And she’s an ice addict.
Jessica is one of a growing number of middle-class methamphetamine users, who look perfectly normal to the outside world, but are deep in the grip of addiction.
Unlike the ravaged faces normally shown in the media, covered in sores from frenzied scratching, people like Jessica have their own homes and cars, dress well and maintain careers.
But two weeks ago, this mother-of-one from southeast Melbourne tried to drive off a cliff.
She has a home, drives a car and has full-time professional job.
The Australian Crime Commission warned in April that the nation’s ice problem was reaching pandemic proportions. Meth use is thought to have increased by 10 per cent in the past two years, and at least seven per cent of Australians over the age of 14 have tried the drug.
The problem is more pronounced in certain areas. The Medical Journal of Australia said last year that hospitalizations for the drug in Melbourne had leapt by 318 per cent in 12 months.
The mundanity of Jessica’s introduction to meth is what makes it even more terrifying.
She wasn’t a drug taker. She had smoked marijuana once, when she was 16.
When a female colleague invited her to “have a puff”, it didn’t seem like a big deal.
“We were just chilling at her place, she’s a professional woman as well,” Jessica tells news.com.au. “I wanted to try it.”
She admits she “had that fear” but “it was only going to be that one night.”
The pair stayed up chatting into the early hours, and Jessica said it didn’t feel like a crazy experience.
Jessica before she started smoking.
“It was just sociable,” she says. “There were no restrictions. It brings out your honesty.”
The next day, she didn’t even have a comedown.
Reassured, she continued to catch up with her colleague occasionally, for a smoke and a chat.
One day, her friend said she didn’t have time to meet, but Jessica could come and pick up a bag. Soon, the pair weren’t smoking together at all.
“She became my drug dealer,” says Jessica. “I don’t talk to her any more. I don’t understand how you can light someone else’s pipe. I would never do that to anyone.”
But it was too late for the 25-year-old. Soon she was out of control. “It’s a sneaky drug,” she says.
Five months ago, her primary school-age son went to live with her parents. “I just dropped him off and never came back.”
Jessica says her son’s smile has disappeared.
He doesn’t know about her problem, but she admits it may not be long until he finds out.
Recently, she took him on a trip for the weekend. The drive should have taken four hours, but it took 10. Jessica “had to keep stopping for a puff”, and everything somehow took much longer.
You get “on shard time”, she says, and everything else goes out the window.
Her son regularly calls her at midnight, asking where he is. She might say she’ll be there in an hour, knowing she won’t — and can’t — turn up in her current state.
Later on, when the comedown comes, “it doesn’t matter anymore”. All that matters is getting another fix.
“He doesn’t understand, he thinks I work a lot,” says Jessica. “He says, ‘you don’t have to work so hard, mum’. I bring him presents, and he says he doesn’t want them, ‘I just want my mummy’.”
Her voice breaks. “You must think I’m a horrible person.”
What I’m really thinking is, if she feels so terrible, can’t she quit?
“I’d like to think I’ll get off it, but I know I won’t,” she says.
“I got clean for six weeks and life was really crappy. I couldn’t function, I couldn’t do my job, I was lonely. I don’t have any friends who don’t do drugs.”
Many people in her line of business take drugs, so it’s easy for Jessica to carry on. She can work flexible hours, smoking ice and then staying up all night writing, as long as she gets her work done.
She and her friends never go out. You can’t take a pipe, and they’d probably just fall asleep, she says.
But now it takes Jessica that much just to stop the shakes, and make her feel normal.
The Department of Health reports that at first, ice users experience a feeling of exhilaration, increased arousal and activity levels. The receptors in the brain are flooded with monoamines.
But as more meth is taken, these receptors can be destroyed, until it reaches the point where the user no longer feels pleasure without using.
Eventually, the effects could catch up with Jessica, causing major health problems including permanent damage to the vessels of her heart and brain, high blood pressure and respiratory difficulty.
Her best friend since Year 7 has given up on her. She understands. The friend has children of her own, and Jessica usually cancelled their plans at the last minute anyway.
While her mother still has hope, her father’s “heart is breaking”, she says. They don’t really speak. “There’s not much to say.”
On one occasion, Jessica and a friend decided to drive to Queensland to get clean together. They “puffed all the way there”, with a plan to sober up on the drive back.
After that, “there was no way we were driving back without it.”
They didn’t know anyone in the area, and bought some dodgy gear that was cut with something, probably acid, they think.
Heading home, Jessica says, “We thought we were dead. We thought that over the next hill we would get to heaven. I was crying.
“What frightens me is that I was behind the wheel of a car. What if I’d killed a child?
“You lose all the morals you build yourself on. You look back and say, ‘that’s not me at all.’ But then you do it again a few days later.”
A few weeks ago, she reached her low point and tried to drive off a mountain in the Dandenong Ranges.
She had written a goodbye letter to her son. It seemed like the right decision. Now he wouldn’t always be waiting up for her anymore.
But she never got there. The cliff top was surrounded in barricades and she was found and taken to hospital for an overdose.
As soon as she was able, she rang her dealer. She told the hospital she wanted to go outside for a cigarette, and jumped in his car. “You justify it,” she says. “You’re not hurting anyone. But I am hurting someone, my son.”
She knows it would have killed him if she had succeeded in her suicide attempt.
“Most puffers I know are like me,” she says. “We’re professional, we have degrees, we don’t steal, we drive cars.”
Meth is everywhere, she warns. It doesn’t discriminate.
The number of arrests for use of amphetamine-type stimulants in 2012-13 was 22,189, the highest on record.
“People look at me and think, she’d never be a user. She’s clean, she’s got her teeth.”
Jessica says she looks at the faces in the news, the ones with the broken teeth and emaciated bodies, and doesn’t recognize them from her own drug-fuelled existence.
“I look nowhere near that,” she says. “But inside, I’m exactly that.”
*Name has been changed to protect identity.