Tackling a cold, hard killer before it's too late

Rural Health Services Tasmania manager Robert Waterman is calling for more government resources to stop ice spreading in the community. Picture supplied by Circular Head Chronicle.

Rural Health Services Tasmania manager Robert Waterman is calling for more government resources to stop ice spreading in the community. Picture supplied by Circular Head Chronicle.

Rural Health Tasmania manager Robert Waterman has seen the scourge of ice in regional communities. He has worked in a drug rehabilitation centre in New South Wales, at the Salvation Army Bridge Program, and managed the Department of Justice Court Mandated Drug Diversion Program. ISABEL BIRD speaks to Mr Waterman about how we can stop the devastating impacts of ice.

When did ice start becoming a problem in Tasmania?

When I came to Tasmania in 2008 there was a bit of speed around but I remember making the comment, "we want to hope we don't have the same issues with ice that they are having on the mainland". Then in 2010 the purity started to increase. There was methamphetamine, more crystal meth around, and then the methamphetamine ice. Around the last two years there has been a significant increase.

What does the community need to know about ice to fully understand it?

The drug has evolved to have a much more devastating impact on the brain, and people develop serious mental illness from it. It is more than addiction. I don't think people realise how bad it is. It also affects everybody. It is not synonymous with low-income classes, it affects all. Some people might feel like they are protected from it but they are going to be affected (through crime). Since 1918 in World Wars I and II, Korean War, the Vietnam War, there have been about 118,000 Australians killed. In comparison, since 1991 we have had about 319,000 drug- related deaths. People pay attention to wars. Why won't they pay as much attention to something that is killing three times as many people in only a quarter of the time?

There have been 14 ice-related murders in Victoria recently, including the murder of a 10-month-old baby who became the victim of a burglar who was on ice. What will happen in Tasmania if we don't properly address this issue now?

If we don't do anything we will follow the trends of the mainland. Prior to coming to Tasmania I worked in New South Wales at a residential rehab centre and watched the ice trend. I worked with people in rural communities where families were torn apart. I've seen many people die from drugs. My biggest fear is that it will become beyond our reach and we won't have the resources to get it under control. I understand governments have a lot of issues to resolve but they really need to prioritise this, and learn about the importance of early intervention prevention.

What can we - the government, councils, support organisations, schools, individuals - do to stop ice?

We have never really targeted preventative measures. Generationally, parents have lost the ability to provide role modelling and teach resilience, empathy, objectivity and respect. To get on top of the drug issue we need to work with families to help them understand what kids need to have a productive life, and for schools to help them develop these protective factors and social competence so that when they are faced with potential drug use they have the skills to navigate life without using them. Instead of relying so heavily on law enforcement we need to eliminate the supply by eliminating the market by stopping people wanting to use drugs.

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