A Sydney newspaper today has reported that Australia is in the midst of a ‘deadly ice age’, describing crystal methamphetamine (or ‘ice’) as a ‘vicious drug’ that is ‘destroying Australian society’. ‘
A rise in the use of ‘ice’ in both cities and regional areas has spurred calls for the government to clamp down on our ‘national ice epidemic’, while authorities have drawn attention to the effect of ice on previously-sleepy country towns.
In Wellington, a town in central western NSW, the problem is so bad that the town has been dubbed ‘Little Antarctica’ by locals who are too afraid to leave houses unattended due to concerns they will be broken into by ice addicts.
Ice also rampant in our cities, with police shutting down clandestine labs in fashionable inner-city suburbs such as Glebe, Surry Hills and Randwick.
But with the NSW election this weekend, Premier Mike Baird has vowed to tackle the ice epidemic if re-elected by targeting drug suppliers. His proposals, however, have drawn criticism from drug law reform specialists, who argue that his ‘tough on crime’ approach fails to address the underlying factors behind drug use.
What Has Baird Proposed?
Mike Baird is known for being tough on crime – announcing tougher sentencing regimes for a wide array of offences in recent weeks, along with broader police powers to deal with members of organised crime groups.
And it looks like he’s determined to apply his approach to the issue of ice, announcing a ‘multidimensional plan’ to address the problem. Baird’s proposal seeks to clamp down on manufacturers and suppliers of the drug by introducing more stringent measures for people seeking to buy pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in ice. The new measures will require pharmacists across the state to record all sales of pseudoephedrine in an online database.
Baird has also promised to triple the number of roadside drug tests carried out by police each year, pledging to give ‘police the resources they need to put more offenders before the courts.’ This is likely to result in an increase in the number of people charged with drug driving offences.
Unlike drink driving charges, drug driving does not require proof that a person had a certain level of drugs in their system or was affected by drugs when driving; only that there was any amount of drugs in their bloodstream, however little that amount might be.
Police will also have greater powers to confiscate and sell-off assets that have been purchased legally but are being used to commit crimes.
But the most controversial of the new measures is Baird’s proposal to halve the quantity of ice that is required to constitute a ‘large commercial quantity’ for supply offences. If the proposals are passed, suppliers of ice will be liable to a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if they are found with 500 grams or more of ice in their possession.
Alongside these tough ‘law and order’ style proposals are pledges to invest in stimulant treatment services and to provide funding to non-government treatment services, particularly in rural areas.
The Baird government has also promised to introduce education programs in order to spread the word about the harmful effects of ice.
Will the Measures Work?
Although members of the community, politicians and drug law reform advocates tend to agree that the nation is in the midst of an ice epidemic, not everyone agrees on the Baird government’s approach to tackling the problem.
While drug rehabilitation organisations have welcomed the Premier’s proposal to increase funding to treatment services, they say that the measure does not go far enough. Matt Noffs is the chief executive of the Ted Noffs Foundation, which provides life management programs to at-risk youths. Mr Noffs says that Baird’s proposals are inadequate to address the epidemic and do not promote early drug intervention programs tailored to young people.
For many years, the Ted Noffs Foundation has run specialist counselling programs within state high schools to educate and assist students at risk of developing drug habits.The programs had been funded by the state government since the 1999 Drug Summit, but despite studies showing a massive increase in the number of young persons turning to ice, the Baird government ceased funding the programs at the end of last year.
Noffs says that early intervention and support programs are vital, and that the Foundation is currently overwhelmed, with over 1000 young people entering rehabilitation programs run by the organisation in the past year alone.
These statistics are backed by high school principals, who have reached out to the media claiming that ice is becoming increasingly present in school playgrounds. The accessibility of ice in schools has reportedly seen children as young as 12 falling victim to the highly addictive drug, and even resorting to prostitution in order to fund their habits.
Noffs and members of health and welfare groups have also criticised the Baird Government for rejecting calls to hold a Parliamentary Drug Summit in order to discuss and develop plans to address the state’s ice issue.
The last Drug Summit was held in 1999 and resulted in the establishment of the supervised injecting rooms in King’s Cross, which were instrumental in fighting Sydney’s heroin epidemic.
Since the injecting rooms opened, over 12,600 clients have been registered with the clinic, and not a single fatality has occurred on site.
A Drug Summit targeting amphetamine use has the potential to introduce similar measures to effectively tackle ice addiction. However, with the Premier intent on addressing the issue through a hardline law and order style approach, any prospect of a Drug Summit in the near future appears to be remote.