Ice drug epidemic giving regional NSW towns an unwanted reputation
Like many other parts of Australia, regional towns in New South Wales are in the grip of an ice epidemic.
In the town of Wellington, in the state’s central west, the problem is so bad the place has been dubbed “Little Antarctica”.
It is because there is so much ice – or methamphetamine – available, 29-year-old former addict Joshua Toomey explained.
“Don’t kid yourself that it’s not there. It’s there and it’s knocking people around,” he said.
“People who use [ice] for six years, it’s like they’ve been using [the drug] for 20.
“It’s heartbreaking. I go home and I see strong women and strong men who’ve been robbed of life, who’ve been robbed of potentially living a healthy life because of this dirty drug ice.
“You’d be surprised how easy it is to get, there could be four or five dealers who live five to 10 minutes apart from each other.”
It is a story Norm Anderson knows all about. Mr Anderson runs the Orana Haven Drug and Alcohol Rehab unit, about 40 kilometres south of Brewarrina.
He has clients from Wilcannia, Broken Hill, Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett, Coonamble, Moree and Wellington.
In the last 12 months, we’ve noticed for the first time amphetamines is catching alcohol as the primary drug of choice
Joe Coyte, CEO of The Glen Drug and Alcohol Centre
“The residents coming in here all the time refer to it as ‘Little Antarctica’ because of the ice problem there,” he said.
“The anecdotal evidence that they’re telling us is that every third house is nearly a dealer’s house there.
He said ice was having a devastating impact.
“It’s not only a problem for the actual person using it, it’s the whole family and the community problem,” Mr Anderson said.
“We have small communities up here … families go and do their shopping and they have to leave a couple of people home in the house otherwise the house will get broken into and their groceries will get taken.”
Ice taking over alcohol as drug of choice
The CEO of The Glen Drug and Alcohol Centre, Joe Coyte, said ice was overtaking alcohol as the biggest problem for his clients, who come from all over the state.
“In the last 12 months, we’ve noticed for the first time amphetamines is catching alcohol as the primary drug of choice,” he said.
The treatment program runs 12 weeks and includes group counselling and lots of activities. But the service is worried about its future.
Funding cuts forced the closure of its 30-bed facility in the Hunter Valley and now they are struggling to keep up with demand.
It gets between 10 and 15 requests a week, but only one or two will be accepted.
“That means a lot of people are putting their hand up for help for their addictions and if you can’t get them in now, they might not be there next week,” Mr Coyte said.
“They might not be willing to take that step, so for me that’s a really sad thing.”
Sean Gordon is the CEO of the Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council on the Central Coast, but his hometown of Brewarinna is nearly 800 kilometres away.
“Ice is in Brewarrina, in Bourke, Walgett [and] Godooga unfortunately. I’ve just recently come back from out there, the way it is affecting my people and my family out there is just unbelievable,” he said.
Mr Gordon said prevention programs and treatment centres like The Glen need more support.
“Social return on investment – in regards to The Glen – would be getting $1 in comparison to say a Wellington jail, where the State Government are funding potentially $10,” he said.
“The sad reality is that a lot of these guys coming through The Glen are actually coming out of jails; and they’re coming to The Glen to be rehabilitated after spending time in jail.
“They’re getting access to the drugs in prisons right now. The sad reality is to go from a prison then to a drug and alcohol rehab place, tells me that the current system is wrong.”
Beating ice and the road to recovery
Ed Daley from Wellington is five weeks into his rehab program at The Glen, and said ice was easy to get back home.
“It’s just rife, it’s everywhere. On the street I lived there were sometimes half a dozen dealers. I didn’t even have to turn a corner,” he said.
He said his ice use had caused him all sorts of trouble.
“I’ve been in scuffles with four people at a time, where I’ve been hit with machetes, and kinged (king hit) from the side,” he said.
“[I] fought seven [people] at a time, where I’ve been hit with something hanging off a chain that nearly knocked my eye out.”
Mr Daley and his partner have just had their second baby, a little boy, and he said he did not want to go back to Wellington. He wants to start fresh somewhere else.
“The percentages will tell me I’m going to stuff up again if I go back there, I’d rather be a big chance of not doing in, than doing it,” he said.
He hopes to achieve the same success as his cousin Joshua Toomey, who has beaten ice and has gone on to become chairman of the Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council on the Central Coast.
Mr Toomey said it was a hard road but The Glen treatment centre saved his life.
“I have a great history with The Glen, The Glen is a special place for me,” he said.
“It’s where I was reborn, It’s where I was given a second, I wouldn’t say a second chance, I’d say a brand new life.”