Methamphetamine scourge stalks indigenous communities

STRONG family connections and kinship within south-west Aboriginal communities is facing one of its biggest-ever tests from the drug ice.

“More and more it’s breaking up family units and causing dramas and troubles never seen before,” Aboriginal programs manager Allan Miller told a parliamentary committee inquiry yesterday in Warrnambool.

“The family process has never been challenged as much as with ice.”

He cited a 28-year-old Warr-nambool district woman’s response to a recent survey carried out by the Ngunnung committee, established specifically to tackle ice in south-west Victoria. She said her family and children had been separated because of her addictions.

“I can’t have a convo (conversation) with people, I’m always nasty,” she said when describing the effects of the drug. 

“There are the false promises and the fear of not knowing where I am. 

“For other family members it’s like they go through the drug habit without using it.”

Parliamentary committee hearing chairman Simon Ramsay said earlier sittings in Mildura and Shepparton revealed links between ice addiction and lack of parental control, high truancy and how dealers offered ice at low cost or for free as introductions to indigenous communities with previous alcohol and cannabis addiction problems.

“Users become beholden to dealers and develop habits of up to $3000 a week,” he said.

“Outlaw bikie gangs were leaning on particular indigenous communities, particularly relating to trafficking.” 

Mr Miller said there was minimal evidence of pressure from bikies in the south-west, but there was supply from Mount Gambier and Melbourne passing onto small-time dealers. 

“Aborigines who have used other drugs are using ice through injection — at the high-risk end of the scale,” he said. 

Mr Miller, with fellow Ngunnung committee member and Aboriginal community liaison officer Joey Chatfield, said there were no rehabilitation facilities west of Melbourne and none elsewhere that were culturally appropriate.

They were supported by Mark Powell, diagnosis clinician with Headspace, in calling for locally-based referral bases, known as healing centres, to provide early intervention and mentoring. Magistrate Peter Mellas also supported the concept of healing centres.

“If Aboriginal people are connected with their traditional country there’s a better outcome,” Mr Chatfield said.

Mr Powell said there was anecdotal evidence of a link between broken families and substance abuse.

“We need to engage with families early regarding bringing in young people for treatment — to get them before they go down the wrong path,” he said.

According to Mr Chatfield some people were switching to ice because it was cheaper than alcohol. “I don’t think users are fully educated on what impact ice has on them,” he said.

“We need to target kids we see are at risk and develop role models and leadership programs.”

According to Tanya Dalton, regional co-ordinator for the indigenous family violence program, there were examples of girls using ice to lose weight.

She agreed with Mr Ramsay there was evidence to show the drug was also a sexual stimulant which could lead to prostitution.

Ms Dalton said racism in the general community was a barrier for Aborigines in finding employment.

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