An ongoing inquiry into the impacts and prevalence of methamphetamines on community convened at Moree’s Court House on Thursday and heard the regional town lacks detox centres and houses minimal rehabilitation centres.
The New South Wales' Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug 'Ice' began in May and has so far visited Lismore, Nowra, Dubbo, East Maitland and Broken Hill.
Moree Plains Shire Council is the last town where the commission is holding its regional hearings.
Commissioner Professor Dan Howard SC was due to hand down his findings in October but has been granted an extension to January 2020.
Thursday’s sitting heard evidence of the impact crystal methamphetamine (or 'Ice') is having on individuals, as well as the extreme lack of access to support services.
Despite Moree having the fourth-highest rate of use and possession of Ice in the state, the town only has one rehabilitation centre that caters for Indigenous people over the age of 18.
According NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Moree has three times the state average for use and possession of amphetamines (267.6 per 100,000 people compared to 92.1 per 100,000): the fourth highest figure in NSW.
Manager of Community Health Programs at the Maayu Mali Residential Rehabilitation Centre in Moree, David Kelly, said his centre is the only adult rehabilitation service in the area.
Maayu Mali has 18 beds with 14 for men and only 4 for women. Mr Kelly said 50 per cent of patients are between the ages of 18 and 25 and are often faced with long wait to access necessary services.
“The two things that cause people to wait the longest to come into the program is access to withdrawal management or being released from criminal justice ..., particularly custody,” Mr Kelly said.
During the inquiry, Mr Kelly said the number of people coming into the centre who use Ice is over 50 per cent.
“I think there is definitely a cohort of people that have always used drugs in a problematic way… more recently the use of methamphetamine in the community outside of that chronic drug-using group has increased,” he said.
Moree’s population is around 13,159, but in 2018 over 50,000 used needles were found in the rubbish by council waste workers, the inquiry heard.
Mr Kelly told the inquiry Ice also doesn’t discriminate when it comes to age, with children as young as nine and adults as old as 60 using the drug.
Maayu Mali beds are only available once the patient goes through a detox, and with no detox centres in the area, people are being forced to travel hours away, he said.
The closest general rehabilitation centre is a three hour trip to Armidale and the closest detox centre is Armidale’s Freeman House with only four beds, around 267 kilometres away.
Mr Kelly told NITV News that community members are not hopeful more funding would be given to the area to support detox and rehabilitation centres after the inquiry recommendations are handed down.
"People [here] are very concerned with Ice in Moree... [but] I don't know how confident everyone is that there is going to be a significant change as a result of [the inquiry]," he said.
"I think people feel overwhelmed by it... but they are definitely making their voices heard."
If more funding was provided to the area, Mr Kelly said the Maayu Mali centre would have the resources to grow and "accommodate more people".
Youth Highly Impacted
Bernadette Terry, Assistant Manager at the Moree Youth Justice Department of Communities and Justice, told the hearing there are no rehab or detox centres for young people in the area, and in effect the absence is leaving young people to go into police custody to detox.
“I understand a [detox] service is absent in Moree, it seems that the sort of default detox is for them to go back into custody… it’s sad if it’s true but is that right?” Prof Howard asked Ms Terry during the inquiry.
“It is sad but on occasions that has occurred,” Ms Terry said.
She said about 50 per cent of youth from Moree going through custody experience a detox.
Young users are also often disengaged from school due to a system of suspension "which gets longer the more they are suspended" said Ms Kelly.
Suspensions are not usually supervised, she said, and children often resort to spending their suspension on the streets which can lead to the possibility of re-offending.
Moree's manager of child protection/triage with the Department of Communities and Justice, Binnie Carter, said local Aboriginal families were often afraid to admit to using Ice for fear their children would be taken away from them by government authorities.
Around twenty-two per cent of Moree's population is Aboriginal: 10 times the state average.
All three witnesses agreed with Prof Howard that a detox centre in Moree would be a major step forward in reducing ice use in the area.
A detox centre could help young people from re-offending and in turn avoid detention time, said Ms Terry.
Intergenerational drug use
The hearing continued on Friday and heard shocking evidence from Cigdem Watson, executive manager at Centacare overseeing the Personal Helpers and Mentors Service (PHaMs) program, who said access to Ice in the town has increased over the last five years and has become noticeably more assessable over the past two years.
Ms Watson said a lot of young people between 10 and 16 are injecting Ice and it is highly likely a child will start to use Ice if surrounded by parents and grandparents using the drug.
"What we are commonly seeing is that there used to be a lot of grandparents raising their children because their parents are using, but now we are hearing, from places like Walgett, their grandparents are using too," she said.
"They are not really safe. Their home is not a safe place so when FACs (Family and Community Services) get involved they used to be able to place them with their grandparents but that's becoming more and more of a challenge as well."