FOR five years, Mark Curtis was earning $600 a day drilling on the mines and coming home to a binge-fest of drugs and booze.
Methamphetamines were among his drugs of choice, having first tried “ice” in 1994.
“It fools you into thinking you’re having a good time, life is great and everything’s fantastic,” Mr Curtis said.
“It helps you connect with other people doing the same thing and you’re excited, you can stay awake for days.”
He would sleep through the comedown for a couple of days to get clean before his next swing — going back to the mine site broke.
His partying then spiraled into addiction after a workplace car crash in 2007. His injuries made him unable to work and in 2010 he received $540,000 in worker’s compensation. His addiction became so bad he had the drugs delivered to his door.
By the start of 2012, he had blown it all.
“I was living on the streets. I blew the whole lot, and I lost my partner, my dog, all of my belongings,” Mr Curtis said.
During a drug-induced psychosis police surrounded his house after he locked himself inside threatening he had a bomb.
“The TRG were running around the house. They had red dots on me through the window. It was unbelievable, and then I assaulted one of them when I got arrested,” he said.
Mr Curtis decided to turn his life around after becoming suicidal in jail. He eventually found a sense of belonging in the prison Christian fellowship and was accepted into the Salvation Army’s rehabilitation program in June 2012.
He finished the program in January last year.
“For a few months (when I started the program) I was in denial, thinking I could still dabble, but you can’t,” Mr Curtis said.
The 45-year-old has been sober for two-and-a-half years and is now volunteering at the Salvation Army’s Harry Hunter rehabilitation centre and men’s homeless shelter.
“I think it’s a blessing that I lost all of that money,” he said.
“If I hadn’t blown it, I would have continued doing the same thing.”
NEW POLICE SQUAD FOR WAR ON ICE
A PERMANENT new police squad has been formed to smash clandestine drug laboratories in WA.
PerthNow can reveal the new team started work this week tasked with halting the “dramatically increasing” supply of methamphetamine in metropolitan and regional WA.
The team of seven senior detectives has been ordered to crack down on the manufacture and production of methamphetamine — including highly purified and addictive crystal “ice” — before it reaches dealers and hits the streets.
Serious and organized crime squad boss, Detective-Inspector Chris Adams, confirmed the new unit was operational and said it would scrutinize every person in the state who bought big quantities of laboratory equipment, glassware and chemicals that were commonly used in suburban clandestine labs to “cook” methamphetamine and ice, which fetches up to $360,000 a kilogram.
He said the new team would operate within the existing improvised drug manufacturing investigation (IDMI) unit, a key anti-drug division of the serious and organized crime squad.
It is the latest move in a shake-up of the serious and organized crime squad that also included the formation in October of a specialist “district response team” — also with seven dedicated detectives — to bring down drug-dealing syndicates operating across one or more police districts.
“With these two teams, we’re specifically attacking it from both ends. At the distribution point and at the manufacture point,” Det-Insp Adams said.
New figures released to The Sunday Times show in nine months the district response team carried out 75 search warrants and charged 96 people with 346 offences.
It seized $477,000 in cash, 6700 rounds of ammunition, 20 firearms, 41 other prohibited weapons and drugs including 14kg of MDMA, 5kg of methamphetamine, 178 cannabis plants, 21kg of cannabis, 13kg of synthetic cannabis and 3kg of steroids.
Acting Detective-Senior Sergeant Grant Barber, who heads up the IDMI unit, and Detective-First Class Constable Rebecca Brandham, a new member of the district response team, put drug dealers and manufacturers on notice this week, saying more raids were “imminent”.
Det-Insp Adams said ice induced violent behavior that led to domestic assaults, road trauma and violent crime. It also led to high-volume property crime and burglaries as users tried to pay for their habit.
While drug cooks were being blitzed within WA, Det-Insp Adams conceded amphetamines were also flowing into the state by land, sea and air as syndicates cashed in on “huge demand”.
But he said record seizures were coming because WA Police had forged “very close ties” with Australian Crime Commission, Federal Police and Customs and Border Protection operatives.
“Five years ago we were seizing ounces. Now we’re seizing kilos … multiple kilos,” he said. “Significant quantities of meth are coming into Sydney from Asia, particularly China and Vietnam, and then being couriered into WA.
“It costs between $5000 and $10,000 to produce a kilo of meth in China which sells for $200,000 in Sydney and up to $360,000 in WA.”
The organized crime squad boss said traffickers were also using the postal system in a “shotgun approach to drug smuggling, posting 20 parcels each with 500 grams of meth on the assumption that 18 or 19 will make it through”.
National Drug Research Institute director Professor Steve Allsop said he had seen a “definite spike” in the use of ice.
Carol Daws, who runs Perth drug rehab centre Cyrenian House, said ice destroyed relationships, led to psychosis and paranoia, and was “now one of the most common substances that people are seeking treatment for”.
Researchers say ice has also penetrated the regions. In Busselton, where the fly-in, fly-out population is growing, drug convictions are up 67 per cent this year and in Margaret River convictions have risen by a third.
It comes as the Australian Crime Commission’s Illicit Drug Data Report warned ice had become a national “pandemic”.
The report found methamphetamine was manufactured by organized crime gangs in China, Iran and West Africa and shipped via South-East Asia to the Eastern States hidden in products like tinned fruit, pots, toys and shampoo bottles.
Twenty tons of illegal drugs worth $2.7 billion was seized nationally last year and more than 10,000 people were arrested for drug offences.
THE FAST ROAD TO ADDICTION
For the past 10 years Major Colin Medling had been the manager of The Salvation Army’s Harry Hunter Rehabilitation Centre in Gosnells.
“It’s an insidious drug (methamphetamines) and the real problem is you don’t know how pure it is,” he said.
