This is part three of a five-part series about the crisis in our country communities. Today Peter Devlin looks at the drug epidemic gripping country towns, and the lack of resources to treat sufferers of addiction.
Photo: Peter Devlin.

Photo: Peter Devlin.

Like other country towns in NSW, Wellington is in the grip of an ice epidemic that Australia is struggling to contain. It has become such a problem in Wellington that some locals have dubbed the town ‘Little Antarctica’.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says 400,000 Australians use methamphetamine. Of them, it’s estimated around half are on ice, the crystallised form of the drug.

“Ice is ruining individuals, destroying families, and hurting communities,” Mr Abbott said recently. The Australian Crime Commission has declared ice to have the highest risk of all illicit drugs with usage rates almost doubling in the last 12 months.

Inspector Scott Tanner, Wellington Police duty officer, has worked in the central west for over 15 years. He believes the ice problem has reached pandemic proportions in regional Australia because drug dealers are getting more bang for their buck in country towns. Syndicates are increasingly switching their focus from big cities to regional and remote communities.

“A hit that costs $20 or $30 in city will go for $60 or $70 out in the country,” he says.

A 0.25g hit of ice can sell for up to $70 in Wellington, much higher than in capital cities.

A 0.25g hit of ice can sell for up to $70 in Wellington, much higher than in capital cities.

In Wellington ice is easily attainable, says 14-year old local Jack Dent.

“It’s all around us. You can get it from any random house, or even near the hospital,” he says. “We all know this is the ice capital of Australia.”

A drug rehabilitation centre could be added to the list of much needed services Wellington is lacking. There are only 24 beds available for detox and drug rehabilitation west of the Blue Mountains, says Inspector Tanner.

“Our closest drug rehabilitation centre is down south near Orange and it is constantly full. Then there’s Brewarrina (460km northwest of Wellington) but there are only about 12 beds available at any given time,” he says.

Resident Darren Elwood, currently on a disability pension after a serious car accident left him unable to work, lives with his partner Cathy, and three children. He says rehabilitation for many drug dependant residents in Wellington is out of the question simply because of travel cost and time.

“If people have a drug problem, they need help but they’re not going to travel 50km to Dubbo, or 100km to Orange. It’s easier for them to keep their habit because they just can’t afford to travel,” Darren says.

Inspector Tanner is worried that without an accessible drug rehabilitation centre in Wellington, the problem will continue. “Our number one issue is helping people with drug dependencies but if there are no beds for them to go to they are doomed to fail,” he says.

In 2013, Lynn Fields established the Nguumambiny Corporation to support those disadvantaged in her community. Nguumambiny, a Wiradjuri word meaning ‘a trust for help’, provides life skills and workshops in both Wellington and Dubbo. They include assistance in anger management, mental health issues and substance abuse.

“I had a client asking me to offer skills like drug relapse prevention, goal setting and money management. Unfortunately, in Wellington my organisation is the only place that can offer this,” Lynn says.

The non-profit organisation has seen huge success, “I’ve had 2,700 clients and only three reoffend; you find me better stats,” Lynn says proudly. However, to provide services such as a drug rehabilitation centre, Nguumambiny needs the help of Wellington Council, but Lynn says it hasn’t been forthcoming.

“We had the opportunity for a drug rehabilitation centre in Wellington. We held a public meeting on the issue but the Council said we needed a large amount of money to bring it up to code and they weren’t willing to provide that,” Lynn says.

She points out that the Council offers methadone treatment at Wellington District Hospital but she believes the program is poorly managed. She says that over 90 per cent of those on the methadone program in Wellington continue to use illicit drugs.

“The Government can’t afford to do urine samples to make sure clients are clean before they hand over the methadone, so we’ve got people self-medicating and using methadone,” she says.

[Ice] is all around us. You can get it from any random house, or even near the hospital. We all know this is the ice capital of Australia.

Jack, 14.

The Wellington Correctional Centre is a maximum-security prison for male and female inmates. It was opened in September of 2007.

Inspector Scott Tanner believes that when you bring criminals to the area, you bring crime with them.

He describes a situation he encounters on a regular basis. “When someone gets locked up in Wellington, the inmate’s family will often to move to the town. When the offender gets out, the family is settled and decides to stay. Recidivism is a huge issue with crime,” he says.

In Wellington, crime is directly proportional to drug use. Inspector Tanner says that more than 60 per cent of violent crimes in the community may be attributed to drugs and alcohol.

“Someone who is drug dependant is more likely to steal to feed a drug habit, which then causes social issues at home and leads to domestic violence and assault,” he says.

The facts support this view. The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research shows that non-dwelling (private businesses) break-and-enters have increased by more than 50 per cent in Wellington over the last two years, coinciding with an increase in charges relating to methamphetamine.

The Prime Minister Tony Abbott launched a National Taskforce in April to stop the scourge of ice in Australia. “The Taskforce will examine all existing efforts to address ice and identify ways to take a systematic, comprehensive and coordinated approach to education, health and law enforcement,” Mr Abbott said.


Next: Welfare woes: cyclical generational poverty