IT’S the killer that shows no mercy and doesn’t discriminate, with the most innocent often amongst its many casualties.
Experts say Sunshine Coast residents are facing an ice “pandemic” with children as young as 13, the elderly and high-profile professionals using the addictive drug.
The Health Retreat founder Francis McLachlan said it was a problem that used to be only in tourist hot spots, but has now reached every small town in the area.
His concerns come after the State Government announced a $5.4 million pledge to help regional families combat ice addiction, which Mr McLachlan scoffed at.
He said it was a “drop in the ocean” and that $200 million was needed to fix the “multi-faceted” problem.
“If you asked around, around 60-70 per cent of people would know someone who uses. It is so prevalent out there,” Mr McLachlan said.
“Ice addiction is like poker machines on steroids. And the use of meth here has gone through the roof.
“You used to only be able to find it in Mooloolaba, Maroochydore, now it’s in every single suburb.”
He says the problem starts with children at an early age, usually lured in by other substances.
Almost one in three children who go into state care have a parent with a current or previous meth problem.
“We are getting a lot of mums and dads through at the moment,” he said. “But it is so much further than that. We see kids younger than 13 hooked.
“It is everywhere if you know where to look. You just have to walk around the shopping centres or fast food outlets.
“Addiction can start from mental health problems, painkiller addiction, car accidents, marijuana.”
Minister for Health Steven Miles argued the government was committed to addressing the ongoing issue of drug abuse in Queensland.
“We’ve invested $350 million in mental health and drug services as part of the Palaszczuk Government’s Connecting Care to Recovery 2016-2021 plan.”
A HINTERLAND health retreat and rehab facility operator is urging people to embrace life after being caught up in the harrowing Hawaiian fake missile threat.
Francis McLachlan, his wife Carol and their 18-year-old son were in Waikiki Beach on the morning the message arrived telling them their fates were sealed.
Mr McLachlan said it was just after 8am on January 13 at the picturesque destination when his wife’s phone beeped with an amber alert giving emergency advice a ballistic missile strike was imminent.
A few moments later the hotel screens read that a missile impact was just minutes away and that it was “not a drill”.
“We go to a ground level part of a beachfront hotel and find a stairwell below ground, waiting for a ballistic missile to strike,” Mr McLachlan recalled.
He recounted the emotional goodbyes they said between them as he awaited the missile’s impact and the “horrific death for my beautiful wife and 18-year-old son”.
Within 10 minutes they received the all clear, the alert had been an error and there was no missile threat, but Mr McLachlan said the damage had been done.
He said he tried to comfort everyone he came
Weasa family live in a scary world, what time we have let’s make it special for ourselves and our family. — Francis McLachlan
in contact with, including the elderly, and the relief when the all clear came had been enormous.
But when they went to go out to eat the area was deserted, as guests walked around in shock.
“We go to eat and there are no people, no guests, no staff. The staff have gone home to be with their families, to be with them as a family as an imminent missile alert was current, not a drill,” he said.
“To everyone in Honolulu, that warning, ballistic missile, they believed they would die,” Mr McLachlan said.
The owner of The Health Retreat at Maleny urged everyone to “enjoy life” to sort out depression, anxiety and self-medication issues and embrace life every day.
“We as a family live in a scary world, what time we have let’s make it special for ourselves and our family,” he said.
Mr McLachlan had been in Hawaii on a break in between meeting with a group of Canadians exploring options to open another Health Retreat in Canada to combat the rise of Fentanyl, which he said was cheaper and more powerful than heroin and killing “thousands per year” in Canada and the US.
ICE deliveries cheaper than pizza is ensuring the war on drugs wages on across the Sunshine Coast.
It’s not just troubled youths using either, with lawyers, doctors and surgeons among the professionals becoming addicted as they cope with trauma, or deal with work pressures, The Sunshine Coast Daily reports.
Anecdotally, cocaine use is rising in prevalence, but remains expensive, while heroin is still being used by “old time” drug addicts.
Sunshine Coast CIB officer in charge, Detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards said last year’s major raids had slowed the flow of ice into the region, but rising cases of imported ice were aiding a resurgence in the scourge.
“Ice is still pretty predominant here,” Det Snr Sgt Edwards said.
