Outlaw motorcycle gangs are recruiting children to cook crystal meth and targeting young people in country towns, a Four Corners investigation has found.
The investigation uncovered alarming evidence of how the drug is being manufactured and distributed by locally-based biker gangs working with several major international drug cartels.
Four Corners found authorities were unable to deal with the unprecedented ice scourge, with a desperate lack of treatment facilities and resources.
The program spoke to a former child dealer and crystal meth cook who said he was one of many recruited by an outlaw motorcycle gang to deal drugs when he was 11 years old.
A lonely child from a broken home, by 13 he said he was smoking ice and at 15 the gang had taught him how to cook crystal meth, cooking up to an ounce a day with a street value of up to $28,000.
“It was basically only difficult a few times and then after that, just pretty much like cooking a meal,” he said.
“Once you’ve cooked that meal a certain amount of times, you just don’t even think about it. You’re just doing it and just go in your own world.”
He said the labs changed often, to keep ahead of police, and described them as “wannabe science labs”.
They were highly dangerous and toxic; the fumes were overpowering.
“The only things I can think of close to describing it was bleach, several other nasty chemicals, and if you’d lit that on fire or something… you won’t forget the smell. It’s not a smell I’d ever forget,” he said.
“You never get used to it but you learn to tolerate it. The first few times you’d feel lightheaded. You could feel nauseous. It really just depends on how well they did the ventilation.
“They didn’t provide bodysuits or that like you see on TV or whatever. They didn’t have great ventilation or anything.”
For the first three years he said he was given no protective clothing or gloves by the syndicate he was working for.
“It’s no harm to them. They’re still getting their money. They’re spending less on equipment. They don’t have to spend heaps of money to set up the site, cheap disposable site.
“If they need to move and get rid of it because the site’s no good anymore because it’s been found out or something, it’s lack of expense for them. It’s just … well, hiring the cash flow.”
Australia at risk of losing ‘entire generation’
Now 19, cooking meth has left him with a lasting legacy. He has early onset arthritis and his joints have worn down so much, they now regularly dislocate. He has to pop them back in to place.
Cooking ice, he noticed his health began to deteriorate quickly.
“I was throwing up blood for a period of time and this happened over two years or more,” he said.
“I’d come back after a few days’ work and Mum believed that I changed, like, the colours in my skin pigmentation would change. I looked very pale and unhealthy. Your hair goes a lot thinner … the whole throwing up blood thing was a big scare for me.
“I got extreme cramps through the body and muscle aches. Sometimes I’d be on the couch for up to two days not being able to move properly, couldn’t eat. If you cooked for long enough and you didn’t sleep for a fair while afterwards you’d get hallucinations, and you never hallucinate something good.”
Authorities have told Four Corners there has been an explosion in the numbers of local dealers in country towns, and the age of users is plummeting.
As teenagers take up the drug, crime rates are also soaring, with ice-related offences up.
Health professionals have warned that if nothing is done, Australia is at risk of losing an entire generation of rural youth to ice.