Tackling the country Victoria ice scourge

With regional communities feeling the pressure of an alarming increase in crystal methamphetamine use, a state government panel has recommended new ways it hopes will tackle the issue.

With regional communities feeling the pressure of an alarming increase in crystal methamphetamine use, a state government panel has recommended new ways it hopes will tackle the issue.

COUNTRY areas will be the focus of sweeping changes aimed at ridding stricken communities of the ice plague.

With regional communities feeling the pressure of an alarming increase in crystal methamphetamine use, a state government panel has recommended new ways it hopes will tackle the issue.

They include:

  • local withdrawal beds for methamphetamine users;
  • better access to residential rehabilitation beds and transfer systems; 
  • laws to allow for the declaration of “drug transit zones” to assist with cross-border detection and seizure of illicit drugs on interstate roads;
  • well-resourced outpatient services to respond to methamphetamine users; and
  • “innovative” programs and resources for schools and young people to support those at risk of exposure to drug use.

The measures are contained in a 900-page report released in State Parliament yesterday from the Law Reform, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee which was chaired by Western Victorian MP Simon Ramsay.

The report drew from 78 submissions, 113 public hearings and 220 witnesses who gave evidence across the state.

Mr Ramsay said a key finding was the significant rise in the use of the “most potent and dangerous form” of the drug — crystal meth — particularly by young people between 20 and 29. 

“It was clear that people from across the state felt that methamphetamine was having a damaging effect on sections of their community and that extra support was required in the areas of health, law enforcement, education and particularly family support,” Mr Ramsay said.

He said the report was influenced by many personal stories of those affected by the drug and the destructive consequences that ice had on their lives. 

Many witnesses had complained that drug treatment services and facilities were biased towards Melbourne.

Glenelg South Grampians Drug Treatment Service manager Bev McIlroyd urged the committee to take rural issues, responses and impacts seriously.

“I cannot say that strongly enough. What we see here, there is little relationship to what people see in the city. I understand figures, I understand numbers and I understand dollars, however, each person deserves the right to have their issues addressed no matter where they are,” Ms McIlroyd told the committee at a public hearing in Warrnambool in March.

“Once the family dynamic is destroyed (within months) through drug use, it is very difficult to get it back again, especially when often at times you have dual diagnosis. Mental health issues go along with that as well.”

Police superintendent Don Downes described a marked increase in family violence in the western region linked to alcohol and drug abuse, particularly ice.

“Many victims (are) reporting severe and extreme violence and the damage perpetrated by the person using of coming down from the use of ice.”

Superintendent Downes said the extreme violence associated with recovering relatively low-level debt was completely disproportionate to the amount owed.

Magistrate Peter Mellas said in the south-west there was no one referral point for people needing support from available services dealing with mental health, drugs, alcohol, medical, housing or domestic violence.

The committee was told alternatives such as diversionary programs and alternative justice could give drug offenders a “window of opportunity” to turn their lives around.

“Once upon a time, there was a very blunt tool kit: you did something wrong, you got punished, and it was something that either hurt you financially or hurt you in terms of taking away your liberty,” Mr Mellas said.

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