HANSARD - HUNTER ICE EPIDEMIC

The rise in the use of crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as ice, is having a devastating effect across New South Wales. Ice is highly addictive and relatively cheap, with much of it produced in Australia. No-one is immune from addiction. It affects people from all walks of life. The use of ice in the Hunter has been on the increase over the past decade and, sadly, in recent years it has accelerated rapidly. Numbers from the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research are alarming. In Lake Macquarie the possession and/or use of amphetamines over a 24-month period has increased by 77.6 per cent. In 2011 there were 46 incidents of possession and/or use of amphetamines. In 2015 the number of incidents more than quadrupled, with more than 200 reported incidents.

If we are ever to effectively tackle this ice epidemic an all-encompassing approach must be adopted. Law enforcement is important, but if we are genuine in our pursuit to stop this rapid spread of ice in our communities our criminal justice system must work hand in hand with our health system and not-for-profit organisations. I recently visited Recovery Point, which is run by the Samaritans. They are doing tremendous work to combat drug addiction in the Hunter. The Recovery Point program assists people in the Hunter who are leaving prison or alcohol and drug rehabilitation centres on their journeys to successfully reintegrating and transitioning back into society. The Samaritans have created a place where these often isolated recovering addicts can feel safe and accepted. The Recovery Point is currently funded by a Ministry of Health drug and alcohol treatment services program. It receives a mere $300,000 a year.

The program is now in its fourth year. Each year the program sees about 150 people who have exited Corrective Services facilities. On the day I visited there were former ice users who had been clean for some months, as well as people who had recently fallen off the wagon and were clearly affected at the time of my visit, but they truly wanted to change their lives. Taking a hard line, law and order approach does not help these people. A full wraparound approach is needed to deal with the issues—sometimes mental health issues or trauma caused by child sexual assault—and to support users to deal with the underlying issues that create in them the need to use ice. Much of the program's success lies in the approach—namely, to take one step at a time. It bases people with things that are often overlooked yet are essential for recovery, including accommodation, clothing, identification, Internet and opening a bank account. These are simple things for us, but they are very difficult for those recovering from addiction and for those who have recently executed a correctional facility. The Samaritans recognise that it is impossible to address drug addiction without first having access to these essential services.

Recovery Point programs are designed specifically to help those suffering from an ice addiction. Ice Break is a program developed in collaboration with former ice addicts to help raise awareness of the impacts of ice use and the ways to get help. The Ice Smart Group, which is a support program for methamphetamine users, holds meetings twice a week to assist people with recovery from addiction and to offer them a safe space in which to talk openly about their concerns and circumstances. These programs have led to some amazing success stories. The centre recently helped one woman graduate from a drug court with no breaches, which is almost unheard of. The centre is expanding its program to assist people whose family members are struggling with addiction. These programs give family members and friends, who are often left feeling helpless, proactive ways and techniques to help. However, these family programs do not fit into the current government funding model.

The Community Reinforcement and Family Training Program teaches families and friends effective strategies for helping their loved ones to change. It teaches families and friends how to change the way they are interacting to help the person move towards treatment. The Get Your Loved One Into Treatment Program is for family members of people addicted to ice. It helps them relate to their family members struggling with addiction. The first group to complete this program saw all of the participants' loved ones make contact with the Recovery Point, which is clearly an amazing result. Every day the Samaritans Recovery Program is transforming people's lives and it is organisations like this that the Government must adequately fund and invest in. The National Drug Institute made a submission to the Federal Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement inquiry into crystal methamphetamine held last year. In that submission the National Drug Institute said that there is a need to build stronger connection to support the service provision for those affected by methamphetamine use.

This might include an organisation on workforce development for drug specialists and mainstream health services, and will include building strong referral and shared care pathways. There is a need for culturally safe Aboriginal health services and building capacity amongst these services; a need for establishing and evaluating programs such as online intervention; step-up, step-down withdrawal models—for example, combinations of non-residential and residential withdrawals and psychological and pharmacotherapy trials; trialling, and where indicated, investing in strategies that address the particular strategies of methamphetamine use—for example, protracted withdrawal, treatment retention, sexual risk taking and risk of blood born viruses [BBV] and sexually transmissible infections [STI]; and investing in strategies to enhance access to care across Australia, particularly in rural and remote regions.

There are not enough services like the ones provided by the Samaritans program to address the issues raised in the National Drug Institute's submission. I call on the Government to provide essential additional funding either for programs like these to be provided by the public sector to the mental health system and caseworkers or to non-government organisations such as the Samaritans and others that adopt a non-judgemental and supportive wraparound approach. Such a wraparound approach, not just a law and order approach, is essential if the ice epidemic is to be combated across this State and particularly in the regions such as the Hunter.