The newly elected state government is to be congratulated for recognizing that 2015 is the year it will need to tackle a growing threat to the well-being of many Victorian communities – crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as “ice”.
While the extent of Victoria’s ice problem is still being debated – whether it is an “epidemic” or whether it is still largely contained to rural and a handful of outer-suburban communities – there is increasing evidence that its use is becoming more normalized, with increasingly drastic consequences for users, their families and those unfortunates who cross their paths.
In May, a drug agency told The Age ice was affecting “every part of the population” in country Victoria, “from white-collar professionals to amateur football team members”. When the town of Kerang held a community forum on the ice problem, 700 people attended; a similar forum in Cohuna attracted half the town’s population. “It is, without a doubt, the single biggest problem in our community,” a Mildura police officer told The Age. Another senior officer told us in November that authorities “couldn’t have predicted it would continue to grow the way it has”. An anonymous user told The Age: “It will take a genius to get rid of it. It’s like cane toads. They were introduced and weren’t expected to grow this big.” Magistrates who once might have asked whether alcohol or drugs were catalysts in the cases before them now say: “Is ice involved?”
A pure and potent form of methamphetamine, ice makes users feel energetic and overconfident, lowers inhibitions and increases libido. It is highly addictive and can also make users feel anxious, paranoid and psychotic. It’s a uniquely destructive cocktail. An ice user is likely to make poor decisions, such as driving a car under the influence. Recent data showed a record number of road deaths linked to the drug; similarly, most drivers who tested positive during a recent drug-driving blitz tested positive for ice. Crimes such as family violence and murder are increasingly being linked to ice.
Recognizing the growing problem, Parliament’s law reform, drugs and crime prevention committee held an inquiry into ice use, spending nearly a year interviewing experts, visiting ice-affected communities, reviewing academic literature and collecting public submissions.
In September it released a comprehensive report, which concluded that ice was “having a significant impact on the social fabric of local communities” and there was evidence it was becoming increasingly “normalized” for some young people. It recognized that stemming the ice scourge would be difficult, complicated and require a sophisticated, multi-pronged approach with an emphasis on harm reduction. It provided 54 detailed recommendations, drawing on successful strategies already implemented in New Zealand.
Premier Daniel Andrews has acknowledged the problem his government has inherited and should be given credit for already acting on his election pledge to form and head an “ice action taskforce” that has a deadline of 100 days to come up with a plan for reducing demand and supply of the drug. The Age has two concerns, however, over Mr Andrews’ approach.
First, his commitments to date suggest a headline-friendly “tough on crime” emphasis over less-dramatic harm-minimization measures. He has introduced four new ice-specific offences and $15 million for new drug and booze buses, but just $500,000 to fund local ice action groups.
Second, we hope the taskforce does not start from scratch but instead immediately moves to implement many or all of the recommendations of the law reform, drugs and crime prevention committee.
Ice was barely known in Victoria seven years ago; clearly our current measures have proved ineffective against it. The time for the wringing of hands is over: we now need to act.