Examples of the extreme behavior induced by the drug ice include assaults on police and medical staff, and girls as young as 15 prostituting themselves, according to reports in local media.
But an expert who gave evidence at yesterday’s Lismore forum into the drug said that this didn’t mean there was an ice ‘epidemic’ in our region and that research was needed to establish whether we were seeing more people using drugs or former speed users increasingly switching to ice.
Psychopharmacological researcher Dr Jennifer Johnston told the forum that while research had been conducted on ice uptake in metropolitan areas little was known about what was happening in the regions.
She told ABC radio that research showed, ‘we’re not seeing greater numbers of users, although we are seeing potentially greater harms’.
That research appeared to be backed up by findings of the Crime Commission’s recently released report into organised crime.
The report noted that, ‘ice use appears to be growing, and many users see ice as the most desirable form of methylamphetamine.’
It concluded that ‘this is partly because it is incorrectly perceived to be a purer form of the drug, and partly because it can be smoked rather than requiring intravenous injection. This method of administration may appeal to those users who do not consider themselves to be drug users, and may be a contributor to the expansion of the market.’
But the report warned, ‘the onset of the effects of ice occur more quickly through smoking, and ice users may be more likely to demonstrate antisocial behaviours, such as violence, than users of other drugs.’
Australian Crime Commissioner Chris Dawson told the forum a ‘coordinated approach’ was needed to tackle the problems caused by the drug, rather than simply treating it as ‘a law and order issue’.
Tweed Heads, Lismore and Byron Bay hospitals have all reported assaults on staff by users on ice highs.
Health Services Union delegate Murray Carlsson told the forum that staff working at Tweed Hospital were ‘very frequently involved in very violent confrontations.’
He added that over the last 18 months ‘we have had many staff assaulted in the course of their duty.’
Mr Carlsson said the issue was not confined to emergency departments and that he had been assaulted in ICU by a recovering ice patient.
‘In the safe room, where we often put these patients, we’ve had instances of hospital beds being thrown against the wall by patients trying to get out.’
He added the situation was often ‘very disturbing for other patients’.
Assistant federal health minister Fiona Nash said that the government hoped to use the taskforce process collect data and evidence ‘to properly inform a national strategy.