Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 13, 2023



The Hon. S.L. GAME (15:29): It is a scourge tormenting families and terrorising communities. It not only destroys the lives of those using this insidious illicit drug but tears at the very fabric of our society. It orphans young children, fuels domestic violence, breeds criminals and violent crime, chokes our hospital system and puts emergency service officers in harm's way. It is the ice epidemic and it is gripping our community.

We have all heard the horror stories of crystal methamphetamine use. It has become the most potent and dangerous drug on Australian streets and its effects are being felt in hospitals, schools, and particularly in the criminal justice system. As legislators, our priority must be supporting families, frontline workers and communities to better respond to people affected by ice. Police, ambulance officers and hospitals are struggling to respond to the growing number of dependent ice users around the country.

The effect that this epidemic has had on violent and drug crime—and, by extension, the prosecution of such offences—is devastating. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission has labelled the crystal meth trade in Australia as 'the highest risk to the Australian community and is of significant national concern'. Our corrections officers and police are frequently confronted by high-risk situations where they must look after volatile and violent individuals suffering from withdrawal and the effects of the drug itself.

Those manufacturing and distributing ice operate dangerous meth labs which can go unnoticed in a neighbourhood for years, causing serious health hazards to everyone around. Methamphetamine labs breed crime. This can include burglaries, thefts and murder. Those addicted to ice who cannot pay for their habit invariably turn to crime. High on methamphetamine, there is no telling what a distressed user is capable of. Innocent people have been killed when ice users suffer psychotic reactions, while those involved may be killed over a drug debt or a transaction gone wrong. These types of incidents require a great deal of police attention, further stretching resources.

Children are at high risk of neglect when living with ice-addicted parents, with many having been orphaned. They can be exposed to violence and sexual abuse in their own homes. Data from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey suggests that, when compared to other forms of methamphetamine, those who use ice are more likely to use it more regularly. Multiple data sources also indicate that ice-related harm is increasing in Australia. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission participated in a wastewater drug monitoring program with 24 countries across Europe and Asia. The subsequent report showed that Australia ranked highest in ice use per capita.

People can become dependent on crystal meth very quickly. Once dependent, they can take the drug every day or even several times a day. I am sure you have seen the many before and after photos of ice addicts online. It renders individuals unrecognisable even to family and loved ones. Meth has several side effects including behavioural issues, mood swings, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations and psychosis. The wide range of physiological effects include track marks on the arm from needle use; sudden extreme weight loss; burns on the lips, face and fingers; rotting or broken teeth; nosebleeds; premature skin ageing; and irregular sleep patterns.

The first step to helping an ice addict is recognising the side effects and physiological effects of addiction in the first place. But are we equipped to respond effectively? It appears the answer is no. To do better, the priority must be supporting families, workers and communities to better respond to people affected by ice. We must strengthen our efforts to reduce demand for ice through prevention activities, including better educating our children and young adults. Ice users will benefit from treatment and support services that better cater to their needs.

Our law enforcement services work tirelessly to disrupt supply, but more needs to be done by both federal and state governments to ensure adequate resources for a more coordinated and targeted approach. To strengthen our response to the ice epidemic we need better data, more research and regular reporting to keep it on track. There is a need to improve and expand law enforcement responses, with particular attention to major suppliers, by increasing the capability for the illicit drug unit to better target high-end dealers and organised crime.

We can enhance existing services through integrated service delivery and expanding evidence-based treatment responses. With the provision of additional outpatient counselling appointments we can increase access to treatment across the state, particularly in regional South Australia. This can be achieved with new residential rehabilitation services in regional locations.

We need to better support South Australians struggling with addiction and their families. More needs to be done to improve access to information and provide more face-to-face support services for families. Employers and community organisations require support to intervene effectively and address issues at the local level.