Ice inquiry too limited, says substance abuse expert

The NSW inquiry into ice may be less important than focusing on pill testing and legal drug harm, says a prominent GP

This week, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Minister for Health Brad Hazzard announced that the state Government would establish a Special Commission of Inquiry into ice (crystal methamphetamine).

The Special Commission of Inquiry will inquire into, and report on:

  • the nature, prevalence and impact of ice in NSW;
  • the adequacy of existing measures to tackle ice in NSW; and
  • options to strengthen NSW’s response to ice, including law enforcement, education and treatment/rehabilitation responses.

“Ice is a destructive drug that is ruining too many lives across NSW, especially in our regional centres,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We are establishing a powerful Special Commission of Inquiry because we want every option on the table to bolster our existing efforts to combat the evolving threat of this dangerous, illegal drug – and to get help for those who need it.”

The Special Commission of Inquiry into ice is expected to report in 2019.

But Dr Hester Wilson, GP and Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Addiction Medicine network, is sceptical, she told newsGP.

While ice is a problem, particularly for regional communities, and is often used in a high-risk manner, it is used far less commonly than other drugs of concern.

“It does worry me that we make ice the scourge, but don’t deal with the more prevalent drugs,” Dr Wilson told newsGP’s Amanda Lyons.

 “Nearly 13% of our community are dependent on tobacco and two thirds of them will die from that use. Alcohol causes huge amounts of harm, not only to the individual but to our community.
“The idea that we can just focus on one because it happens to be illegal and looks good politically is disappointing.”

She said that she is not convinced such inquiries make a great deal of difference, but said that the inquiry’s focus should be towards health, rather than taking a law enforcement approach.

The NSW Government’s track record on drug harms—such as its recent announcement that the Defqon.1 music festival, at which there were two deaths this year, was no longer welcome in NSW—was discouraging in this regard, however.

Its response is “Let’s hit people harder, let’s put in more regulatory and more police, more sniffer dogs” instead of having a “sensible conversation” about strategies such as pill testing, she said.

The fact that the inquiry will only focus on ice is limiting, she said.

“The idea of limiting it to ice without having an overall strategy around limiting harm from drug and alcohol use is crazy to me,” she said.
“Ice can cause significant damage for individuals and communities, but it’s just one of the options; sometimes what happens is if people have a dependency, they will move to what’s available. So if suddenly ice is not available, they will move to whatever else is.”

More support and training for health professionals and access to treatment is needed, Dr Wilson said.

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