prevalence and impact of the drug and examine ways to stop it from being manufactured.
“Ice is a destructive drug that is ruining too many lives across NSW, especially in our regional centres,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Ultimately prohibition has never stopped drug use.
A former NSW South Coast man, who wishes to remain anonymous, has described feelings of isolation, loneliness and the urge to impress others as contributing to him trying the drug, a potent nervous system stimulant, for the first time.
“I made some new friends through work. They all held good jobs and worked full time. They were all high functioning users. I didn’t realise at first the extent of their use,” they said.
“I was sober. I was trying to impress a woman and her friends.”
He said his new friendship group of high functioning users “formed around protecting each other’s drug addictions”.
It led to a downward spiral which saw his mental health deteriorate so much he missed months of work at a time.
“We spoke about quitting when my mental health declined. But it became obvious if I quit I would not have these friends anymore,” he said.
“We bonded through drugs.”
He said the inquiry should investigate the option of decriminalising and even legalising certain prohibited drugs, which he says has greatly benefited communities in other parts of the world.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, prescription drugs cause the highest numbers of drug induced deaths, there has also been a “rapid increase in the number of methamphetamine deaths, with the death rate in 2016 four times that in 1999”.
Portugal decriminilised the use of all drugs at the turn of the century, and in 2015 had three overdose deaths per million citizens. In comparison, in 2016 Australia had 75 overdose deaths per million citizens.
“Ultimately prohibition has never stopped drug use,” the reformed addict said.
If anything it adds a certain rebellious coolness to the whole thing. I wonder if one day we might realise prohibition made illegal drug use significantly worse?
“If you could buy it over the counter, it’s probably going to be a lot safer.”
He said governments need to better fund rehabilitation and early intervention services, which he says have been underfunded for “too many years”.
Quickly growing drug use layered over personal issues lead the man to a failed suicide attempt and a lengthy stay in hospital.
“I was unemployed, sitting at a party one night, and probably snorted a months to two months of excellent pay and it did nothing to me. I couldn’t find a high and reality was catching up with me,” he said.
“None of my so-called friends visited me in hospital. I’ve been clean for 18 months now.”
Changing his profession, his friendship circles and moving away from the region helped him deal with the psychological side of his addiction.
“What I saw was sad. I saw parents smoking ice while holding a door shut while their kids were on the other side watching Sunday cartoons,” he said.
“I recall sitting in a friend’s bedroom while their kids were bashing the door down, and they leaned on it while taking one more hit.
“I remember thinking this is not right. But then I had another hit and moved on. I wanted to say something. But I also didn’t want to risk losing my supply.
I saw people who literally can’t get on the weekend sports oval without a massive ice smoking session with teammates.
The perception of a drug addict in the Bega Valley and other regional areas is one of “a heroin junkie in the gutter”, rather than high functioning addicts with a socially respected occupation, he said.
He said he witnessed what he described as “rampant” use of the drug across the region.
“Ice still has a massive stigma. People will do anything to hide it. You develop a network slowly of other users. When you have used it enough you can spot a user from 200 metres away. There is certain energy,” he said.
“It made me very aggressive. I would pick fights with strangers over stupid stuff.
“Ice is unfortunately a cheap option, and there are a lot of people in the Valley whose budgets are kind of tight. So logically it’s a go to.”
He said the weekly cycle of use would begin with “trying to score” on Thursday or Friday nights, before “taking as much as was possible” over the weekend.
Late night trips to either Canberra or Sydney to score were common, he said.
“It was a roller coaster. They were family people though, so you know, still took the kids to sport on the weekend,” he said.
“We would usually have enough to last till Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday were the clean days. More so about hanging out, then back on the roller coaster.
“I saw people’s behaviour change to where the only thing that mattered was the next hit.”
The government inquiry will be led by former NSW crown prosecutor Professor Daniel Howard, who previously served on the NSW Mental Health Review Tribunal.
He will report back to the government next year.