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Tackling ICE

Think local

North Shore doctors, nurses, police and support service staff are at the coalface of a battle to limit the impact and devastation that ice, or crystal methamphetamine, is having on families, addicts and health services.

Despite the war on drugs and many arrests resulting in huge quantities of the drug being taken off the streets of Sydney, over the past six years there has been a seven-fold increase in emergency department presentations where the use of methamphetamines was a factor, according to the state government.

The demographic for the use of drugs like ice has no religious or socio-economic boundaries, as the recent high-profile drugs and murder case against Harriet Wran demonstrated. Her confession in court is indicative of how addictive its use is. "I'm ashamed at how my use of ice led me to murder," she noted.

Local front-line staff like the Salvation Army's clinical director of recovery services, General Byrne says no area is immune from the effect of the drug.

"The North Shore is not unique and has many problems," he tells North Shore Living.

"People also bring drugs into the area when they attend parties or concerts or go to the beach, and this has a flow-on effect for emergency services at the Royal North Shore 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. In the past we were battling heroin - but now it is ice and other amphetamine-like drugs," he confirms.

To help drive more resources into the war on drugs and in response to the findings of the National Ice Taskforce 2015, this year the federal government has announced an extra $300 million - $3.58 million to be targeted in Northern Sydney - for local drug and alcohol rehabilitation services.

Announcing the initiative, North Sydney MP, Trent Zimmerman, says the new funding will help reduce the demand for ice and help tackle addict-based crime.

"Ice is ruining lives and destroying our communities and it does not discriminate," Mr Zimmerman tells North Shore Living.

"This new money will provide much-needed services to people in our region who are grappling with ice addiction and drug abuse."

He says many families have raised their concerns with him about the impact of ice in the community and while the treatment delivery of these services is usually the responsibility of the state government, he confirms the federal government's intervention hallmarks "the urgency" of the problem.

The taskforce found that law enforcement agencies have responded strongly to disrupt the supply of ice, but despite these efforts, the market for the drug remains strong. It has recommended that governments focus action on reducing the demand for ice and reducing the harm it causes - while enhancing efforts to disrupt supply in key areas.

The additional funding of $300 million will be used in a five-stage strategy to take the strongest action on ice. This will be done by empowering local communities and funding more support services for users and families. Education and prevention strategies will be funded and there will be further support for treatment facilities and focused law enforcement.

Almost $20 million will be allocated for building better research and guidelines and establishing a "Centre for Clinical Excellence" for the evidence-based guidelines.

Anya Rowlandson, communication manager of the Sydney North Health Network, which will receive $3.58 million, says the agency is looking forward to expanding the delivery of services, to better support those affected by alcohol and drugs, including ice.

"The commissioning planning process has begun and is being conducted in consultation with our mental health and alcohol and other drugs steering committee and the wider community,” she tells North Shore Living.

"This committee is made up of consumers, health professionals, NGOs and local health district professionals.”

Ms Rowlandson says it’s vital a proper planning process takes place so that services can make a "real difference in people’s lives” and in November local service providers will be able to apply for funds. Royal North Shore Hospital director of emergency services, Dr Robert Day, tells North Shore Living the number of people presenting to emergency with police is on the rise.

"It doesn't seem to matter if it’s a weekday or a weekend, it's happening regularly and it is also often associated with people who have other mental illnesses and who are taking the drug ice.

“Many are in an uncontrolled state and we need to restrain them and sedate them with the help of security officers," he says.

Mr Zimmerman says he has spoken to many families who are being torn apart by the shocking drug. "Ice use in Australia is among the highest in the world,” he says. "We need good law enforcement but we also need increased resources on the ground. It's a very serious issue."


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