Parliamentary committee sitting in Warrnambool hears of the new ice age

FAMILIES are torn apart, teenagers fear for their lives and law enforcement agencies are grappling with a new wave of criminals — all caused by the alarming spread of ice, an addictive methamphetamine.

A special Victorian parliamentary committee sitting in Warrnambool heard disturbing accounts from across the south-west on effects of the latest drug scourge, which has risen sharply within a few years, but still trails alcohol and cannabis in sheer volume.

Police and ambulance officers, health agencies, Aboriginal communities and youth workers presented submissions on how they see the problem, which has become a priority for governments because of links with organised criminal gangs in distribution networks.

Although there was little evidence presented in Warrnambool to show bikie gangs had infiltrated the south-west drugs market, Mount Gambier and south-east Melbourne were listed as the main sources, with some local amateur laboratories also supplying dealers. 

Many of the users were described as naive to the risks of addiction and standover tactics of suppliers. There is anecdotal evidence of  dealers offering ice for free or cheaply to get new clients, who often  became sellers themselves or steal just to pay drug debts.  

“It used to be cannabis possession. Now it’s ice and is turning up in routine police intercepts.”

Perhaps the most alarming statistic came from Warrnambool-based Brophy Youth and Family Services,  which reported that 19 per cent of the 361 young clients through its system in the past 18 months were using or had used ice.

Chief executive Francis Broekman estimated there could be another 25 per cent of the region’s youth population with links to the drug.

Glenelg Southern Grampians Drug Treatment Service manager Bev McIlroy said there had been a 63 per cent increase in calls for assistance from families and workplaces due to the effects of methamphetamines.

“The family dynamic is destroyed in months,” she said.

“It is extremely harmful to our community.”

Police said they needed more powers to stop and search vehicles on highways suspected of transporting the drug.

“It’s just coming onto us so quickly, it’s not an epidemic,” Superintendent Don Downes told the hearing.

Doctors agreed ice was an emerging problem but had limited statistics from hospital presentations.

Ambulance Victoria also said it had limited statistics specifically related to ice use and what was noted on case sheets amounted only to .07 per cent of south-west call-outs in the past 17 months.

Warrnambool Magistrate Peter Mellas said ice addiction had crept up on police and courts in the past two years and affected all levels of society.

“I’ve noticed an increase in cases relating to possession of ice — three to four cases a week,” he said.

“It used to be cannabis possession. Now it’s ice and is turning up in routine police intercepts.”

Aboriginal leaders said the addiction was straining traditional family links and there were inadequate treatment facilities in the region.

The committee has heard from 162 witnesses and had 40 submissions in sittings in northern, central and eastern Victoria, with Warrnambool the last hearing. Chairman Simon Ramsay said a report would be delivered to Parliament by August.

RELATED:

A poisonous drug that eats away the family dynamic 

Western region police want more powers to stop vehicles suspected of transporting ice

Tradie one of many ice victims 

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