ACT News

Treatment for ice addiction increases by 155 per cent with specialists fearing unpredictable violence

A dramatic spike in addiction to ice and amphetamine has led to a 155 per cent increase in Canberrans seeking treatment from specialists amid mental health problems and unpredictable violence.

According to The Salvation Army, the number of people seeking assistance after using the drugs has more than doubled since 2010 with 28 per cent of their clients now admitting to using the dangerous drugs.

Major Scott Warrington, who coordinates the Salvation Army's Canberra Recovery Services Centre in Fyshwick, said cases of amphetamine or ice usage were between 2004 and 2013 were now higher than the overall usage of cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and gambling dependence combined.

"The biggest issue is not so much the increase in use but the amount of mental health issues associated which make it very difficult to work in that environment, despite how rewarding the work can be," he said.

"We've got people in there talking to people who aren't there and it makes everyone a bit scared."

In the past year alone, the number of amphetamine and ice users seeking help from the Salvation Army in Canberra has increased by 28 per cent.


Mr Warrington, who has been working with the Salvation Army for more than 13 years, said the increase had led to the highest level of tension between staff and clients he's seen in his career.

"When they come to us they are often reasonably detoxed and in a depressed state although you still get those who are using and they tend to become aggressive and sometimes they can start threatening staff with violence," he said.

"A couple of staff have had their lives threatened and then we have the added expense of getting counselling for them and supervision - not that that's a problem given how important our staff are."

The Salvation Army are not the only rehabilitation providers in the ACT to have noticed a spike in Canberrans requiring assistance after ice use.

Camilla Rowland, the chief executive of the Karralika drug outreach program, said the number of people seeking treatment from her organisation for ice use had increased during the past 12 months and was expected to continue rising. 

"We have seen a significant increase in the proportion of people coming to us seeking treatment who have identified methamphetamines as their primary drug of concern," she said.

The proportion of people seeking treatment for ice use with Karralika increased from 15 per cent during 2012-13 to 30 per cent during 2013-14, which almost equalled the number of people seeking treatment for alcohol.

Gerard Byrne, clinical director of the Salvations Army's recovery services, said the use of the drug made clients more unpredictable with mood swings and associated mental health problems.

Earlier this year, a study led by ANU researcher Dr Rebecca McKetin found a direct link between the use of ice and violence with heavy ice use altering chemicals in the brain responsible for controlling emotions like aggression.

Mr Byrne said the community had made significant advances in educating the public to the dangerous of alcohol abuse but more attention needed to be paid to hard drugs like ice.

"There is this clear shift towards very dangerous drugs that are highly addictive," he said.

"In the case of amphetamine type substances, this can be a major harm to the community as it is associated with violent behaviour and mental health problems."

The increase in Canberrans seeking assistance for amphetamine or ice was greater than in Sydney where the Salvation Army recorded a 122 per cent increase in users seeking help.

Since 1984, the number of people coming to the charity with mental health problems has increased by 30 per cent according to Salvation Army records.

While the number of people impacted by ice has increased, clients seeking assistance for alcoholism has dropping from 66 per cent in 2010 to 50 per cent in 2014.

"Alcohol is still the highest because it's still seen as socially acceptable especially with younger people who don't always understand how those episodes can predispose them for addiction later on in life," said Mr Warrington.

Mr Byrne said it was clear the average age of the drug, alcohol and gambling user in the ACT was getting younger with most people using many drugs simultaneously rather than one substance.

ACT Policing seized amphetamine type substances on 183 occasions during 2012-13, which was a 22 per cent on seizures during 2011-12 according to the Australian Crime Commission's Illicit Drug Report.

 "Short-term effects of amphetamine and methylamphetamine use may include sweating, headaches, insomnia, anxiety and paranoia [while] high doses can result in blurred vision, hallucinations, tremors and stroke," read the report.

"Long-term use may result in severe dental problems, reduced immunity, high blood pressure, depression, impaired memory and concentration, deficits in motor skills, aggressive or violent behaviour, anxiety, cardiovascular problems and kidney failure."

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