The drug ice has been labelled a “scourge on society”, as offences for the notorious stimulant hit an all-time high in the Hunter Region.
As communities grapple with the drug’s grim effects, new figures show the problem is worsening.
Newcastle (25 per cent), Maitland (36 per cent) and Port Stephens (21 per cent) experienced significant rises over the past year in charges for amphetamines use.
In those three areas, along with Lake Macquarie and Singleton, the number of offences have never been higher.
The NSW Labor Opposition has called for a drug summit, similar to the one that former Premier Bob Carr held in 1999.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said the ice epidemic was “an absolute scourge on society”.
“It destroys the lives of users, their friends and family,” Mr Crakanthorp said.
“This drug also has a devastating impact on the community at large. Frontline services of police, paramedics and nurses are being forced to endure the impact of this amphetamine.”
Mr Crakanthorp said a new approach was needed to “combat this drug before it destroys more lives”.
Garth Popple, executive director of We Help Ourselves Hunter Valley, said a lack of beds was an “urgent problem”.
Mr Popple said these beds were needed at the Cessnock-based recovery centre “to handle the complex group that attracts the publicity for erratic and violent behaviour on ice”.
“We need to increase our beds by 10 to 20 per cent to cope with demand,” he said.
“Federal funding through the Ice Taskforce has gone to mild and moderate users. They’re not the ones doing all the damage.”
Mr Popple said new government money had not gone towards extra beds at the Cessnock centre for 15 years.
“We know ice isn’t going to go away and you can’t arrest your way out of the problem. The government can’t keep sitting on its hands,” he said.
He said funding extra beds at rehabilitation services was far cheaper than the cost of more beds in jails.
His service focused on “getting people reskilled and job- or education-ready to get them back into something that will occupy their minds and give them some hope for the future”.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. We’re in the business of making that horse thirsty.”
Central Hunter crime manager Detective Inspector George Radmore said ice was an insidious drug that had a significant effect on the health of users and their relationships.
Ice use was having some effect on property crime, but this type of offence was much lower than in the ‘80s and ‘90s when the heroin epidemic led to a big increase in break-ins.
However, ice use had led to an increase in violence in the community and “in the interactions that police and other emergency service workers have with users”.
This flowed through to domestic violence, he said.
Drug dealers and drug dens are being targeted in Maitland – the area which recorded the biggest rise in charges for amphetamines use in the Hunter in the past year.
Over this period, the Central Hunter police command searched more people and vehicles than the previous year at rates of 10 per cent and 2 per cent respectively.
However, the rate of amphetamine possession increased by 36 per cent over this period.
“Therefore, detection of amphetamine possession has increased at a greater rate than the increase in searches,” Detective Inspector Radmore said.
This indicated that more people were possessing amphetamines than the previous year, he said.
Detective Inspector Radmore said the command “significantly increased seizures and arrests” for drug supply last year.
Investigations had mostly targeted the supply of amphetamines, rather than possession. This will remain a top priority for the command.