Drug scourge creating entire ‘ice families’, warns expert

Whole ‘ice families’ are emerging in communities where grandparents, parents and children are all addicted to the devastating drug, the director of the Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council in Adelaide has warned.

Scott Wilson issued the dire warning ahead of a big National Drug and Alcohol Conference this week which will aim to come up with ways to tackle the epidemic.

Mr Wilson said he first noticed the emergence of ice families in Adelaide almost a decade ago, but it was an Australia-wide issue that needed a special approach.

Grandparents in the families were typically aged in their 40s or 50s, with grandchildren as young as 14 addicted.

“I think the problem for Aboriginal folks and why it has a big impact is we tend to come from big extended families,” he said. “A lot of them do live in small discreet communities that might be made up of a handful of families.

“If you get one or two members of a community of 400 or 500 people it can have the impact on that whole community.

“Whereas if you come into mainstream society they tend to live in bigger towns, bigger cities and even though they might be struggling or having similar effects they tend to be confined to the nuclear family rather than going into the more extended family.”

Mr Wilson said to effectively tackle ice or crystal methamphetamine addiction in families, all the family members had to be treated together.

But he said there was a shortage of facilities to take adults and very few facilities in Australia to treat children aged 12 to 14.

“The problem is if you’ve got family members who are caught up in drug addiction and if you can get all of them to go to detox or rehab for example you have to be able to find one that will take the family,” he said.

“We know if we have people who come in as individuals and they go back to the same circumstances that they left, it won’t be long before they relapse.”

Mr Wilson said an elder in Adelaide first drew his attention to the problem.

“We noticed in 2007 that there was starting to be a problem here in Adelaide and that was basically because one of our elders used to come in and say she couldn’t work out why people were trying to remove the old incandescent light bulbs,” he said.

“This was before people had ice pipes. They used to knock off the bayonet part of the light bulb, put the meth in the bottom, heat it up and then inhale it.

“In 2007 we started developing our own resources trying to target the community. “It’s taken longer for it to move out to regional and rural Australia.

“But if you go back a year or two ago you had the big ice task forces go around the rural communities. They didn’t have any problem getting people to come along and talk about the problems they had experienced.

“I remember last year for example in winter at 6pm 600 people turned up at a forum I was speaking at a rural community of about 3000 people.

“For people to turn up in winter at night — and they were Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal — straight away that tells me there is a major problem in that community.”

Mr Wilson said in some places ice sold for as little as five dollars and because it was cheap and easily found had become the drug of choice for many communities. He said use was widespread in both city and remote areas.

The conference in Adelaide until Friday would be attended by hundreds of delegates from around Australia and would aim to come up with solutions and strategies to the problem to take to the federal, State and Territory governments.

Mr Wilson said the federal government’s Close the Gap campaign, aimed at closing the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians, ends in 2030.

“What we’re trying to say with the conference is if you don’t do anything about drugs and alcohol you are never going to close the gap in the first place,” he said.

Wendy Caccetta 



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