He said cocaine use was happening in some night-time precincts, but the main cause of offences, including property theft, remained ice.
“It is frustrating,” he said.
Emily W, a provisional psychologist and admissions manager at The Health Retreat, a private rehab facility west of Maleny, said they were treating people from all over Australia, with ice the most common addiction patients were trying to kick.
“It’s not just the Sunshine Coast,” she said.
“Ice is very cheap and very accessible. It comes a lot through the post and through deliveries.
“It is a lot cheaper than alcohol.”
The Reesville-based facility has treated more than 2000 people in its six years of operation.
Emily said they’d had clients tell them it was easier, and cheaper, to order a delivery of ice than a pizza.
“For a night out it’s more affordable to get ice then alcohol,” she said.
She said professionals were among their common clients, with the “performance pressure” so big many turned to ice, sometimes cocaine, to cope.
“We’ve had lawyers, doctors, surgeons from across the country,” Emily said.
She said younger patients were also common, with ecstasy use another drug issue patients were seeking help with.
She said heroin used to be one of the more common addictions, but the cheap street price of ice had seen heroin addictions decline in most parts except Melbourne, where it was “still big”.
Alcohol abuse remained a common issue for middle-aged people dealing with depression or anxiety.
Emily said the common denominator with all patients was they were dealing with some sort of trauma or underlying issue, when using drugs or abusing alcohol.
“It’s amazing, you would think it’s just the lower socio-economic people that take these drugs,” she said, recalling a high-profile legal professional in his 60s who presented with ice addiction.
Moffat Beach Brewing Co owner Matt Wilson said he’d seen rare instances of cocaine use in venues, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t prevalent.
“I’ve come from Sydney where it was absolutely rife,” he said.
Sunshine Coast Local Medical Association president Dr Roger Faint said ice was not a regular issue for GPs to deal with, but said it was affecting young people and causing significant issues in emergency departments and had caused regular problems in Caloundra previously.
“It’s cheaper than drinking,” Dr Faint said.
“It affects young people. It’s a super adrenaline hit.”
He said the come downs were particularly dangerous, and often times ice abuse was linked to other underlying mental health issues, which had to be diagnosed to help treat the person, but ultimately it was down to the addict to want to help themselves if treatment was to be successful.
Australia is gripped by a secret epidemic of high-functioning addiction, with millions estimated to be suffering some form of habit across the country.
“I remember when the doctor first prescribed them, he was so casual about it. Like it was something he did all the time, no big deal. I don’t know, maybe if he had been more concerned, warned me about them, how strong they were, things wouldn’t have panned out the way they did.” Martin was first prescribed the common but powerful sedative Zopiclone in 2012, when a severe asthma attack left him with persistent, anxiety triggered insomnia. “Sleep is something you just can’t go without. They say you can go three weeks without food, three days without water. Try going more than a couple days without sleep. It’s torture, complete torture.”
Like many “high-functioning” addicts, Martin did not fit the assumed stereotype. He was in full-time employment, married, and was seemingly in control of his faculties. He turned up for work, paid his bills, continued to see his friends and family. But every night he would sink ever deeper into a dependence on powerful prescription sleep medications, and as his tolerance grew, the lengths he would go to to maintain his habit became increasingly extreme.
“The type of sedative I was on, well it’s recommended you don’t use it for more than five days consecutively. But I’d been prescribed a three-month supply. It was completely fucked. I had become totally reliant on them before I’d even realised that I had a problem,” Martin shares. “When my GP finally questioned how long I’d been on them, I’d already trebled my original dose. I started going to multiple doctors’ surgeries to keep up a supply, and when that became difficult I bought them online. I refused to accept personal responsibility. I was fucking furious at the doctor who prescribed them in the first place, but I wouldn’t acknowledge how I’d let things get so bad. I mean, I knew things had gotten out of control, but I still didn’t think of myself as an ‘addict’.”
