Amanda Wust investigates crystal meth on the Gold Coast.
A half dressed man is dragged into the bright Hospital ward by two uniformed police officers. In a flash the man snaps out of his previously calm state. Rage boils as he struggles to free himself from the police. He throws one elbow into the police officer on his right, knocking him to the ground and within seconds he throws a punch at the male nurse who has come to restrain him. Over the next few minutes the man frees himself from the grasp of the police and hospital workers. He picks up a metal bin and throws it through the nearest glass window. Seconds later the man is screaming, as police and security officers pin him to the ground.
This is a scene from the Australian Government’s 2007 drug awareness ad on Ice illustrating one of the many side effects of Crystal Meth use.
In 2013, the National Drug Strategy Household Survey report revealed that around 8 million (42%) of the Australian population over 14 years of age admit to having used drugs illicitly at some point in their lives.
Although the report showed no significant increase in the use of Methamphetamines, there was a dramatic increase in “Ice” as the preferred form of Methamphetamines and the frequency of its use since 2010.
Figure 2: Shows data collected from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey Report
Methamphetamine hydrochloride also known as “Crystal Meth” or “ICE” is one of Australia’s biggest drug problems due to the availability, purity level, health and social issues, and links with criminal activity.
Crystal Meth (Ice) is the most dangerous form of Methamphetamine as it has a higher purity level and its methods of use are considered faster acting and more ‘intense’.
Crystal Meth has been making headlines around Australia in recent years, in fear of an “Ice epidemic”.
Local police and drug organisations say that Crystal Meth has always been prominent here in Queensland and that although there has been a rise in use and arrests, it is not in ‘epidemic’ proportions here on the Gold Coast.
These fears of an “ice age” arise from the government-run Australian Crime Commission’s Illicit Drug Data Report 2012/2013, which reveals a surge in the production, distribution and use of Crystal Meth, throughout Australia.
The report suggests that while Cannabis remains the number one drug in the illicit drug market in Australia, Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) (including Crystal Meth) are increasing in prominence, with ATS accounting for 24.2% of all illicit drug seizures.
According to the report, both the number and weight of ATS detections (excluding MDMA) at the Australian border increased to the highest on record in 2013, with the detections being predominately Crystal Meth and methylamphetamine liquid.
Figure 3: Data collected from the ACC Illicit Drug Data Report 2012/13
The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) reports that within the drug user population surveyed in the yearly Illicit Drug Data Report, the number of users that have recently used Crystal Meth, has steadily increased from 45% in 2011 to 55% in early 2013 findings.
Figure 4: Data Collected from the ACC Illicit Drug Data Report 2012/13
Australian Crime Commission’s Illicit Drug Data Report 2012/2013 reveals Queensland as Australia’s number one location for clandestine lab recoveries.
Since July 1st 2013, the State Drug Squad have seized $36.9million worth of drugs and 340 drug laboratories, with approximately $2million of drugs and equipment seized here on the Gold Coast since October 2011 by the Major and Organised Crime Squad
Figure 4: Detective Inspector Scott Knowles
Detective Inspector Scott Knowles of the Major and Organised Crime Squad on the Gold Coast says that approximately 25 illicit drug laboratories have be dismantled by police on the Gold Coast in 2014 to date.
Detective Inspector Knowles has spent the past 3 years working as part of the Major and Organised Crime Squad which investigates serious criminal syndicates on the Gold Coast that present a significant risk to the local community.
He says that the majority of his investigative work into criminal syndicates leads back to the local and national drug scene.
“We focus on extortion syndicates, but ultimately it always leads back to drugs. I’d say about 95% of the investigations we do have a drug connection,” he says.
Although Detective Inspector Knowles says that Cannabis is the “top” drug on the Gold Coast (due to it’s label as a ‘soft drug’), it’s closely followed by one of the most dangerous drugs – Crystal Meth, also known as ‘Ice’.
He suggests that Queensland has a particular appetite for amphetamines due to its party and tourism atmospheres.
“Amphetamines doesn’t just cover crack, it covers ecstasy, MDMA, all those party drugs. As a result, of the environment here on the Gold Coast and in Queensland, there is a particular appetite for that type of drug,” he says.
Detective Inspector Knowles says that there is no Ice epidemic; instead he suggests that it’s only being portrayed that way because the media reports are focused on what police are recovering.
He says that due to the increased funding, there are now approximately one thousand extra police tackling the drug issue in South East Queensland, leading to more arrests.
Despite this point of view from local police, a report aired on ABC AM radio station revealed that new data released by the Pennington Institute in Melbourne, shows that hospitalisations from Ice have doubled around Australia.
Dr Rebecca McKetin from the Australian National University, interviewed in the report, says that the number of people seeking treatment for methamphetamine use is rising, driven by the increase in people using Crystal Meth now looking for help.
“And we have seen that across most of the jurisdictions. We’ve seen it predominantly in Victoria, but we’re starting to see the same trends emerging in New South Wales, in Western Australia, in South Australia and also to some extent in Queensland,” she says.
While an influx of Crystal Meth use may be present in Victoria, Dr Fairlie McIlwraith a Queensland Coordinator for drug research from the Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre (QADREC), says that from her research of 300 regular Metropolitan South East Queensland drug users, there has been no significant peak in Crystal Meth use in Queensland.
