Hardcore drug ‘ice’ has shaken off its ‘bogan coke’ tag to become a party-night high for the young, rich and respectable as Australia is named a crystal meth capital of the world.
A blockbuster new report found Australia has the highest meth use out of 25 countries in Europe, Asia and Oceania, with Sydney and Perth the biggest hotspots.
Experts have warned the scourge of once-taboo methamphetamine is now gripping all levels of society – and is just a text, a social media message or a phone call away.
Crystal meth is offered alongside weed, coke and MDMA from dial-a-dealer services delivering direct to partygoers wanting an extra kick to get them through the night.
‘It’s just another item on the menu of a night out,’ drug counsellor Shane O’Neill told Daily Mail Australia. ‘Twenty years ago it would have been something on the fringes.
‘But today it’s just normal for people in their 20s and 30s – and these are people who would never consider themselves addicts.
‘It’s absolutely insidious and widespread.’
Experts have warned the scourge of once-taboo methamphetamine is now gripping all levels of society – and is just a text, social media message or a phone call away (pictured, 400kg of ice worth $300million, discovered being smuggled into Sydney in a 2019 raid)
Hardcore drug ‘ice’ has shaken off its ‘bogan coke’ tag to be a party-night high for the young, rich and respectable as Australia is named a crystal meth capital of the world
Crystal meth is offered alongside weed, coke and MDMA from dial-a-dealer services delivering direct to partygoers wanting an extra kick to get them through the night
The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission found ice use in cities had overtaken rural areas in the latest National Wastewater Drug Monitoring study.
Ice is now the most widely used illegal drug in the country, overshadowing all other drugs except nicotine and alcohol.
‘It is a very resilient market that poses a wicked problem across Australia,’ said ACIC principal drugs advisor Shane Neilson.
‘[Ice] was significantly higher in terms of consumption than most other illicit drugs.’
Sewage water testing found Perth locals were using 1,300mg of crystal meth every single day per 1,000 people, with Sydneysiders getting through 1,000mg daily.
The boom in use has sparked huge demand and helped fuel the current bikie wars as rival gangs scrap for supply and control of Sydney’s lucrative $3.7billion drug trade, worth $10billion nationally
CRYSTAL METH BIKIES MOVE INTO ASIA
Australian Federal Police fear bikie gangs are setting up new chapters in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia to smuggle in more ice, cocaine and heroin to Australia.
The AFP believe the Comancheros, Hells Angels, Bandidos and Lone Wolf gangs are all trying to set up in south-east Asia.
Gang members, especially from Western Australia, are said to have been moving overseas both temporarily and permanently to establish new drug trafficking operations to meet the burgeoning demand.
‘These groups are responsible for the importation and trafficking of tonnes of illicit drugs, hundreds of weapons, the laundering of millions of dollars in cash – and, if they feel it is necessary, murder,’ AFP Assistant Commissioner Nigel Ryan warned.
The boom in use has sparked huge demand and helped fuel the current bikie wars as rival gangs scrap for supply and control of Sydney’s lucrative $3.7billion drug trade, worth $10billion nationally.
Detectives probing bikie Mahmoud ‘Brownie’ Ahmad’s death swooped on an address in Sydney’s south-west in May and allegedly found 25kg of ice and $200,000 cash.
A 49-year old Wetherill Park man was charged in June with planning Ahmad’s murder last April and with drug offences over the ice stash.
In October, police allegedly found 300kg of ice, worth an estimated $184million, hidden inside a digger being imported into Sydney from Hong Kong.
Raids on suspects linked to the drugs haul allegedly found another $300,000 in cash hidden in homes in Merrylands, Prospect and Rydalmere in Sydney’s west.
Cops allegedly uncovered another $1.1million in cash next to 220kg of ice when plumbers stumbled on the illicit cache while fixing a leaky toilet at a Canterbury unit in Sydney’s inner west.
‘Had this drug seizure made its way to Australian streets, countless lives would have been affected,’ AFP Acting Commander Matthew Ciantar said.
‘Methylamphetamine causes extensive harm to users and the wider community – including the families that are torn apart.’
The use of the drug has spread beyond those seeking a cheap rush and is now used by young urban partygoers and even housewives.
Virginia Perkins was an apparently respectable middle-aged mother from Sydney’s northern beaches who ended up bankrupt in a drug-induced psychosis after breaking bad at the age of 44.
The use of the drug has spread beyond those seeking a cheap rush and is now used by young urban partygoers and even housewives
‘On the surface I was a successful, adventurous, functional professional woman,’ she revealed in a warning speech to businesswomen.
Virginia Perkins was an apparently respectable middle-aged mother from Sydney’s northern beaches who ended up in a drug-induced psychosis at the age of 44
‘Behind closed doors, I was little more than a barely functional, emotionally crippled, alcoholic and drug addict.
‘Despite the beautiful home, established career, busy social and family networks, I had lost myself.’
She revealed she had transitioned from drinking at home to experimenting with drugs until she found herself using ice after a friend offered it to her.
‘She used the drug to maintain her figure,’ said Ms Perkins. ‘It started harmlessly, a few women sharing recreational drugs a couple of nights a week.
