Canberra is not exempt from the scourge of the ice epidemic
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Canberra is not exempt from the scourge of the ice epidemic

The news NSW police in the Monaro region are "so stretched they're drowning" as a result of crime linked to ice should come as a wake-up call for the ACT.

We are, to all intents and purposes, the largest metropolis in this part of regional NSW. Any social problems across our border inevitably spill onto Canberra's streets and into the suburbs.

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Ice, or crystal meth, has come from nowhere in less than three decades to emerge as the most popular illicit drug of choice in the nation.

More than 250,000 Australians are believed to be regular users and this country has the highest rate of addiction in the world.

While methamphetamine has long been available in pill, powder and paste form, it did not take off as a street drug until ice, the crystallised version, became available in large quantities and at low prices.

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"It's so easy to get its not even funny" one teenage addict in recovery at a Sydney rehab clinic said.

While much of the ice consumed in Australia is shipped in from China it is also manufactured locally in backyard laboratories by small-time dealers.

"Every police officer knows how all-pervasive ice has become," Police Association of NSW Queanbeyan branch chair, Paul Batista, told Fairfax. "It dominates our work. It has links to domestic violence, mental health incidents, road fatalities, youth crime, house and business break-ins, organised crime and it is destroying lives."

While figures on ice usage in the ACT are hard to find, at least in part because ACT Policing does not break out drug related crimes in its quarterly statistics, there is reason to believe it is as much a problem here as anywhere else.

According to the ABS, which logged a four-fold increase in deaths from methamphetamine between 1999 and 2016, the territory tracks above the national average on drug induced deaths overall.

Canberra had 7.9 drug induced deaths per 100,000 people compared to a national average of 7.5 per 100,000 and 5.9 per 100,000, 7.4 per 100,000 and 6.4 per 100,000 for Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

"Other offences", the blanket category ACT Policing uses to cover "deception and related offences, environmental offences, weapons offences, drug offences, public order offences and driving offences", spiked significantly between 2016 and 2017. Many suburbs recorded increases of between 35 and 40 per cent. Forrest recorded an 84 per cent jump.

There is good reason to believe ice is a clear and present danger to the lives of its many addicts in Canberra and, as result of the crimes they commit to support their habits, to the safety of the ACT Community.

The ongoing challenge is to determine what to do, a question taken up by the National Ice Task Force which reported in October 2015.

It said the first priority should be to support families, welfare workers and communities to better respond to people affected by ice.

"Families, frontline workers, and communities are struggling to respond to the growing number of dependent ice users...," the task force said. "Frontline workers need guidance on how to engage with ice users... in particular where... violence is present."

Despite the fact almost three years have passed since those words were written, the situation is as bad, or worse, than ever.

The ice epidemic is a national crisis that demands a better resourced national response than we have seen to date.