Martin wasn’t alone in that opinion. In Australia, most people’s understanding of addiction comes from the country’s hugely visible ice and alcohol problem, which is synonymous with the widely held impression of the homeless and the unemployed. As can be found on the streets of many Australian cities and towns, the familiar gaunt faces of ice addicts, marked with sores, teeth rotted, has created a vivid misrepresentation of addiction, as something which is easily seen and limited to those living on the fringes of society. Excessive, conspicuous drug use appears reckless and easily damnable. Even the derogatory slang we use to talk about drug users, as “meth heads” and “junkies”, reveals how we’re more likely to treat addicts with contempt than compassion.
However, in reality addiction is far more common and harder to spot than we might believe, particularly in urban centres where illicit substances are readily available and use is largely normalised. Recreational dabbling is an unproblematic part of many people’s social lives, and prescription medication is the backbone of our health system. However, under certain conditions, reasonable use can slide into full-time dependency, and the stigma of addiction is often the greatest barrier to recovery for high-functioning addicts, who keep their problem secret out of shame. Consequently, fixes can become an entirely private, and far more dangerous, activity. The deaths of Heath Ledger from an accidental prescription drug overdose in 2008 and Philip Seymour Hoffman in 2014 from a heroin overdose, both of whom died while alone, offer two cautionary examples of how addiction can take root even amongst seemingly successful, outwardly healthy people.
It’s common knowledge that ice — the cheaply produced and widely obtainable drug methamphetamine, otherwise known as ice, meth or tina — is one of the biggest drug issues for Australia’s homeless. But its equally widespread use by affluent, moneyed, high-power professionals, who value it as both a party and sex drug, is leading to one of Australia’s widest-reaching yet least visible drug-use emergencies. Alex was a promising medical student the first time he tried ice. Using it only occasionally for recreational purposes over the course of several years, his use finally spiralled out of control when it became an integral part of a relationship. “It became part of a pattern, where intimacy was only possible if we were both intoxicated. It was right at the end of that relationship that I started to use during the week, to avoid the come downs, which had become pretty brutal. It made no sense to me at the time to go through this horrible withdrawal just to go through it all again days later.”
A common trait of high-functioning addicts is their belief that they can still choose not to use, despite being chemically and psychologically dependent. Alex allowed his own substance abuse to continue, believing he could quit at any time. “There was part of me that knew it was getting out of control, but a much louder voice was saying, ‘You can stop this whenever you want to. You’re fine.’ And the truth is that I didn’t want to stop at that point.” Alex likens his ice use to the caffeine fix most of us crave first thing in the morning. “It was just like drinking cups of coffee for me,” he says, a pattern that he maintained for almost two months undetected. “I was extremely isolated, despite being at work and seeing people all day. I was withdrawn and disconnected from any objectivity. And that’s how I allowed it to continue.”
Alex is now in recovery, but it took losing his job and acquiring several chronic health issues to make him want to get clean. Francis McLaughlin, founder of Queensland-based recovery centre The Health Retreat, says Alex’s story is a familiar one. “High-powered professionals are amongst the most at risk. The real issue is stress – performance anxiety and the pressure to deliver. This leads to psychological issues like depression, but these are rarely identified and managed. In the past, alcohol was the main crutch people used, but now with the availability of drugs like ice, and the social and sexual sides of those substances which seem to tackle feelings of depression and low self-worth, we’re finding more and more professionals using heavily. It’s actually cheaper to buy meth than alcohol. It’s a crisis on a massive scale. Ice is being used in every city and country town in Australia – we’re talking millions of addicts nationwide.”
A figure in the millions vastly overreaches official projections, which places the number of daily meth users in Australia at approximately 300,000. However, the adoption of new anonymous screening methods is painting a very different picture. Secret testing of raw sewage in key urban centres across the country earlier this year revealed on average one in every 28 Australians are believed to be using meth on a daily basis — nearly 1.5 million people. Western Australia is the nation’s meth capital and one of the most addicted locations in the world, coming only second behind Slovakia in a global poll. One in 17 people were estimated to be daily users in the state, equating to more than 1.5 tonnes of meth used annually, or 56 million doses a year in WA alone.
McLaughlin says meth has many attractive attributes for elite professionals, but the scale of the drug use, masked by the increasing number of functional addicts, poses a near insurmountable public health crisis in Australia. “I’m generalising here, but you find that a lot of intelligent people use meth, because the performance you get in that first six months to 12 months is quite astounding. But then, of course, the downside is terrible. I’ve treated lawyers, doctors, senior executives, footballers, government workers. I’ve treated mums, dads, grandparents, kids from top private schools. The biggest crisis in Australia’s meth epidemic isn’t the kind of addict we see on the street. It’s the addicts that are hidden behind closed doors.”