By the time addicts come to Maj Medling they have been battling the demons for years.
The average age of the male and female clients at ‘Harry’s’ is 36.
They have to complete a three-week assessment and dry-out period at Bridge House in Highgate before they are deemed stable enough to take part in the 15-week program.
“Once they come here, they are all treated the same. Addiction is addiction, is addiction,” Maj Medling said.
About 50 per cent of those who come through Harry’s complete the program.
During their stay, clients are taught about boundaries, anger management, spirituality and responsibility.
Maj Medling said giving the addicts trust and responsibility was one of the reasons why the program has a high success rate.
“When you’re looking at addicts, they’ve never even trusted themselves before,” he said.
THE IMPACT ON HEALTH SERVICES
YOU need five people to hold down a person in the grip a methamphetamine overdose.
But the emergency department at the Royal Perth Hospital gets a lot of practice.
“You need one staff member for each limb, one staff member for the head, one staff member to draw up the drugs, and one to administer them,” emergency department toxicologist Dr Kerry Hoggett said.
The emergency room might see one or two people in that state each day, down a few presentations a week from the peak in 2006.
Dr Hoggett said alcohol still accounts for the majority of emergency presentations, and opiate use is on the rise.
But neither drug makes its users as difficult to treat as methamphetamine does.
“It tends to make you quite agitated and panicked, so often we will see people come in being escorted by police because they have been involved in something else before that,” Dr Hogget said.
“They often appear to be hallucinating. They can be psychotic.”
Opiate use, she said, produces much less “resource intensive” hospital patients.
“They are really sedated and will stay in one spot,” she said.
“Whereas people who are on methamphetamines will take a lot of staff — a lot of security staff, a lot of hospital staff and police — so we can get them sedated so we can treat them.”
Ambulance officers, working in smaller teams, do not have that support.
One long-time St John Ambulance officer, who did not wished to be named, said paramedics were faced with “violent” and “dangerous” methamphetamine addicts on a nightly basis.
Often a person’s “terrified” family or friends will call 000, when they see the erratic behavior typical of a methamphetamine overdose.
“The violence towards first responders, in particular ambulance officers, is escalating and very dangerous,” the ambulance officer said.
He said the number of methamphetamine overdoses had “dramatically increased” in recent years.
The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, released this week said methamphetamine use in Australia was not increasing — but it was switching from powdered forms of the drug to the even more addictive crystal meth or ice.
And the frequency with which people use meth has also increased — 25.3 per cent of crystal meth users took the drug daily last year, compared to 12.4 per cent in 2010.
James Pitts, chief executive of drug rehabilitation centre odyssey House, has seen first-hand the horrors of ice.
He had to retrain staff to handle ice addicts because they are so much more dangerous and difficult to deal with than other drug users.
“With amphetamine-type stimulants, particularly ice, there is a completely different action because it acts on the central nervous system as a stimulant,” he said.
“So the users initially have a heightened sense of wellbeing and confidence. They have an, ‘I can rule the world’ feeling.
“The problem with ice is that kind of wellbeing, that sense of confidence, converts after a period of time into paranoia, agitation and feeling that people are trying to do things to you.
“That’s where the violence aspect comes in. Either a person becomes overly aggressive because of a comment somebody may have made or there is a perception that somebody is trying to harm them in some way and violence ensues.
“The biggest negative with ice is the fact that it doesn’t allow people to sleep and you need sleep so you can maintain some kind of sense of psychiatric balance. Because ice users are up for two or three days or more at a time they have a distortion of reality.
“They have a propensity to hear voices and display delusional behavior. They become agitated, anxiety sets in and they are prone to violence.’’
THE ICE JOURNEY TO WA
- Organized crime gangs in Iran, West Africa and China have been identified by the Australian Crime Commission as the biggest sources of ice or crystal methamphetamine production on the planet.
- The ice is then exported in significant quantities to South-East Asian countries including Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, usually hidden in sea containers loaded on cargo ships. These countries are targeted for domestic ice consumption and for shipping onto other international markets.
- Drugs are shipped from South-East Asia to Australia, most commonly in sea containers bound for Sydney and Melbourne. Virtually all the biggest ice seizures in the past year came from sea container busts, with the drugs hidden in items such as tinned fruit, furniture, terracotta pots or shampoo bottles.
- Biker gangs and other crime groups buy the drugs and take charge of distribution to WA. This is done by road, with ice commonly packed aboard trucks or in cars, again hidden in other items. There is no border control between New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia or WA and police concede it is possible to check only a tiny fraction of freight.
- Drug barons in WA buy the drugs once they reach the state and smaller quantities are sold to mid-level and low-level drug dealers through a chain of supply that stretches from Perth to Kalgoorlie, Albany, Bunbury, Geraldton, Karratha, Broome and beyond.
- Biker gangs and drug dealers also make their own ice in “meth labs” in their homes or rental properties.
- Local drug users purchase the drugs from their dealer and take the drugs in their home, at parties or during a night out on the town.
BREAKING AUSTRALIA’S ICE IMPORTS
The biggest seizures of ice and amphetamine-type stimulants in Australia happened in the Eastern States. Typically ice is landed there before being moved by land to WA. Busts in 2012-13 included:
- 585kg of crystal meth hidden in sea cargo going from China to Sydney
- 363.8kg of liquid meth suspended in 96 bottles of carpet cleaning products via sea cargo from China to Melbourne.
- 306kg of crystal meth concealed in 3,200 terracotta pots via sea cargo from Thailand to Sydney.
- 200kg of crystal meth hidden in truck tyres and seized in Melbourne.
- 75kg of crystal meth concealed in sofas and chairs via sea cargo from China to Sydney.
- 72.9kg of liquid meth concealed and suspended in shampoo and conditioner via sea cargo from China to Sydney.