There are grave concerns in communities in Western Australia’s Kimberley over reports that methamphetamine use is on the rise.
Once the party drug of only the wealthy, drug services and locals say it has spread throughout the region and is in the hands of Indigenous youth.
Cornell – a 28 year old Yawuru man from Broome – first tried methamphetamine two years ago.
Moving quickly from the powdered form to the more potent crystal form – known as ice – the drug took hold fast.
“I was just sort of doing it on weekends and stuff like that. And then three months after I first tried it, it was a daily occurrence before I knew it. It just came to a point where I had pretty much lost everything that I had.”
He says the drug is becoming easily available in Broome, with kids as young as 15 using.
“In the last three years it’s started to get to the street level. It has started to get into a lot of people’s hands that it shouldn’t have got into. And a lot of the Indigenous people have started to get involved in it. I reckon there would be at least a few hundred that are taking meth on a daily basis and their whole lives would be consumed by chasing methamphetamine.”
According the latest national household drug and alcohol survey, Western Australia has the highest rate of recent methamphetamine use at 3.5 per cent.
In the far flung towns around the state’s northern Kimberley region, health services are raising the alarm.
Milliya Rumurra Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre, just outside Broome, was initially set up to combat deep-seated problems with alcohol and cannabis.
Chief executive Andrew Amor says the centre is now seeing a steady trickle of meth addicts, some from remote communities hundreds of kilometers away.
“We’ve already seen the devastation of alcohol and how that’s affected individuals, families and communities. The previous availability of cannabis is now taking a back seat; and so amphetamines and even ice methamphetamine is now available, cheap and becoming the preferred drug of choice.”
Dr Murray Chapman is the clinical director at the Kimberley Mental Health and Drug Service.
He says there’s been an increase of people in meth-induced psychotic episodes forcibly taken by police to the mental health unit.
“Once every two or three weeks we’re seeing someone [where] probably methamphetamine has provoked their illness episode. We might pick up on them hearing voices, auditory hallucinations which may be quite persecutory. It can change at a moment from apparent euphoria to tears, sadness and intense anger. We have to use a lot of the hospital resources because of the risks and the potential for aggression.”
And the effects don’t stop at mental health.
Paul Dessauer is the outreach coordinator at the Western Australian Substance User’s Association, specializing in methamphetamine-related health problems.
“This is one of our major concerns in the region – is that Hepatitis C transmission rates have been increasing. This is an incurable disease. Most people that contract Hepatitis C do not show any symptoms for 10 or 15 years. And if nobody is testing them, and if nobody has taught them about this disease, they may be spreading it within the community. This epidemic could be spreading without us realizing.”
Cornell eventually sought help and flew down to a rehabilitation centre in Perth.
He has been out of rehab for several months now and is determined to teach his community about the harmful effects of meth addiction.
“Something that I’m really passionate about is being able to work with Indigenous youth because going through my struggles I understand how hard things can get. It’s a very dangerous drug and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s just good to know that my future looks bright; and to know that the things I want to achieve I can achieve.”