- ABC Four Corners reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna travelled to Victoria and Tasmania and met ice addicts whose lives have been destroyed
- ‘I heard tales of absolute self-destruction,’ she said
- Ice is a stimulant drug, a type of methamphetamine
- It is highly addictive and destroys the brain’s pleasure systems
- Addicts experience psychosis and many use violence to feed their habit
- Caro met a crystal meth cook without ‘any protection, no suits – this isn’t Breaking Bad… at just 19-years-old his body was falling apart’
An ice epidemic is sweeping through Australia and destroying regional towns as children as young as 11 become hooked on the deadly drug from their first hit.
A Four Corners investigation has revealed there are now almost 350,000 Australians taking cheap, easily accessible and highly addictive crystal methamphetamine, nicknamed ice, which destroys the brain and creates psychotic behavior such as users gauging away at their skin as they imagine feeling insects crawling beneath it.
The ABC’s current affairs show has met with ice users, ice cooks, police and recovering addicts in Victoria and Tasmania, who painted a disturbing picture: international drug cartels are working with local bikie gangs to push ice out of the cities, and police are losing the battle to stop it.
‘These addicts have the battle scars, there was a man who has ripped out all of his teeth with pliers, people pick away at their teeth, gums and skin,’ reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna told Daily Mail Australia.
The ravaged physical appearance of those consumed by the drug shocked Caro and so did the age of the people she encountered. She said ‘sitting down with a young crystal meth cook’ who tried ice at 13 and was cooking by 15 horrified her the most.
‘He was cooking without any protection, no suits – this isn’t Breaking Bad… at just 19-years-old his body was falling apart already, his joints pop out of place, he is riddled with early onset arthritis, he’s vomiting blood, paralyzed by muscles aches.
‘His brain has suddenly changed, he is very sick and probably won’t live very long,’ Caro explained.
She discovered that ‘young and desperate’ kids from broken homes, often lonely and with great responsibilities to provide for their families, were being targeted by outlaw motorcycle gangs to do their dirty work – dealing and cooking ice for other bored teenagers in country towns.
Caro explained that the people who agreed to open up on camera – such as 17-year-old Ethan who left school after an older man injected him with ice and joined a crystal meth pack of fellow young addicts, stealing from people to feed their addiction – did so because they want to show people the dangers.
They want to show that it’s not just junkies who are involved, it’s young people with promising futures who are ruining their lives with the drug.
‘Park that judgment and put that aside… we are spending time with young people who started using when they were 15 and 13, older men putting needles in their arms… their’s are tales of absolute self-destruction.’
Teenage user Ethan said of his desperation to get more ice: ‘Mum locked the door on me and I remember thinking… if I get in there I will hurt her for money. I will get money out of her one way or another.’
When people take ice the dopamine levels in the brain shoot up from 100 units to over 1000, something that’s about 12 times as much of a release of dopamine as you get from naturally pleasurable activities such as food and sex.
‘Over sustained use your brain stops producing naturally so you really became no longer a human being,’ Caro reasoned.
One disturbing example of an ice addict who lost his human side, was a man Caro met who almost beat an undercover police officer to death.
‘He lost all empathy… while he was beating him he thought it was funny and ironic because the police officer was squealing and he thought it was a pig,’ Caro said.
In 2006, the ABC’s The Ice Age program also showed the the psychosis some users suffer. They showed Lenore, an ice-addicted mother who had become obsessed with rubbish, rummaging through bins and Matty who had just come out of jail.
This time, in the small regional towns that ice has infiltrated Four Corners was confronted by a desperate lack of treatment facilities for those trying to get clean and under resourced or non-existent police.
‘The country needs and deserves better,’ Caro said as she explained the solution to the epidemic is education about the drug and more treatment facilities.
Highlighting the difficulties people currently face when trying to get clean, Caro said: ‘I met a woman named Kim in Tasmania. For her to get into rehab, which is a sixth month program to reboot the brain to start producing dopamine again, she would lose her housing commission house and become homeless.’
In one community of less than 4,000 people Four Corners found up to one in ten people are using ice.
A clinical nurse in regional Australia explained: ‘The demographic for ice is changing all the time. We’re noticing the age actually dropping, there’s been reports of 10 year olds presenting at the Emergency Department here.’
Some of the young people Caro met told her that their friends had died before getting a spot in rehab.
But the stigma around the drug has been diminished.
‘It’s thought of as common as having a joint and you are the weird kid if you are not on it… we spoke to kids in the very small country towns of a few thousand people who said they could get three difference ounces up the hill on their bikes,’ Caro said.
Unlike other drugs, ice does not have to be imported – it’s being cooked up in homes and even in the back of vans in Australia.
In August, NSW Police Commission Andrew Scipione spoke about a syndicate police had smashed and the ‘very very big issue for Australia in 2014′.
‘It’s tearing apart the fabric of our community, its destroying families, you’ve only got to look at those before and after photographs to release this changes its not like humpty dumpty you can’t put them back together again, they are forever damaged.’
In Victoria last month, where places like Mildura are gripped with ice addiction, the state government announced more than 980 regional sporting clubs will be given financial help to tackle ice through education programs.
‘The expansion of the good Spots program in regional and rural Victoria will enable football and netball clubs to lead the discussion about the dangers of methamphetamine use,’ Minister for Mental Health Mary Wooldridge said.
The Australian Drug Foundation has been given $200,000 to run the program.
HOW ICE DESTROYS THE BRAIN
- Ice is a stimulant drug, a type of methamphetamine that speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and the body.
- It usually looks like small chunky clear crystals, which is why it was given the name ice. It can also come as white or brownish crystal-like powder.
- Ice is generally smoked or injected and the effects can be felt in 3 to 7 seconds. The effects are slower when swallowed or snorted and can last around 6 hours.
- Ice causes dopamine levels in the brain to shoot from 100 to around 1,250 units, about 12 times as much of a release of dopamine as you get from food and sex and other pleasurable activities.
- When the drug wears off, users experience a debilitating depression and urge to get more of the drug.
- Persistent use can change the brain chemistry, destroying the wiring in the brain’s pleasure centers and making it increasingly impossible to experience any pleasure at all.
- Long term use can cause severe impairment in memory, judgment and motor coordination, similar to symptoms seen in individuals suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.
- Changes in brain chemistry can lead to violent behaviour, anxiety and wakefulness because of the adrenaline surge the drug causes.
- And then there is psychotic behaviour, such as paranoia, hallucinations and delusions. Many users report feeling insects crawling beneath their skin.
In Victoria last month, where places like Mildura are gripped with ice addiction, the state government