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Inside an illegal drug lab

Boiling pots and toxic fumes paint a grim picture as police discover an illegal drug lab.

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The Napthine government will attempt to tackle the ice epidemic hitting Victoria with $34 million to boost drug and alcohol-support services.

The new government money, to be announced in  the state budget on May 6 and to be paid over four years, will be targeted at Gippsland, the Grampians and the Hume region as well as outer-metropolitan suburbs.

Mental Health Minister Mary Wooldridge said the money would support services for an extra 2000 people a year in response to growing use of ice and other drugs.

The rapid spread of the methamphetamine has had a devastating impact on regional Victorian towns and some of Melbourne's outer suburbs. Last year senior police described the drug as the most harmful they had seen and health workers reported children as young as 12 were being exposed to it.

A Fairfax Media investigation in August found the criminal justice system, police, emergency service workers, drug and alcohol counsellors and public health specialists were reporting sharp increases in the use of methamphetamine over the past two years and were struggling to cope with its effects.

“What we are seeing is a significant growth in ice, particularly in rural areas," Ms Wooldridge said. “Ice use affects not only the user but their friends, families, workmates and the community.”

She said there had been a considerable rise in the number of ambulance call-outs and hospital admissions related to ice.

State Parliament is holding an inquiry into the supply and use of methamphetamines, particularly ice, and has taken evidence from around the state in recent months that paints a bleak picture of the drug’s impact on some communities. It is due to report in August.

“The inquiry echoed concerns we are hearing across the state about the dangerous and devastating impact of ice on families and communities,” Ms Wooldridge said.

A new four-bed ward for mothers withdrawing from drug and alcohol addiction also will be funded in next week's budget, Ms Wooldridge said, allowing mothers to stay with their babies for the first time.

The four-bed unit, to be built next to an existing 14-bed adult withdrawal service in Heidelberg, could cater for about 100 new mothers each year. The new unit will provide Victoria’s first new residential drug withdrawal beds in 14 years and is expected to open in 2016.

Ms Wooldridge said there were no residential programs in Victoria now to support mothers with their babies during drug withdrawal.

That left mothers to choose between residential withdrawal without their babies, or a home-based withdrawal program that may not provide the best setting for them to abstain from drugs or alcohol.

UnitingCare ReGen chief executive Laurence Alvis said his organisation proposed the $4 million unit after noticing a gap in services for drug and alcohol-addicted mothers with young babies.

Specialist services at major maternity hospitals provide care to women with substance abuse problems through pregnancy and birth, with 65 drug and alcohol-addicted women giving birth at the Royal Women’s Hospital last year.

Mr Alvis said the new unit would cater for women in the weeks and months after they gave birth, in situations where they had continued using drugs or alcohol while pregnant, or had stayed clean during pregnancy but ‘‘fallen back into old habits’’ afterwards.