Riley was 14 when his dad gave him a bag of methamphetamine and told him, “Here, have that. I don’t need it, I’ve had too much.”.
His drug use grew and he turned to crime to support the habit, eventually ending up in jail.
A survivor of the downward spiral into drug use, Riley – not his real name – has now told his story to a community forum in South Australia, tackling the rising use of ice.
Riley thinks his dad handed out the meth at home to stop he and his brothers from trying it on the streets.
“I think because he knew I’d seen a lot already and we were interested,” Riley said.
“I think he thought we would leave him, get on the meth and not come home.
“So he wanted us to be at home in a safe environment sort of thing, but in a way, it could have been a control thing too.”
Another drug user who shared her story at the forum in the Riverland on Tuesday night was Lola – also not her real name.
She said she tried ice with her boyfriend when she was 18 and knew little about what she was taking.
“They told me it gives you a bit of a high and it makes you want to go, so I tried some,” she said.
“I went from being really ‘ugh’ to really happy.
“But after that it was something that really took over you. It drew me in.”
She said she quickly craved more of the drug.
“The bad thing was that as soon as you took it, it always made you feel like you were coming down but you weren’t, so you’d take more,” she said.
“It starts overtaking you completely. All I was thinking about was going to work so I could come home and have it again.”
Drug use became a way of life
The impact on the young ice users was profound.
Riley kept his construction job for a little while but meth eventually became a way of life.
I only did it on weekends at the start but it did slowly progress to during the week. When I started to come down I just wanted more. But when I came down I was really angry.
“I stayed in that mood until I got paid, and then I got my dad to buy me more. He bought me a whole heap of it, so I could sell a bit and make some money back.”
Riley turned to crime once his welfare payment proved inadequate to support his habit.
“After five years I didn’t save any money, I wanted to go back to school but I didn’t because I’d have to go and get on the drugs,” he said.
Riley started stealing and selling copper, but got caught and sent to jail.
It took several jail stints before he changed his life.
“I’d get out [of jail] and I’d go straight to the dealer’s house before I even got home,” he said.
Lost family discovered as addict seeks recovery
Riley’s mother and grandfather both died as a result of drug abuse, but he found out he had sisters he had never met and slowly started to turn his life around.
A rehabilitation course was a requirement of his sentence when he was in custody.
Riley was released four months ago, with support measures in place to stop him returning to drugs.
He said until he had done the course, he was unaware of how to seek help.
“I was just lost [but] did that course and I learned about making plans, setting goals, what my triggers are and I just learnt a heap of life skills,” he said.
Riley said he now realized the importance of staying away from his former group of friends in Adelaide, which is one reason he moved to the Riverland.
He now rents a property and for the first time in years has a job.
He is keen to study so he can work with, and help, other ice addicts.
Ice still triggers physical response, a year on
For Lola, even now the smell of ice triggers a physical response in her, more than a year since she stopped using it.
“When you’ve taken it, your body goes into overload, your leg shakes, you grind your teeth. You move your hands and lick your lips,” she recalled.
“Even now if I smell it I start licking my lips and grinding my teeth, it’s not good.”
Lola said part of the drug-taking allure was the weight she lost, but she then noticed her skin turning grey.
She said the drug was destroying her from the inside.
On one occasion she fell over while she was high, knocked herself out and nearly choked to death on her own vomit.
Lola was taken to hospital and, as the effects of the ice wore off, a feeling of shame took over.
“I remember lying in the bed and thinking I just want to get out of here,” she said.
“I realised I’d been doing it to myself, I had nothing horrible in my life, I had no reason to do it. I was finding excuses to do it.”
Lola made a clean break from other drug users she knew and moved from Darwin to the SA Riverland to be with her father.
A doctor now checks her regularly as her body recovers.
Lola warned others not to get drawn into taking ice.
“Don’t get pressured because it could be the difference between you being a person who is sick, and constantly wants ice, compared to being the person whose life takes off,” she said.
Riley said he knows the perfect place for ice.
“It’s crap, flush it down the toilet, it’ll ruin your life,” he said.
Children of users neglected, local domestic violence agency says
About 600 residents and community leaders turned out to Renmark’s Chaffey Theatre on Tuesday night to discuss ways to curb the ice problem.
Ele Wilde, from Riverland Domestic Violence Service, said children of ice users were being neglected, often missing out on basics like clothing.
“We’ve seen them come to our door and asking for food and that’s children who are really desperate,” she said.
“They even hide food because they know there might not be any for dinner.”
SA Police said use of the drug was snowballing in the state.
Detective Sergeant David Fahey, SA Drug and Organized Crime taskforce, said organized crime groups were increasingly using country locations to manufacture and control drugs.