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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 2585


Ms SCOTT (Lindsay) (18:14): Today, there were some pretty frightening statistics published by the Medical Journal of Australia online. That is in regard to ice usage through our community. In the past five years, since 2009-10, ice usage has almost tripled amongst 15- to 54-year-olds. The statistics have been collated from national hospital admissions, which show 160,000 people being treated and now classified as ice dependent. They also show that 268,000 people per year are now being further treated for this disease. These are frightening numbers.

It is larger than the figure that even the national task force estimated in December last year when they said there were around 200,000 regular users. When you look at that—268,000 people being treated for this drug—that does not account for people using ice within their communities or in their homes. When you look at what that means for ice, this number is even larger for people who are in contact with ice or who live in households where somebody is using ice.

The use and possession arrests from last year are, sadly, up too. Last year, I quoted the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research trends that showed around 25 per cent increase in arrests year on year. The latest data shows that the two-year trend between October 2014 and September 2015 has seen a jump of 74.5 per cent. The Penrith local government area has also seen an increase in the arrest rate, which is 50 per cent higher than that of the entire New South Wales' average.

The point I make is that we are dealing with quite a large issue that is hurting a lot of people. The collateral effect on others is also quite intense. The collateral effect is made all too clear by the statement of an unnamed health professional I saw today in TheCourier Mail, which says: 'When you can't sleep and come down, the psychosis kicks in.' That is when ice becomes a community issue.

I would like to remind the House of the words of New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione. He said this is an issue we as a community 'cannot arrest our way out of'. This is, certainly, an issue that requires a whole-of-government approach. Sadly, there is a lot of stigma about this issue and it is one of those that, by applying stigma to people and thinking we can just arrest our way out of this, is not going to help the terrible challenge that we have of ice in our communities.

Also one of the very worrying statistics is the growth of ice usage in people aged 15 to 24, which suggests that this issue is, really, not going away. But the figures published today do not tell the whole story either. When you speak to Jane Gold at the Penrith Women's Health Centre, or Michelle Ellery from the Queen of Hearts foundation who works with people who have been victims of abuse, or Dr Maria Nittis from the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District, they tell you that ice related violence is on the rise. Sadly, there seems to be evidence to backup those observations. The instance at the Nepean Hospital, in January, with a local police officer is one that highlights that. According to the BOCSAR statistics for the 12 months from September 2015, the Penrith local government area recorded the second highest number of domestic violence related assaults in New South Wales, a total of 1,027.

Ever so sadly, this insidious drug is targeting our children as well. Last year, I held a community forum exactly on this issue. One group, the Nepean Child Protection Community Service, reported that a staggering 90 per cent of inquiries they receive have an ice component to them. In that environment, users are becoming younger and younger. In fact, Matt Noffs of the Ted Noffs Foundation said they are now seeing users as young as 13. With all of this there is more and more complexity. With the stigma attached to methamphetamine use, there are now real concerns that some of these figures I quoted today might be underestimating the issue with people hiding their addictions.

As a government we are working to try to tackle this issue on several fronts. I applaud the government for having a go because this really is a very big challenge. We are spending $1 million with Crime Stoppers to 'dob in a dealer' on their steps. It is a good step and I commend the Minister for Justice for a worthy measure. But, as I said, this requires a whole-of-government approach, and there is certainly a health aspect to battling crime; it is not just a justice measure. But in stopping the demand of crime, in stopping the demand of this drug, for people to have the ability to say 'no' and to have the ability to turn this drug down, is a very, very difficult thing.

I would like to commend the work of Dr Karen Fisher from the Nepean Clinical School of addiction medicine at Nepean Hospital. This is what Dr Fisher is experiencing. First of all, they are finding that ice is not like cannabis, heroin or alcohol. With those drugs, generally people will be taking them on a daily basis before they seek treatment. You only need to take ice once or twice a week for your life to be thrown into complete chaos. Dr Fisher tells me that the fact that people cannot get off the drug, even though they use it once or twice, or even three times a week, means that we need to rethink our whole treatment strategy. This is a drug that has very different effects than what we have previously seen from other drug usage. She goes on to say that ice uses tend to also relapse faster than those addicted to other substances and to other drugs that their centre treats. Perhaps most alarmingly, ice is now accounting for between a quarter to a third of people that they treat at her clinic. It is a growing and it is outstripping many of the traditional illicit drugs like cannabis. Add to that the quote I read earlier that: 'It's when you cannot sleep, it's when you come down that the psychosis kicks in,' and you get an idea of how difficult treating people with addictions to ice really can be.

Dr Karen Fisher is looking for new ways to deal with this increasing problem. One of those is more specialist attention and early on. At present, a person on ice is most likely to be presented to the hospital's emergency department. Some may be moved due to the psychosis elements of the comedown from the drug into a mental health clinic. While these measures are good in the short term, they do not necessarily allow the individual to be treated appropriately for the use of the drug they have been using. While this procedure recognises the addiction as a medical one, you must ask whether emergencies are the proper department for people coming down from the effects of drugs.

The current system is potentially dangerous because of people's unpredictability and their taking of genuine emergency bed space. Dr Karen Fisher's solution is a dedicated bed attached to emergency run by the school of addiction medicine. At present, they are in a separate building at the opposite end of the hospital. I wholeheartedly support Dr Karen Fisher in this approach. The aim is to get to people who are using ice early in the process and to not necessarily have to rely on referrals. Dedicated beds would see those on ice given direct contact with treatment providers to allow them to sleep off the effects in a safe environment. To enable this, the hospital has to navigate a number of challenges, not at least the current design of the building and a space where this could potentially be created.

However, with the problem on the rise and current treatments challenging to meet the challenge of this drug, I commend Dr Fisher, Gael Rao and the team for their willingness to look at new treatment solutions. If we are truly going to beat ice, we need to recognise that using some textbook solution is not going to be the way we go. As a government, we need to support many initiatives, as diverse as they may be. In the words of Andrew Scipione, who I quoted earlier, this is not something we can arrest our way out of. It is a health issue, and it is one that the whole community must work together on.