Authors: Malcolm Knox
Malcolm Knox is the author of three novels,
, and most recently,
. Each has been published internationally. Malcolm was formerly literary editor of the
, where he broke the Norma Khouri hoax story, for which he won a Walkley Award. He is also the author of
Secrets of the
, a non-fiction account of his experience as a juror, and a history of the jury system. He lives in Sydney.
THE INSIDE STORY OF
ICE IN AUSTRALIA
THE INSIDE STORY OF
ICE IN AUSTRALIA
First published in 2008
Copyright Â© Malcolm Knox 2008
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10% of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
National Library of Australia
Knox, Malcolm, 1966-
Scattered: the inside story of ice in Australia.
ISBN: 978 1 74175 358 5 (pbk.)
Methamphetamine abuse - Australia. Methamphetamine - Social aspects - Australia.
Typeset by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Q: What's the best thing about being an ice addict?
A: Only two more sleeps to Christmas.
Joke heard on 1 December 2007
On the first Saturday of October 2007, the pay TV music channel [V] posted a mischievous double entendre in the guise of a viewer poll. On
What U Want
, its video request show, [V] asked its young, hedonistic audience to describe âYour favourite memories on ice'.
Although the question was ostensibly a promotional tie-in with the newly released ice-skating movie
Blades of Glory
, viewers were quick to see a second meaning. The text responses rolled across the TV screen:
Too many to name
Lots of sex
Everything's great on meth!
The TV station's response to the ensuing controversy was as paranoid and fast-moving as if it was itself affected by stimulants.
âChannel [V] in no way endorses the use of drugs and in fact it is currently in development on an educational series for a youth audience on the drug ice,' Tara King, Foxtel's director of music channels, said in a written statement.
There is, and was, no suggestion that Foxtel believes ice, or crystal methamphetamine, is fun. But many of its viewers do, and therein sits the big elephant in the debate over drug education.
Most people who use illicit drugs do so because it is fun.
When I was a teenager, we were told that the effects of smoking marijuana on boys included growing breasts and becoming a heroin addict. The prospect of turning into a buxom street junkie proved as effective a deterrent as the threat of masturbation leading to dark glasses and a white cane. Someone dared to try it, and it didn't happen. The entire official message therefore lost credibility. The real education on forbidden pleasures was subsequently taken into the hands of the kids themselves.
This remains the case, as the [V] incident demonstrates. What the authorities tell you is that marijuana smoking can lead to schizophrenia, a loss of motivation and devastating drug addiction. What they don't tell you is that you have to smoke a hell of a lot before that happens. Most young people know this from the age of twenty. They are immediately at a knowledge advantage to their parents and teachers.
Likewise, as this book will demonstrate, using crystal methamphetamine can lead to paranoia, psychosis, violent actions and a smorgasbord of consequences that place it alongside heroin and cocaine as the most dangerous of the commonly used illicit substances. But it doesn't happen immediately.
Ice also leads to a euphoria that is seldom, if ever, produced by natural causes. It leads to great sex. It leads to exhilarating moments with friends. It leads to self-confidence and clarity. It leads to an overwhelming feeling that everything in the user's life is perfect.
This is not just anecdotal assertion, as the following pages will show. One of the biggest surveys of young drug users was carried out by the Australian Drug Foundation in 2007. The anonymous online survey of 6801 people found that 895 had used methamphetamine in the previous year. The study assessed the effects of different drugs on skilled activityâspecifically, driving a car within three hours of taking the drug. Users of alcohol, cannabis, heroin, ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and GHB all tended to think their driving was worse on drugs. Only the stimulant usersâthose who had taken methamphetamine or cocaineâbelieved their driving improved after taking the drug. Of meth users, 56 per cent said their driving was unchanged, and 27 per cent said their driving was better.
Everything's great on
: even activities that are mundane, such as work. As we will see, ice is the one illicit drug that is used not to relax from work, but to turn it into fun. Ice users feel not only euphoric, but more
. As one user who took ice before work told me, âIt is the ultimate performance-enhancing substance. It enhances everything you do.' Even though he has overcome his addiction, he still believes he has never performed better professionally than when he was using ice.
Perhaps the greatest danger in crystal methamphetamine, as with all mind- and mood-altering substances, is that the majority of the people who are using it are doing so lightly, and without drastic ill-effects. There is a silent majority of working, functioning, fun-loving young adults who enjoy ice occasionally. The addicts whose lives have fallen apart, the parents neglecting their children, the vulnerable individuals whose ice use tips their everyday conflicts into scenes out of horror movies, are a minority. They do not represent the typical drug user. I want to stress from the start that the majority of ice users are using it within safe limits and will give it up as they grow up.
