ACT News

Ice taskforce welcomed in the ACT despite concerns for treatment facilities

The ACT's peak drug body has welcomed the launch of a national taskforce to restrict the influence of ice in the territory, despite concerns about a diminished focus on harm minimisation.

The taskforce, which was announced by Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday, will publish a mid-year interim report before the development of nationwide action strategy.

Ice, also called shabu, crystal, or crystal meth, is a very pure, smokeable form of methamphetamine that is more ...
Ice, also called shabu, crystal, or crystal meth, is a very pure, smokeable form of methamphetamine that is more addictive than other forms of the substance. Photo: Supplied

The initiative will be led by former Victoria Police commissioner Ken Lay in cooperation with federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan and Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash.

ACT Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association chief executive Carrie Fowlie said the taskforce would be constructive provided it did not focus solely on law enforcement.

"We welcome a greater focus on alcohol, drugs and tobacco, however the taskforce needs to focus on prevention treatments and harm reductions," she said.

"When we look at what is happening on the ground here in the ACT, we have treatment centres that are simply not able to meet demand."

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Ms Fowlie said some drug treatment facilities in the ACT had suspended their waiting lists while some users were waiting two to three months for treatment.  

"We need to see a greater investment of priority and resources into treatment and harm-reduction services," she said.

The waiting list for the Salvation Army's drug treatment facility in Fyshwick has stalled around six weeks while applications for men at Directions' residential facility in Bruce were closed earlier this year.  

In a statement, Mr Abbott said the taskforce would examine efforts to address ice and identify a coordinated approach to education, health and law enforcement.

"Governments at all levels are taking steps to address ice but these efforts need to be targeted, efficient and effective," he said.

"While these initiatives are being rolled out at the local, state and territory level, there is a role for the Commonwealth government to assist in coordinating and assessing their effectiveness in addressing the ice epidemic."

Noffs Foundation chief executive Matt Noffs said he was encouraged by the federal government's concern, but warned against the taskforce becoming "a law enforcement committee".

"In the very first instance, we need more treatment centres right around the country, especially for young people where the problems begin," he said.  

"But we also need to be brave and start looking toward the regulation of these sorts of drugs."

Ms Fowlie said Australia's drug budgets had favoured law enforcement above treatment or harm minimisation and the taskforce would need to work closely with health authorities.

"Law enforcement takes up 66 per cent of Australia's drug budget while treatment takes up about 23.1 per cent," she said.  

ACT Health Minister Simon Corbell said he appreciated Ms Nash's attempts to make contact with him regarding the new taskforce on Wednesday.

'We certainly welcome the federal government's interest in trying to tackle the issue of ice but the response cannot be one of just a law enforcement and must involve health and education responses," he said.  

In March, Mr Keenan described ice as a "mind-eating, personality-distorting, life-ending" drug after the release of an Australian Crime Commission report.

The report found ice users are more likely to demonstrate violent behaviour and aggression including domestic violence and sexual assaults.

It also found organised crime groups were mixing ice with other illicit drugs "in an attempt to increase addiction levels and maintain the consumer base".

Ms Fowlie said she hoped ATODA would be consulted in the development of the interim report despite the taskforce's tight deadlines.

"It's great to see that we are talking more about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, but this is a huge problem and one of the risks is we only talk about a single drug," she said.

"We have ongoing problems with alcohol and we still have problems with heroin and polydrug use. We need to focus on all substances."