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The drugly truth

Think Local

When the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) held its recent (40th) meeting in Sydney, high on the agenda was a discussion reviewing strategies to contain and halt the ice epidemic gripping the nation.

Members concluded that the drug was a "significant threat to families and communities across Australia and all governments needed to work together to send a strong message that ice is a harmful drug and it's use is not acceptable in any shape or form".

COAG has established the National Ice Taskforce to tackle the impact it is having because as they noted - "Ice is a powerful stimulant which causes disproportionate harm and drives aggression and violence."

The epidemic is impacting on the lives of families and individuals on the North Shore, with frontline agencies and services bearing the brunt of the problem.

Dr Robert Day, director of Emergency Services at Royal North Shore Hospital, says over the past few years there has definitely been an increase in the number of drug addicts and specifically ice addicts presenting to hospital emergency, stretching resources and intimidating staff.

"We are dealing with the problem on a daily basis," Dr Day tells North Shore Living.

"The number of people presenting to emergency with police and with difficult, violent and aggressive behaviour is on the rise. It doesn't seem to matter if it's a week day or a weekend, it's happening regularly. It is also often associated with people who have other mental illnesses but who are taking ice as well" he says.

He says the patients often present to staff in an agitated state, brought in by police and ambulance officers. "Many are in an uncontrolled state and we need to restrain them and sedate them with the help of security officers - but this takes a number of our staff away from other patients. It often takes up to six medical and security staff to restrain someone on ice."

Dr Day says that even after being sedated for a number of hours there is no guarantee that they will be manageable when they wake up. "Sometimes they are still violent and it makes It very intimidating for other people in emergency, especially the elderly and families who are waiting for treatment." he says.

Other frontline staff like the Salvation Armys clinical director of recovery services, Gerard Byrne, tells North Shore Living that no area is immune from the ice problem.

“The North Shore is not unique and has problems,” Mr Byrne says. “People also bring drugs into the area when they attend concerts and go to the beach and this has a flow-on effect for emergency services at the hospital and local police stations.

"Every day we are seeing more and more people coming into our recovery services suffering the serious mental and physical health impacts of ice. Ice does not discriminate and it affects people from all walks of life. In the past we were battling heroin - but now it's ice and other amphetamine-like drugs."

Ice-related arrests and detections have risen by 25 per cent in NSW in the past two years, according to police statistics.

North Shore MP and NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner has welcomed the united taskforce approach to the problem at hand.

Assistant Health Minister, Pru Goward, says the government has committed $11 million towards treatment centres and expansion of services. "Users are using more frequently and they are using more of the pure drug that is cheap and easy to access," she states.

The North Shore drug and alcohol community health teams, who operate from the Royal North Shore Hospital are providing support and counselling services to families and clients. But more is needed to address the problem in the community by bringing all treatment options together in an integrated and balanced way.

NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has said that ice could, "bring us to our knees" unless we can solve the problem.

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