Albany and Bunbury PCYCs break meth barriers with Ice Breakers program

Molly - Ice Breakers participant, Albany

The damage caused by ice is grim. Those living in rural areas are four times more likely to have a meth problem than those living in Perth. However, WA PCYC is making a tangible difference in the lives of those impacted by meth before enforced intervention occurs. Their groundbreaking Ice Breakers program in Albany and Bunbury is transforming lives when addicts realise help is needed before tragedy, police or hospital intervention is inevitably reached.

This self-referral program is not linear, explains Gordon Muslin, PCYC Operations Field Manager. He describes it as being hills and dales, a journey a meth addict takes as they move in and out of support before finally recovering. There is no definitive timeline or finish line, however, the program has already seen 16 participants in Albany clean for over three years and able to return to the workforce. In addition, families are being reunited and become an integral part of the support base as they recover.

Regina Titelius of The Sunday Times reported on 9 September that close to 6,600 people ended up in emergency departments in four metro major and three regional hospitals, including Bunbury, in the first year of a surveillance system revealed the true extent of the ice epidemic gripping Western Australia. Most alarmingly, children under 17 accounted for 2.5 per cent. That may not sound a lot, but it equals 163 in one year. Men represented 64 per cent of those finding themselves in ED, with four in five being non-Aboriginal.

PCYC in Albany and Bunbury centres have stepped into what Professor Fatowich, Royal Perth Hospital emergency physician, describes as “a huge and complex issue in our community and it’s getting worse each year, with its use across the whole community.” The Ice Breaker programs are already showing signs of steadily improving success.

What must be remembered is that for every ice addict, there is a family impacted, as well as the broader community. Intervention can help stop the destructive cycle that damages relationships and lives. Mr Muslin speaks positively of the program but stresses that it is in desperate need of more funding, despite its clear success. “Keeping people out of hospital or police stations should be our concern in these communities. We need to remember that not everyone is an ice addict, but if we can help one person, the ripple on effect is immeasurable. We contribute to helping build safer, happier and healthier communities. We help people move through difficult phases in their lives.”

What must be remembered, he points out, is that the Ice Breakers program is completely immersive for those who recognise they need professional and compassionate help. “It’s different to anything else I’m aware of being offered,” he explains. “Those in the program have access to help 24/7 and this helps them along a difficult journey, resulting in eventual success for many.”

Local Albany member MLA Peter Watson was instrumental in influencing the allocation of $360,000 by the Western Australian government for the two-year Ice Breakers trial in the south, but Mr Muslin believes if further funding was made available, the program could be implemented in PCYC centres across the state’s 21 locations. “They have the facilities, they are working with police, with communities, helping change lives. We could be doing so much more.”

Margaret Gordon, an ex-prison counsellor, is the coordinator of the Albany program with a vision for the program teaching participants tools for change. Developed to run over 12 weeks on two afternoons a week with sessions for families and loved ones, participants learn how to support son/daughter or partners.

In 2016-2017, the Albany program delivered 16 participants who have remained clean for three years and have been able to return to the workforce. 64 people moved into the maintenance stage of recovery, and five completed facilitator training. There were over 640 attendances, with over 130 participants entered into Stage One of the program. It’s working, but the pilot program that commenced in Bunbury was suspended due to lack of funding. It has been restored on a part-time basis, however, a significant injection of funds is required to build it to make the level of impact that is happening in Albany.

Innocent bystanders

An ABC analysis found in the seven years since ice use started to increase, the number of children in out-of-home care in Australia has climbed by about 33.5 per cent.

“We shouldn’t be waiting until addicts end up in emergency departments,” said Mr Muslin. “We have the program and Margaret has vast experience and has been instrumental in building a program that works.”

Ice Breakers focuses on reuniting families so that they pro-actively remain and work with their loved ones, particularly children.

Molly’s story

Molly fell in with the wrong crowd in a country town and progressed from a happy country young woman to smoking a bit of pot to being completely out of control and a young mum gripped by Ice. Molly admits to a string of unwise relationships with older men, spiralling her self-worth downwards.

One day after what she calls ‘a bender’ she fell critically ill at her mother’s home. A week later she awoke from a coma in ICU Fiona Stanley hospital. This could easily have been a tragic death in front of her children, innocent victims of Ice.

This was a turning point for Molly. Her family and children became catalysts for change. Molly moved to Albany with her children and joined the Ice Breakers program.

As her self-confidence grew, Molly gained strength from the support base. Molly is now employed in the program assisting the others gripped by Ice and walks with them through the journey to being drug-free.

Key WA facts

  • An increasing number of women aged between 35-38 use Ice, however, men remain the biggest users, with 30% of that group aged 26-35 in the ED surveillance program in metro Perth.
  • Not all meth is equal. The most powerful version is more prolific in rural areas.
  • Usage is widespread amongst rural-based FIFO workers.
  • Ice has become a key player in assisting FIFOs in the mining industry workers avoid strict drug-testing rules.
  • Street-level services report that the male ice addict is now likely to be closer to 40-years than 30.
  • There is a lack of services in rural areas to deal with the fallout of domestic violence, crime against property, child protection issues and other social issues.

A need for funding

On-going funding is required to ensure that those who are faced with the epidemic of Ice have support systems to help them find a way out, and in turn, stop the destructive cycle that Ice inevitably begins in our communities.

PCYC, working with the police and government departments, provides valuable programs with tangible outcomes. Molly’s story is not in isolation and together, more positive results like hers are possible.

Icebreakers WA PCYC addresses the issues of meth-addiction in regional areas. It has run in Bunbury and Albany since March 2015, although the program’s breadth has been diminished due to lack of funding in Bunbury.

Funding offers and enquiries for any Ice Breakers program across the state should be referred to Terry Eaton at albanypcyc@wapcyc.com.au.

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