Health services and community members are raising the alarm over high rates of methamphetamine use in the Kimberley region, with reports of teenagers as young as 15 among the users.
Laura Murphy-Oates

Living Black
22 Sep 2014 - 6:59 PM  UPDATED 11 Mar 2015 - 9:15 AM

Cornell - a 28 year old Yawuru man from Broome - first tried methamphetamine two years ago.

Moving quickly from the powdered form to the more potent crystal form, known as ice, the drug took hold fast.

"At first I was just sort of doing on weekends," he says.

"Three months after I first tried it was a daily occurrences before I knew it. It just came to a point where I had pretty much lost everything that I had."

He says the drug is becoming easily available in Broome, with kids as young as 15 using.

“The previous availability of cannabis is now taking a backseat and so amphetamines and even ice methamphetamine is now available, cheap and becoming the preferred drug of choice."

"In the last three years it's started to get in the street level, its started to get in a lot people’s hands that it shouldn't have got into and a lot of the Indigenous people have started to get involved in it.”

“I reckon there would be at least a few hundred that are taking meth on a daily basis and their whole lives would be consumed by chasing methamphetamine."

According the latest Federal Government National Drug Strategy Household Survey report, Western Australia has the highest rate of recent methamphetamine use relative to population- at 3.4 per cent.

In the far-flung towns all around the northern Kimberley region of the state, health services are raising the alarm.

Milliya Rumurra Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre, just outside of Broome, was initially set up to combat the deep-seated problems with alcohol and cannabis.

Chief executive Andrew Amor says the centre is now seeing a steady trickle of meth addicts- some from remote communities hundreds of kilometres away.

“The previous availability of cannabis is now taking a backseat and so amphetamines and even ice methamphetamine is now available, cheap and becoming the preferred drug of choice," he says.

"We've already seen the devastation of alcohol and how that’s affected individuals families and communities. If we don’t act now we could see communities hit again a second time with this drug.

Dr Murray Chapman is the clinical director of the Kimberley Mental Health and Drug Service.

He says there's been an increase of people in meth-induced psychotic episodes forcibly taken by police to the mental health unit.

“Once every two or three weeks we're seeing someone where probably methamphetamine has provoked their illness episode,” he says.

“We might pick up on them hearing voices auditory hallucinations which may be quite persecutory.  It can change at a moment from apparent euphoria from tears sadness and intense anger. We have to use a lot of the hospital resources because of the risks and the potential for aggression.”

But the effects don't stop at mental health.

Paul Dessauer is the outreach co-ordinator at the Western Australian Substance User's Association- specialising in methamphetamine related health problems.

“One of our major concerns in the region is that Hepatitis transmission rates have been increasing,” he says.

“This is an incurable disease. Most people that contract HEP C do not show any symptoms for 10-15 years, and if nobody is testing them, and if nobody has told them about this disease, they may be spreading itwithin the community, this epidemic could be spreading without us realising.

Cornell eventually sought help and flew down to a rehabilitation centre in Perth.

He has been out of rehab for several months now and is determined to teach his community about the harmful effects of meth addiction.

“Something that I'm really passionate about is being able to work with Indigenous youth because going through my struggles I understand  how hard things can get,” he says.

“It's just good to know that my future looks bright and to know that the things I want to achieve I can achieve.”