Crimes linked to the drug ice have police in the Monaro region "so stretched that they're drowning", and they say the problem is only going to get worse unless staffing shortages are addressed.
The NSW police union delivered the grim warning on Monday, as Member for Monaro John Barilaro admitted ice addiction in regional areas had reached "epidemic levels".
Police Association of NSW Queanbeyan branch chair Paul Batista said local police were so short on resources that all they could do was "mop up the problems" caused by ice, also known as crystal meth.
Mr Batista said the force needed to target manufacturers and suppliers to stop ice ever hitting the streets, but to do that it needed the NSW government to answer the police union's call for additional officers.
He said an extra 48 officers were needed in the Monaro region, including three new sergeants and 21 constables at Queanbeyan Police Station.
Fairfax Media has previously revealed that staffing levels at Queanbeyan Police Station have barely changed in the last 20 years, while about 22 of the 76 general duties officers in the Monaro command have been unable to work due to a string of illnesses, retirements and suspensions.
"Every police officer knows how all-pervasive ice has become," Mr Batista said.
"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.
“Local police are so stretched that they’re drowning, just dealing with the symptoms of ice and users rather than focusing their efforts on the supply chain."
Mr Batista said these flow-on effects made it difficult to say exactly what percentage of crimes in the region involved ice, but the number had increased in the past five years because the drug was so cheap and readily available.
National statistics show an increase in ice use, with the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey finding that ice use among regular methamphetamine users rose 36 per cent between 2010 and 2016.
The 2018 National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program report also found average methamphetamine use was higher than in regional areas than capital cities.
Mr Batista said police found ice users impossible to reason with and difficult to restrain.
"Users behave in a lot of different ways - some take their clothes off and wander into the middle of the road and a lot of them want to fight everyone," Mr Batista said.
"Because of the drug, they have extraordinary strength.
"It takes a lot of police to restrain them and the more [officers] we have, the fewer injuries we'll get, too."
Mr Batista said in one of many recent incidents, a driver affected by ice resisted arrest and injured two officers.
He said towns like those in the Monaro district, which covers more than 22,000 square kilometres, shouldered the brunt of the drug's scourge.
“The NSW government has a choice – it can either sit back and watch while this drug continues to take hold of our communities, or it can listen to the police on the ground and deliver the additional resources we need to keep our streets safe," Mr Batista said.
Member for Monaro John Barilaro said the NSW government was working with NSW Police commissioner Mick Fuller to figure out where more officers were needed.
Mr Barilaro, who is also the minister for regional NSW, said as a father of three, he was particularly worried by the effect ice was having on young people and wanted to see more police on the beat.
"There is no doubt that throughout regional NSW, ice addiction is at epidemic levels and is particularly prevalent among our state’s young people," Mr Barilaro said.
Mr Barilaro said four new officers recently joined the Monaro command as part of the establishment of the Monaro Regional Enforcement Squad, which will investigate mid-level drug supply.
However, Mr Batista said the regional enforcement squad needed another 12 officers.
Mr Barilaro said the NSW government had recognised the toll ice was taking and would soon announce a "unique" regional youth policy aimed at tackling challenges including drug use.
He said the policy would be developed using feedback from more than 30 regional youth forums held across the state recently.