When Sarah* started working as a nurse in one of Hunter New England Health’s addictive substances programs, the drug ice was affecting about 25 per cent of her patients.
Now, less than five years later, she believes more than 75 per cent of her clients are gripped by the drug and desperate to get clean.
Sarah, speaking to Fairfax Media on the condition of anonymity, said she was not surprised to hear ice-related admissions to emergency departments had jumped 10-fold across the state in the same five years.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in the use of ice,” she said.
“It’s scarier than the old speed (amphetamine)… it’s stronger, more lethal.”
According to the Australian Drug Foundation the number of methamphetamine-related presentations to 56 NSW public hospital emergency departments increased from about 470 in 2009-10 to approximately 4771 in 2015-16.
Sarah said the statistics underscored the need for the ADF’s Breaking The Ice forums, which will come to Maitland on October 26.
Hunter health experts will meet with community and government representatives to discuss the damaging impact of the drug. Sarah said education and destigmatisation were key tools in communities’ fights against the drug.
She said ice was difficult for people in the Hunter to stop using for a myriad of reasons, including its physically addictive properties.
“It screws with the dopamine,” she said.
“Quitting alcohol, heroin, benzos, you feel terrible initially but after a few weeks you begin to feel better.
“With ice it takes 18 months. It’s such a huge commitment.”
But Sarah said the difficulty of shaking the drug was amplified by the fact there was no established methadone equivalent for ice. Treatment options were few and far between, waiting lists for the few treatment programs were long and the drug had a ubiquitous presence in some Hunter neighbourhoods.
“There are parents who are so far out there that their kids are shoplifting dinner from Coles,” she said.
“It’s really hard to get away from it.
“There’s a stimulant treatment program, but the waiting list is really long. There’s a triage system [but] even high priority still takes up to six weeks.
“If you’re some guy who’s just got out of jail or whatever you’ll be waiting longer. You can get into a lot of trouble in that time.”
Hunter New England Health’s drug and alcohol services area director Adrian Dunlop said that while there was no specific local data, it was likely the Hunter was keeping pace with the statewide trend.
Dr Dunlop said the forums were important because misinformation about the drug was widespread but, worse still, the stigma was another barrier to treatment.
“Part of it is shame, the stigma – particularly with methamphetamine,” he said.
The forum will be held at East Maitland Bowling Club on October 26 from 6pm. More information at adf.org.au/breakingtheice
Anyone battling addiction contact the drug and alcohol helpline 1800 422 599.