‘I continued to use ice to relax and socialise.’
But she said within a year, it had spiralled hopelessly out of control.
HOW ICE AFFECTS THE BRAIN
Crystal methamphetamine, or ‘ice’, triggers the release of three chemicals in the brain, called dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline.
These chemicals are also released during pleasant activities – like eating and sex – and they are responsible for making us feel alert and excited.
The initial effects of ice – including increased attention, alertness and talkativeness – often last for between four and 12 hours depending on how much ice is consumed.
Although the effects of ice are usually felt quickly (within minutes if it is smoked or injected, or about 30 minutes if snorted or swallowed), it can take one to two days for the effects to wear off.
But flooding the brain with these chemicals can cause an ‘overload’ in the system which is why some people can’t sleep for days or experience symptoms of after taking ice.
Ice also stops the brain from reabsorbing these chemicals which lowers their supply in the brain. This is why people often feel low or irritable for 2-3 days after taking ice.
Over the long term, regular use of ice can damage or destroy dopamine in the brain – sometimes to a point where the person using the drug no longer feels normal without having ice in their system.
Even after people have stopped using ice it can take up to a year before these brain changes return to normal.
SOURCE: CRACKS IN THE ICE
‘I developed a methamphetamine addiction that quickly escalated to costing several thousand dollars a week, saw me mixing with criminals, admitted to hospital with drug-induced psychosis and literally sent me spiritually, emotionally and finally financially bankrupt within a matter of less than 12 months,’ she said.
‘Ice addiction is very much about the gradual grinding down of the border between fantasy and reality.
‘Many users, myself included, then become psychotic or so deluded they lose all self-awareness, not realising they have become hooked on this insidious drug.’
She added: ‘Addiction brought me to my knees and cost me so, so much.
‘I’ve come to terms with that and no longer carry romantic notions of harmless recreational drug use. It nearly destroyed me.’
Experts stress not all ice users end up addicts or psychotic, and stereotypical side effects such as tooth loss and skin issues depend on the quality of the product and the frequency of use
Counsellors and medical experts stress not all ice users end up addicts or psychotic, and stereotypical side effects such as tooth loss and skin issues depend on the quality of the product and the frequency of use.
But it does have inherent dangers, admits professor Nadine Ezard, clinical director at St Vincent’s Hospital drug and alcohol service in Sydney.
‘It’s such a potent drug to keep you awake that people can stay up for days,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Ice addiction is very much about the gradual grinding down of the border between fantasy and reality,’ former user Virginia Perkins said
PIONEERING NEW ICE REHAB TREATMENTS
There’s now an ever-growing demand for professional help to wean users off ice and Sydney professor Nadine Ezard is pioneering new treatments including using an ADHD drug as a replacement.
‘It will allow people to concentrate and focus on their counselling and reinvent themselves, if you like,’ St Vincent’s Hospital alcohol and drug service clinical director said.
‘This might give people a chance to put some put other structures in their life.’
The unit is also working on a world-first ‘psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy’ trial based on psilocybin, the active drug in hallucinogenic so-called magic mushrooms.
The dose is small enough to offer a psychedelic effect without adverse side-effects such as hallucinations or paranoia. This is followed-up with therapy sessions.
Clinical psychologist Dr Elizabeth Knock said the psychosocial treatment could accelerate and enhance the counselling sessions.
She says it creates a ‘psychological and spiritual experience that people describe as transformative.’
But lead researcher Dr Jonathan Brett added: ‘We wouldn’t be encouraging people to try this at home.’
‘Basically, if you keep anybody up for several days, there is a risk of psychosis.’
She added: ‘We get all different kinds of people. It’s across the social spectrum. We’re seeing a maturing of the epidemic.
‘We’re starting to see some people that have been using for really quite a long time.
‘Some people have got good jobs, they still have their families intact, and they’re trying to retain those, so they’re coming forward for counselling.
‘Some come for a physical and mental health checkup – through to people who recognise they are really out of control.’
But she admitted rehabilitation was down to the users themselves.
‘The majority of people who use methamphetamine only use occasionally,’ she said.
‘But no-one can tell anyone to stop using drugs. We can’t even keep them out of jail.’
Sydney drug rehabilitation centre The Cabin has an upmarket treatment villa in Thailand where the city’s rich and famous can recover in luxury and privacy.
‘Studies have shown that there has been a drastic increase in the use of methamphetamines in its crystal form,’ says their website.
Their main clients are usually struggling with cocaine and alcohol but counsellor Shane O’Neill admits they also see meth users too now.
‘It’s pretty constant,’ he said. ‘It’s an interesting one. It’s just normal now for people who aren’t necessarily addicts to have ice in their arsenal.
‘If they go out, there’s coke, there’s meth, drink – it just depends on the age group. It’s just a normal thing now. It’s not the kind of, “Oooh, ice!” It’s just there.’
No-one was safe from its clutches, he said, but many manage to hide their habits from the world.
He added: ‘They have jobs, have gone to uni, have families – whatever…but they are just kind of functioning.
‘The level of high functioning addicts in Sydney has probably never been higher. It’s just how it is… it’s out of control.’