More than 1.3 million Australians have sampled the drug ice – which is now officially the most problematic illicit substance in the country, according to the Australian Crime Commission.
The alarming statistics form part of Australia’s first national intelligence report into the so-called “ice epidemic”.
In releasing the landmark report in Canberra today, Justice Minister Michael Keenan noted the drug ice touches “all strata” of Australian society.
Twenty-five-year-old Melbourne woman Melinda Hansen is a prime example.
After a private school education, she lived in London for two years where she says cocaine use was regular.
Upon returning to Australia she found the drug ice more accessible and cheaper.
“One point could cost $80 to $100,” she said.
Melinda is now nine-months “clean” and is helping others in a Melbourne-based residential rehabilitation program.
Reflecting on her introduction to the drug, she says – at the time – puffing on an ice-pipe seemed socially acceptable, but it led to a life-changing journey of unwanted media attention, intravenous drug use and jail.
“Stripped me of my confidence, my self-esteem, it tore away my family and my friends and destroyed my life,” Ms Hansen said.
At the time of her arrest, Melinda was living in an upmarket Melbourne hotel which was raided by police. They discovered what they described as equipment “suitable for the manufacture of methylamphetamine.”
The media likened the arrangement to something out of Breaking Bad. Melinda was dubbed the “Chapel Street dealer”, making her introduction to prison-life even more challenging.
“It was really confronting that I was about to walk into jail. I’d never ever been to jail before and to know that the whole yard was about to be talking about me,” she said.
Sadly, lives ruined or ended by ice are increasingly common.
The Australian Crime Commission report says seizures of the drug and pre cursor chemicals are at record levels.
“We have trans-national groups coming from nearly 50 countries who are importing drugs and/or involved in the manufacture or trafficking within Australia,” Crime Commission Chief Executive Chris Dawson told SBS.
Criminologist and associate professor John Fitzgerald cautions against approaching the ice problem solely from a law-and-order perspective.
“What we’re seeing – we’re detecting a whole lot more drug crime but it’s probably related to the fact that police are putting a whole lot more energy in discovering the problem in the first place,” he said.
Associate professor Fitzgerald says community interventions and ice-specific rehabilitation are crucial elements of the debate, and the government concedes an “all-agency” approach is necessary.
Drug counsellor Carlo La Marchesina agrees. He fears the ice situation will worsen unless government funding is significantly increased.
“If we don’t take care of this situation now we’re going to create a generation of aggressive zombies,” he said.
Melinda Hansen is now on an 18-month community corrections order and has been ordered to perform 200 hours of community service work.
She now plans to use her first-hand experience of ice to will help others.
“Be able to share what I’ve gone through and help them get a chance to open their lives to the opportunities of recovery,” she said.