THE horrific impact of the highly purified form of methamphetamine known as ‘Ice’ or ‘Crystal Meth’ is at epidemic proportions in some parts of the region at the moment and Gippsland’s most senior Magistrate, Clive Allsop, is fearful it could soon be the case here as well. Magistrate Allsop took the unusual step, at the end of his sitting day in the Wonthaggi Magistrates’ Court last Friday, to issue a public warning about the highly addictive nature of the substance and the steep rise in the number of associated deaths, not to mention associated crime. “There are locations in this region at the moment where the impact of Ice is at epidemic proportions,” Mr Allsop said. “I’m not aware of the exact situation down here but we are seeing this in other parts of the state as well.”
Mr Allsop said the number of people apprehended for trafficking in Ice had trebled between 2011/12 and this year, while related deaths had spiked by 250 per cent in the same timeframe. “What people don’t realise is that it is instantly addictive,” Mr Allsop said and his comments have been backed up by local clinicians. “You can’t just think, I’ll give it a go and see what it’s like. “Traffickers know if they can get new people to try it once, they’ll be caught up straight away,” he said. “It’s a case of try it and you’re hooked in a very high proportion of cases.” Mr Allsop, who had just heard a number of criminal cases where Ice usage was either included in the charges or indicated, said a lot of the supply was being linked back to organised crime and that it was increasingly being made available to school-age children. “We’re also seeing it being made available in the school yard. “Without doubt, this would be the most worrying drug issue I have seen emerge in my career in the law. “The message I’d like to get out is don’t have a bar of it. It appears to be more addictive than any substance we’ve seen before and it’s having disastrous consequences.” He said apart from the addictive nature of the drug and also the serious psychiatric outcomes, another problem was that people who used Ice often felt “bullet proof” and engaged in highly risky behaviour leading to serious injury or even death.
Medical concern A qualified clinician working in the justice system in Gippsland confirmed Magistrate Allsop’s comments. “Most definitely. It’s an epidemic for sure.” “We just recently did some extra training on it so yes, definitely, there’s been a huge increase.” Working principally on referrals from the courts, she noted that it was particularly difficult for those addicted to Ice to break the habit. A local drug and alcohol counsellor in South Gippsland was more circumspect noting that while the incidence of Ice addiction among those seeking help had risen locally by 30 per cent in recent times, the impacts of alcohol addiction were still this region’s biggest substance abuse problem. “He’s right, it is a developing problem,” the local health professional said of Mr Allsop’s comments. “Going back in time to when there was a heroine drought, that was a time when amphetamines started to take over. “Once Ice came on to the scene, people doing amphetamines went to Ice but an ‘epidemic’ isn’t a term I would use. It’s increased no doubt, it’s highly addictive and is the drug of choice at the moment but the biggest problem we have is definitely alcohol, followed by marijuana. “Ice gets the headlines though, like heroine used to, but it is on the increase, up by 20 to 30 per cent in our area.” The health officer also commented on the concerns that Ice use prompted violence. “I’m not sure that it increases the incidence of violence or whether some of the people who use it had violent tendencies anyway because some users aren’t violent.” But there’s little doubt that Ice is causing a spike in criminal activity and in associated crime such as theft, burglary and violence for police and the justice system.
Police response Last month, the Regional Tasking Unit based at Morwell, supporting police operations in Bass Coast and South Gippsland, executed a number of search warrants in the Leongatha, Mirboo North, Inverloch and Wonthaggi areas, resulting in a major drug bust in Wonthaggi where $73,000 worth of methamphetamine was seized. One of the people arrested at the time, a 30 year old local man, has since been charged with trafficking offences. Police investigations and operations are on-going with further search warrants executed on local homes last week. Sergeant Gary Best of the Regional Tasking Unit supported Magistrate Allsop’s comments saying that Ice was a developing problem for the community and for police in Gippsland. “Ice is building as an issue, going by the number of search warrants we’ve done and arrests we’ve made but it’s a difficult one to detect. “Clan labs (clandestine) can be big or small and can be set up just about anywhere. They need large quantities of medications and chemicals and we have our ways of monitoring that but from the public’s point of view there’s probably a few things they can do to help. “They may notice more than the usual activity around a home or premises with higher pedestrian traffic or people stopping and leaving quickly. “There might also be an unusual chemical smell coming from the premises and people can call their local police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 if they have any information.” Sgt Best also agreed with Mr Allsop’s comments about Ice being a highly addictive drug. “Something like 90 per cent of those who use it, we’re told, can’t get off it and we are finding it associated with other criminal activity such as property crime – thefts and burglaries. “It’s not a cheap drug being sold at between $50 and $100 a point, which is 0.1 of a gram.” Sgt Best said the tasking unit was being used to support uniform police operations in Bass Coast and South Gippsland or when protracted investigations were beyond the scope of local police. He said their investigations locally would be on-going.
What is Ice? ‘Ice’ is a term used to describe a form of the drug methamphetamine. It is often called ‘Ice’ or ‘Crystal’ or ‘Crystal Meth’ due to its crystalline appearance (it looks like shards of glass or ice). Ice differs from other forms of methamphetamine in its level of purity. It is a highly purified form of methamphetamine. This is the main reason why the drug is considered dangerous and can be powerfully addictive. Other forms of methamphetamine are commonly known as ‘speed’ (in powder form) and ‘base’ (in paste form). Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant, which means that it increases the body’s responses, making people feel alert, energetic, excited and euphoric. It stimulates the release of natural chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters (which include dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin). Ice and other forms of methamphetamine are synthetic, man-made drugs that are made in illegal chemical laboratories from a range of pharmaceutical drugs (such as pseudoephedrine, commonly found in cold and flu medicines) which are then mixed with other toxic, corrosive and flammable chemicals like red phosphorus, hydrochloric acid, methylated spirits and acetone.