ABC Online: Ice addiction: Let’s stop the scare tactics and tell stories of recovery
ABC Online, 21 Septmber 2015, opinion Sarah MacLean
The fear and alarm around ice is so strong that people feel paralysed.
Alarmist media campaigns have left the impression that ice use is so terrible that nothing can be done about it. But recovery is possible and we must ensure that message is spread, writes Sarah MacLean.
When Peter found out his son was on ice, he was devastated. Everything he’d heard about ice was so frightening that at first he was consumed by a wave of powerlessness. He felt hopeless, that nothing could done to help him.
Peter’s story is not unique. He is one of countless parents across the country grappling with the realities of ice use.
I have spent the past six months speaking with Indigenous people who use or are recovering from ice, and their families, as part of a research project with Mallee District Aboriginal Services in Mildura. Today, I am in Mildura launching a new report that outlines how to tackle ice use in regional towns.
Ice has touched every corner of this country, but Indigenous communities are particularly concerned about the drug, especially in regional centres.
Aboriginal people can be more susceptible to ice use because many suffer disadvantage and have a history of trauma. The community is also dealing with many complex issues, which makes it hard to cope with ice use and ice users.
Regular ice users tell us terrible stories of family breakdown, deteriorating health and increasing social isolation as a result of their drug use. Family members feel overwhelmed when their children or partners get involved with ice and don’t know where to go for help.
Yet the messages that ice users and their families get when they switch on the television are of out-of-control junkies who lash out at loved ones, pick holes in their skin, and terrorise hospital wards.
This may be true for those few people at the most severe spectrum of ice-use, but it’s not helpful for those who struggle with the drug day-to-day. To them, these ads say: you become a monster if you use ice. They reinforce a feeling of inevitability, hopelessness and shame, that this is the ice-user’s fate.
To truly make inroads into the ice problem in our regional centres, we need to offer realistic messages about the effects that ice can have on people’s lives – but also offer hope. The message has to be that people do recover from using ice and that help is available.
The fear and alarm around ice is so strong that families and ice users we spoke with felt paralysed. This fear is fanned by outlaw motorcycle gangs, who are known to use violence and intimidation to keep people using and dealing ice.
And it’s worsened by these alarmist media campaigns that give people a sense that ice use is so terrible that nothing can be done.
Users report intense feelings of shame about their drug use, and they particularly regret things that they have done while affected by ice. This regret puts up a wall for people who want to manage their drug use and access treatment services.
Our report outlines how we should tackle the issue of ice in Indigenous communities in regional Australia.
Our research has shown us that above all else, the most powerful motivation for ice users to stop is mending family relationships. People who stop using say family support is such an important part of getting clean. But for family, caring for an ice user is a hard task and more often than not, a lonely one.
Counselling and support for ice users should be intensive and prolonged, and address shame and regret. Family members need to have the right information about the support available for them while they go through a tough process.
Then there is the issue of distance. Getting access to treatment in the city is complex for people living in regional Australia, and Aboriginal people often don’t like being far away from family. Local day programs offering cultural activities and intensive therapy for families and users in regional centres could overcome these hurdles.
And in addition to positively framed campaigns, education materials need to show that Aboriginal people can stop using ice, telling stories of hope and recovery.
Peter was able to help his son stop using by getting him into a treatment service and taking extra care to support and watch over him. He is proof that people do recover.
We can tackle ice in Indigenous communities but it must be done with respect, good planning, funding for services for users and their families, and most of all compassion.
Dr Sarah MacLean is a sociologist at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne.
Link to story: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-21/maclean-ice-addiction-lets-stop-the-scare-tactics/6792568