The number of murders and armed robberies committed by people addicted to methamphetamine is “truly frightening”, Western Australia’s Chief Justice says.
Speaking on 720 ABC Perth, he also said he was “enormously worried” about methamphetamine use spreading in Indigenous communities, a concern shared by community representatives.
Justice Martin said ice had become the “drug of choice” among criminals, with 95 per cent of armed robberies drug related, and most of those being committed by people using methamphetamine.
“Within our armed robberies, I can’t remember a case that didn’t have a drug component; they are almost all – 95 per cent – related, and of the drugs, methamphetamine has become overwhelmingly the drug of choice. So the vast majority of those armed robbery cases involves methamphetamine,” he said.
“To put that in numerical terms, we deal with about 200 armed robberies a year – that’s about four a week – and 50 homicide cases, so that is one a week, so the significant majority of those are drug related.
There must be hundreds, thousands of families that have been profoundly affected by this terrible, terrible drug. — WA Chief Justice Wayne Martin
“With the worst murders, and all murders are terrible, but the most gruesome and most violent are usually associated with drugs.
“Almost all of our gun homicides are drug related, and again the drug of choice these days is methamphetamine.”
Justice Martin said what was “profoundly disturbing” was that the problem was far more widespread than was represented by court cases.
“It is likely what we are seeing in the court is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is happening in the community,” he said.
“The cases that reach us are what you might call pathological cases, where something has gone horribly wrong but below the surface of the water, there must be hundreds, thousands of families that have been profoundly affected by this terrible, terrible drug.”
Meth leads to irrational acts: Chief Justice
Justice Martin said a fundamental problem with methamphetamine, as opposed to heroin, was that meth led people to behave irrationally and do things they could not explain.
“With heroin, people would tend to go to sleep, slow down; methamphetamine makes people think they are super human, will encourage 48 hour binges, during which five serious crimes might be committed,” he said.
“And the levels of violence we are seeing – levels of utterly irrational violence we are seeing – are quite extraordinary.
“People do bizarre things they wouldn’t do if they weren’t using meth … people say they can’t explain why they did what they did.”
Justice Martin said the relative ease with which methamphetamine can be manufactured was contributing to its spread.
What is ephedrine?
A stimulant used as an ingredient in cough medicine
Also used as an appetite suppressant and decongestant
A key ingredient in the illegal drug crystal methamphetamine
Reactions can include delusions, mild euphoria, insomnia, confusion, paranoia and agitation
“Heroin and cocaine are both made of natural products not grown in Australia – they have to be imported – so that gives us a point of border control,” he said.
“Meth is entirely chemical, as long as you have the precursor drug, usually some form of ephedrine …. you can make it using other things you can buy in the hardware store, make it in about two hours out of the boot of your car, using a recipe you can get off the internet.”
Justice Martin said that he was “enormously worried” about methamphetamine moving into regional communities.
“We already have a serious problem with violence in those communities – if meth takes hold in those communities, I am very concerned about what might happen,” he said.
“The feedback I am getting from both police and senior officials in the Aboriginal Legal Service is that meth is now finding its way to those communities, and that is grave concern.
“Because we already have a significant problem with excessive violence in those communities, throw in a chemical that exacerbates violence, and I am terrified about what the consequences might be.”
Kimberley elder concerned over ice impact
One of the most senior Indigenous leaders in the Kimberley said she also held grave concerns for the impact the ice could have on remote communities in the north.
Bunuba woman June Oscar, chief executive of the Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre in Fitzroy Crossing, told 720 ABC Perth she was worried about the increasing use of methamphetamines in the Kimberley.
“I hold similar concerns, grave concerns for what it is doing already to families in the small towns in the Kimberley and what it might do to the more remote areas up here,” said Ms Oscar, who has done a lot of work with alcohol abuse and resulting violence in remote communities.
Ms Oscar said better education and awareness campaigns were needed to prevent young people from getting hooked.
“We need to go hard at an education and awareness campaign, we need that accelerated, we need to provide accurate, factual information to children and the broader adult population,” she said.
“We need to give some very good examples of what this is, what it is we are dealing with, so people armed with that can self-manage, can make information to them and make safe and good decisions.”
Justice Martin said the justice system was not enough of a deterrent to people using methamphetamine.
“We’ve been throwing the book at offenders for a long time; upper level dealers have been getting very heavy sentences, 10 years plus, for more than a decade now,” he said.
“But the fact is that they have not reduced the spread of the drug, and it has continued to prosper and flourish.
“What it tells you is that people have an inflated view of the criminal justice system to change behavior. By the time people get into the courts, it is a bit like shutting stable door after horse has bolted.
“Really police and courts must continue to do what they are doing, in terms of punishing people who deal in this drug, but fundamentally this is a public health problem. I think we need a community response.”