Falling Through the Cracks and a solution to our meth problems: Education, facilities, community

FINDING A SOLUTION: Australian Anti-Ice Campaign WA manager Jay Birch, WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook and Canning MP Andrew Hastie have weighed in on our Falling Through the Cracks series. Photos: Supplied, Gareth McKnight, Shutterstock.
FINDING A SOLUTION: Australian Anti-Ice Campaign WA manager Jay Birch, WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook and Canning MP Andrew Hastie have weighed in on our Falling Through the Cracks series. Photos: Supplied, Gareth McKnight, Shutterstock.

Education, facilities and community.

These are key parts of the solution to Mandurah's methamphetamine issues, according to health experts, drug advocates and our civic leaders.

Our Falling Through the Cracks series concludes today after we heard harrowing stories from ex-addicts, examined the services in place to tackle the issue and explored the root cause of drug use.

Read more:

While four weeks of newspaper coverage was never going to provide a magic answer to this complex issue, any potential solution must revolve around education, facilities and community.

Education is power

Helping and rehabilitating meth addicts is certainly part of the solution, but preventing people starting their drug journey will be key to improving the situation, according to Jay Birch.

Mr Birch is the WA state manager for the Australian Anti-Ice Campaign (AAIC) - a national initiative founded by Andre'a Simmons in Queensland six years ago.

The organisation held a Walk Against Ice in Mandurah in September, with education in our schools a key focal point of the campaign.

Many of the reformed addicts that told their stories in Falling Through the Cracks stated intervention and additional awareness in their teens may have altered their decision making.

Mr Birch, along with all the other educators at AAIC, are former meth addicts and present their 'lived experience' as a warning to the next generation.

"Right now it feels like there is no real preventative system in place - if we don't implement one, we are just band-aiding the issue," he said.

"All our presenters are people that have rehabilitated from ice - that's the point of difference with AAIC.

"I was an addict for five years and I am currently five years clean.

"We feel because of the lived experience aspect, we can build a rapport with kids that perhaps a teacher can't."

TAKING A STAND: The Australian Anti-Ice Campaign held a Walk Against Ice in Mandurah in September, which will be an annual event. Photo: Supplied.

TAKING A STAND: The Australian Anti-Ice Campaign held a Walk Against Ice in Mandurah in September, which will be an annual event. Photo: Supplied.

Mr Birch said education presentations in schools, which are not currently happening in Mandurah, could well make a telling difference.

"It is key to educate kids because whatever is happening now, it isn't working," he said.

"The wastewater samples clearly show that use is going up every year. We need to do something different.

"If we don't get into the schools and start educating the kids, it is just going to get worse.

"We are not going to arrest our way out of this problem - the solution is education and cutting off the demand.

"Meth is going to continue being made and imported, but if we stop the demand and the kids from wanting it, then obviously it is going to get better in the future."

Specific meth facilities

As detailed last week, much of the strain at our emergency department at Peel Health Campus (PHC) is due to resources being allocated to helping patients impacted by meth.

West Australian Deputy Premier and Health Minister Roger Cook said unfortunately this was an issue at hospitals across the state.

"This is the modern reality of our EDs - they are going to have to have extra resources and tailor-made services to address issues with meth," he said.

"EDs are for sick and injured people but meth-affected patients soak up a huge amount of resources.

"It is distressing to watch and a hopeless absorption of resources - it is really challenging."

While a $5 million state government investment at PHC will improve waiting and triage areas, Mandurah's hospital does not have drug-specific facilities.

Mr Cook said Royal Perth Hospital, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and Midland Hospital had, or in the near future would have, behaviour assessment units or urgent care clinics.

FACILITY FOCUS: WA Deputy Premier and Health Minister Roger Cook says meth-affected patients clogging up emergency departments is an unfortunate "modern reality". Photo: Gareth McKnight.

FACILITY FOCUS: WA Deputy Premier and Health Minister Roger Cook says meth-affected patients clogging up emergency departments is an unfortunate "modern reality". Photo: Gareth McKnight.

These facilities mean ED patients under the influence of drugs or alcohol are separated from other people in need of help.

With the federal government pledging $25 million to PHC before this year's election, Mr Cook said he would like some of this money to fund similar facilities in Mandurah.

"We are currently working with the federal health department over how we can best use that money," he said.

"If there is an opportunity to use some of that federal funding around services and infrastructure that addresses meth-affected patients, I'd really be interested in using the money in that way.

"I think it would be really welcomed by everyone."

Outside of the hospital environment, Mr Cook said $6.9 million was spent on alcohol and other drug services in Mandurah, such as Youth Services and RUAH Community Services.

He said a new opportunity, Recovery Colleges, could play a role in the meth solution.

Announced earlier this week, Recovery Colleges are designed to complement existing mental health, alcohol and other drug support services.

The facilities, which will not be restricted to physical locations but work with existing providers where there is a demand, will enable self-directed recovery and drug learning opportunities in a safe and welcoming place.

"We want to equip the community with the skills they need to deal with these complex issues rather than just having the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff," Mr Cook said.

Interested service providers in the Peel region should contact Helping Minds at info@helpingminds.org.au or 9427 7100 to join the consortium and express their interest in a Recovery College being established in Mandurah.

A community responsibility 

The federal government has identified Mandurah as a potential trial site for a new welfare scheme where recipients are drug tested before receiving allowances.

If a person failed a drug test, they would be connected with the relevant rehabilitation services, helped to get back on track and given assistance on their path into the workforce.

While the idea is still being debated in Parliament, Canning MP Andrew Hastie said the trial would be a way of the Mandurah community confronting and assisting those with meth issues.

"The trial has been designed to help people that otherwise won't self-identify a drug problem," he said.

"We want to identify it, help them, rehabilitate them and get them back into the workforce.

"The point I'd make is that it is our way of tapping people on the shoulder as a community and saying 'hey, you have a drug problem and we're here to help you'."

COMMUNITY FOCUS: Canning MP Andrew Hastie says a community focus, including a potential trial of drug-testing welfare recipients, could improve Mandurah's meth issues. Photos: Supplied.

COMMUNITY FOCUS: Canning MP Andrew Hastie says a community focus, including a potential trial of drug-testing welfare recipients, could improve Mandurah's meth issues. Photos: Supplied.

Regardless of whether the trial is approved or not, Mr Hastie said tackling meth was a societal issue that needed a community response.

"People want answers," he said.

"They understand police are doing their jobs the best they can, that there are frontline services, they understand we have a hospital - and we can do more to improve all those things.

"But the bigger question people are really grappling with is 'why is this happening?'

"I think we have a society geared towards individual fulfillment. We've broken down the bonds of community, which are so important.

"In a sense, we have neglected our responsibilities and obligations to each other. We are all ultimately responsible for each other - that's what it means to be part of a community.

"How many people in Mandurah know their neighbours and everyone living on their street?

"If we all looked after each other a bit more, we might make some progress.

"Another thing I see is a decline in membership in the traditional organisations that were strong 50 years ago - there is no uptake of younger people.

"A lot of people are feeling dislocated, isolated - for whatever reason - and they turn to drugs or alcohol.

"There is a role for local, state and federal governments to help people with drug addiction but as a community we have to hold up a mirror to ourselves and ask 'why are people Falling Through the Cracks?'"

Have an opinion or feedback on our Falling Through the Cracks series? E-mail editor@mandurahmail.com.au.