Meth addiction, illicit substance abuse and alcoholism top the list of Australia’s most visible vices, but alongside these threats to the public health is another kind of habit, and it’s becoming one of the country’s most prevalent secret addictions. Australia’ s gambling problem directly harms around 115,000 people nationwide. However, the knock-on effect for families is estimated to be around five to ten people per gambling addict. Aussies spend a whopping $23 billion annually on gambling, with nearly half that going down the pokies. Whereas efforts to curb drug importation and distribution are a priority in Canberra, government urgency to address the issue of gambling addiction is relatively scant. This may well be because of how lucrative the gambling industry is for Australian politicos, with somewhere in the order of $5.8 billion in revenue flowing into government coffers every year.
Other forms of addiction fly under the radar because some — including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and addiction counsellors — question if they even exist. This includes plastic surgery addiction and sex addiction. For these types of addicts, their struggle is easily turned into a laughing matter or dismissed as extravagance, self-centeredness, or attention seeking. Nonetheless, the effect on their social, financial and personal lives can be devastating. Francis McLaughlin believes critical weaknesses in widely recognised rehabilitation methodologies, such as the famous 12-step program, can, in fact, be dangerous aggravating factors. “The underlying issue I find in almost every case I work on is cripplingly low self-worth. We have to stop talking about theory; in my opinion, the 12 step program or NA or whatever, they are only marginally helpful. The problem is, they reinforce the sense of shame that traps people in addictive behaviours in the first place. Shame comes to define who they are. We should be drawing a line in the sand and giving addicts the emotional tools to go forward with their lives.”
Some names have been changed in this article to protect the identities of interviewees.
THERE are plenty committed to beating the ice epidemic sweeping the nation, but it would appear Federal Member for Fairfax Clive Palmer is not among them, if his silence is anything to go by.
As local politicians sent their thoughts on the battle with crystal meth (ice) to the Federal Government’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement inquiry into crystal meth and Coast rehab experts told of their experiences, Mr Palmer offered nothing to the Daily.
When asked whether he’d made submissions to the inquiry, or what he believed was needed to combat the growing problem, Mr Palmer and his Palmer United Party staffers were unable to provide any response.
Francis McLachlan, owner of The Health Retreat, a Maleny rehab centre, said he was seeing more and more ice addicts present to his centre from increasingly varied age brackets.
“Unfortunately it’s an area epidemic for the Sunshine Coast,” Mr McLachlan said.
“It’s not only in Maroochydore and Mooloolaba; it stretches far into the hinterland.”
Mr McLachlan said he thought we’d lost a generation, and felt the best way to combat the growing drug problem was to focus on the next generation through improved education in schools, not only in stress management but also in improving self-worth and engagement.
“The only way to attack the ice issue is by education or re-education of young people and you’ll see the results in five-to-10 years,” he said.
“We need to teach them to like themselves and enjoy interaction with people.”
Mr McLachlan said encouraging kids to engage with their families was also critical.
“We all know who Captain Cook was, who crossed the Blue Mountains, but not once do our schools teach us how to deal with stress and it’s the one thing we’ll encounter every day,” he said.
“It used to be alcohol, now it’s crystal meth.”
Federal Member for Fisher Mal Brough said he’d recently met with top Coast police to ensure any response taken by the Federal Government would be an approach coordinated with police.
Meanwhile State Member for Buderim, Steve Dickson, wrote to the Parliamentary Committee calling for a coordinated response from a number of government departments, including looking at introducing nationwide laws targeting criminal bikie gangs, in a bid to combat the production and distribution of crystal meth.
Mr McLachlan said there were other social factors that needed to change, including the fact that he believed ice was becoming more appealing for young people than alcohol.
Despite being given an extended period to provide a response, Mr Palmer was unable to say whether he believed ice was an issue, what he would do to combat the issue and whether or not he had found the time in his schedule to provide a submission to the Parliamentary Committee.