Clinics to help ice users get lives back on track
June 21, 2008
PSYCHOLOGIST Michael Inglis remembers the moment five years ago. The drug ice was certainly around then, but not prominent. There were no headlines announcing "The New Ice Age" yet.
Inglis was counselling a heroin addict who told him he had started shooting up another drug; he had "switched". The new one was totally different. It was cheap and easy to get. Without taking too much, you could be up for days, hugely confident and full of energy. Like speed, but bionic.
"This guy was a hard-core street-user in the know," said Mr Inglis. "We had heard about ice before. But he said to me, 'This is going to be the big drug in Australia in five years. You wait. It's gonna take over.' "
The addict's street knowledge was spot on. Ice — or crystal methamphetamine — is the "big" drug now. The rate of crystal methamphetamine use in Australia, with an estimated 73,000 addicts, is among the highest in the world, despite use declining slightly very recently.
On Monday, Melbourne's first specialist ice clinics open in Fitzroy and St Kilda. There is also one in Sydney and one in Newcastle. Both the Melbourne clinics will be run by Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, funded by $750,000 from the Federal Attorney-General's department's Proceeds of Crime pool.
Mr Inglis will work at the Fitzroy clinic as a psychologist. In a sense, he has "switched" as well. Where in the past he counselled mainly heroin addicts, he is now dealing with ice addicts
Federal Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus told The Age that ice addiction was a "significant threat" and "a serious problem for the community". It "affects families, health workers and police who often have to deal with highly agitated and violent people".
He said the clinics — which offer unique treatment and withdrawal methods and will release research based on what they find — would "help users get their lives back on track". The State Government last year pledged $14 million to the issue.
State Minister for Mental Health Lisa Neville said the campaign included a booklet called What parents should know about ice, which had been distributed through schools to parents of all Victorian students in years 10-12.
Drug counsellors say that ice is used by a broad cross-section of people. The majority tend to have full-time jobs, close relationships and disposable income, according to police, ambulance and hospital data used by Turning Point in setting up their clinics.
The clinics look just like a GP's consulting room, but they are specifically for ice users. They will each have a psychologist, psychiatrist, doctor, nurse and counsellor. The nurse would act as a triage point. The psychiatrist would medicate users who were out of control.
Australian Crime Commission figures released this month show that seizures of "amphetamine-type stimulants", of which crystal methamphetamine is one, increased by 25% in 2006-07 from the year before, but that "significant" amounts of chemicals used to make the drug were still detected at airports, postal points and seaports.
So far this year, Victoria Police have detected 35 clandestine laboratories used for making crystal methamphetamine.
But Detective Senior Sergeant Steve McIntyre, of the clandestine laboratory squad, said that purity of the drug on the streets was increasing.