“The use of Crystal Meth has increased… but this is not an upward trend this year,” she says.
According to Dr McIlwraith’s research from the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System 2013 report, in 2012-2013 approximately 282 out of the 9,616 people recorded by Queensland Ambulance Service as being treated for an over dose, were related to Amphetamine use.
Dr McIlwraith and her colleague Dr Andrew Smirnov both state that their research does not give a significant indication for what may or may not be happening in rural areas.
Recent news reports from rural Queensland have increased fears of Crystal Meth taking its hold in small Queensland communities, such as the Darling Downs where a local rehabilitation center said they’ve seen a large spike in the use of ‘Ice’ amongst patients.
But local rehabilitation centers here on the coast say that they haven’t seen a dramatic increase.
Suzi Morris, the Community Services Manager at Lives Lived Well, has a similar view to Detective Inspector Knowles, saying that she wouldn’t say that there’s an ‘Ice epidemic’, but instead just a steady increase here on the coast.
“There’s a lot of media around meth labs, but we haven’t seen a spike in use. What we’ve seen is that it is consistently the drug of choice and concern. I wouldn’t call it an epidemic; it is on the increase but not in that sort of proportions,” she says.
Lives Lived Well is the new brand that combines three of Queensland’s top drug and alcohol foundations: the Gold Coast Drug Council, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation in Queensland and the Queensland Drug and Alcohol Foundation in Far North Queensland.
The organisation provides a variety of drug and alcohol services to the Gold Coast ranging from the Mirikai residential program to around 9 or 10 outreach programs dealing with family therapy, family support groups, youth groups, health promotion and more.
Suzi Morris believes that Meth is dominate on the Gold Coast particularly with the younger age group of 17 to 25 year olds due to its price, accessibility and ‘party label’, which goes hand in hand with their impulse/risk taking behaviour.
“It’s a drug that gives young people a really fully sense of themselves, they see themselves as invincible, like nothing’s going to harm them,” she says.
She suggests that this is the reason that it is such a danger to the local community.
“You have very distorted view of yourself when you are using. You do things that you would not normally do … A young person who would never even think about running into a service station and holding up that servo, will do it if they are on meth cause they don’t have any control over their impulse,” she says.
When asked to comment on this issue a Queensland Health media spokesperson responded by saying that Queensland Health recorded 64,832 occasions of service in 2013 relating to ‘all’ amphetamine use.
Of these 64,832 occasions, 46% (approximately 29,823) occasions of service were recorded as specific amphetamine types, and 50% of recorded amphetamines types were recorded as Crystal Meth, much higher than any other amphetamine recorded.
Queensland Health revealed that an increase in the reported use of Crystal Methamphetamine has been recorded in 2013
Queensland Health also stated that while there was no significant increase in the recorded use of amphetamines in 2013 nationally, there was a dramatic increase in the number of uses now using Crystal Meth.
The Australian Crime Commission’s, acting Chief Executive Officer Paul Jevtovic, expressed his concern of Methylamphetamine appearance in Australia, suggesting that it is the highest risk illicit drug in the Australian market.
“Crystal Methylamphetamine is emerging as a pandemic akin to the issue of ‘Crack’ cocaine in the United States, ” he says.
In another press release by the Australian Crime Commission on Mexican Cartels, Chief Executive Officer Chris Dawson suggested a link between the Australian illicit drug market and Mexican cartels.
“Transnational crime groups, including those based in Mexico, consider Australia an option for importation and distribution of illicit drugs and precursor chemicals, because the price they can obtain is significantly higher than that on Mexican and US streets,” he says.
A few months ago in an interview with The Courier-Mail, Taskforce Maxima Commander Detective Superintendent Mick Niland revealed that links between gangs and drugs are common.
“The links between gangs and illegal drug distribution is clearly evident. This is why we are targeting them as their criminal activities are far reaching and impact on everyday Queenslanders,” he says.
For years here in Australia, there have been links between bikie gangs and the distribution of drugs in Australia, with multiple bikie arrests leading to drug charges in Queensland and other states.
A recent feature by the ABC’s Four Corners revealed that drug cartels are moving their business out into small country towns where there’s a lack of treatment facilities and police are severely under resourced.
Detective Inspector Knowles says that enhanced investigative methodologies and increased resources are the reason for the increasing numbers of arrests being made by Gold Coast Police. good
“The dominant increase in the amphetamine recovery is because of the increase in police officers. What you are seeing, if you actually look at the figures is not the high end dealers and produces, but a lot of the users are being arrested because we’ve got extra police in uniform out on the streets intercepting these people,” he says. good
While Detective Inspector Knowles suggests that the Queensland Government and Queensland Police are doing their best to tackle drugs in Queensland, he says the community plays a significant role in the arrests of drug users and dealers.
“If the community is going to be blinded to this sort of thing than the effectiveness of the police is degraded. It’s only through their observations that our effectiveness increases. Without a doubt the majority of investigations we’ve conducted here at the Major Organized Crime Squad are founded on information from the public,” he says.
Detective Inspector Knowles describes how community members don’t always report suspicious behaviour, even after something major has occurred.
“About a month ago we had the explosion down here in the garage, without a doubt that was amphetamine production. Again neighbours report detecting smells and unusual activities occurring, but didn’t report it. They didn’t even report it to police once the explosion happened,” he says.