There is a narrative arc to the ice phenomenon in Australia. Crystal methamphetamine appeared here in the mid to late 1990s, it caught on with thousands of mainstream middle-class users after 2000, it peaked around 2003 and 2004, it plateaued for a couple of years, and now it appears to be in a slight decline.
Coincidentally, this decline was noted in the same week as the Channel [V] incident. The leading fact-finders on illicit drug use in Australia, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, reported that for the first time since the 1990s injecting drug users, the bellwether cohortâor, as NDARC researchers put it, the âsentinel group'âfor emerging drug trends, were reporting a significant drop in the use of crystal methamphetamine. In 2006, 57 per cent of injecting users were using ice. By 2007, this fell to 47 per cent. Big drops were recorded in Perth, Brisbane and Canberra, where ice had been extremely popular compared with other injectable drugs. The lead researcher, Associate Professor Louisa Degenhardt, had looked at the possible causes for the decrease. Sometimes it is because a drug becomes more expensive, or less available. That hadn't happened. Instead, Degenhardt discovered that the word had got around about the negative consequences of ice use. The drug was getting a bad reputation among the people who really mattered: those who use it. (On the downside, the old perennial, heroin, was undergoing a resurgence after a seven-year downturn.)
Ice is not about to disappear again, and to a degree the changes in overall use are always overstated. About 3.9 per cent of Australia's population use amphetamines at least occasionally, and that figure has been reasonably stable for more than 30 years. It's not the same 3.9 per cent of peopleâmost users phase in and out of drug use as a rite of passage in their late adolescence and early adulthoodâbut the overall usage rate is remarkably steady, and is a salient and simple warning against hysteria.
Yet crystal methamphetamine has a story to tell in this country. The advent, growth, peak, plateau and decline of ice use, all in the last decade, have each had their causes. These causes have to do with the economics of drug supply, social and cultural factors, education, law enforcement, hospital treatment, criminal justice and the magical X-factor of the spoken word that is passed from person to person in homes, workplaces, nightclubs, pubs and on the street.
How all these factors interlock, and what they tell us about our country in this decade, is the subject of this story.
For Vicki Wolf and her boyfriend of four years, Mark Thomas, the trip to Thailand was something of a contradiction in terms. Having been committed and well-known weekend hedonists in the law faculty and their residential colleges during five years at Melbourne University, they wanted to celebrate the end of their final exams in November 1995 with a big detox. When it came to drugs, they'd experienced pretty much everything that was aroundâexcept heroinâand now they wanted to turn a corner. Life was about to get serious.
They chose Thailand almost as a challenge to themselves. They had been there for their first trip away together, back in 1992, and had spent a fortnight in a twenty-dollar-a-week beachfront bungalow in Koh Phangan, struggling out of bed only long enough to roll a hash joint and loll about in the water. Aside from the fogged-up sense that they'd had a blast, now, three and a half years later, they didn't remember much of it, which saddened them. To go back to that part of the world and enjoy it healthy, straight and sober would be, they resolved, a kind of making up as well as a test.
As far as this objective was concerned, they succeeded, spending ten days in Krabi swimming, sailboarding, sleeping, enjoying each other's company, and imbibing nothing stronger than a ritual early evening cocktail. When they returned to Bangkok for two nights before their flight home, they were feeling dangerously fit and healthy.
Vicki and Mark stayed with some Australian friends in Bangkok. These friends, who worked for the Australian government, mixed with some of the more glittering locals, bright and sophisticated twenty-somethings who seemed to have close connections with top families in the Thai national administration, or the royal family, or both; it was never quite clear and asking questions was considered bad form.
The night they arrived, Vicki and Mark were taken by their friends to a party in a high-rise apartment. Although the residential block was new and, by Thai standards, opulent, the apartment itself had only a few black-and-white leather couches and beanbags scattered around its white-tiled floors. One bedroom had a couple of single beds, but the other two bedrooms were empty save for futons and piles of clothes. The apartment was, someone explained, not a residence but a âparty house'.
Vicki was, by her own account, âa two-pot screamer' after her week of near-abstinence and healthy living on Krabi. She and Mark were soon happily drunk among Bangkok's burnished youth, sitting on a couch listening to music and watching others dance, when someone passed Vicki a small folded sheet of tinfoil and a short thin straw. She had seen people smoking something off foil earlier in the night and assumed they were âspotting' hash. Others had been smoking joints and cigarettes, and there was no peculiar smell to suggest anything else was going on. Instead, though, when she looked at the foil, there was a coarse pale-yellow powder.