SHARC would like thank the committee for the opportunity to appear before you today and to contribute to this important Inquiry.

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1 Presentation by the Self Help Addiction Resource Centre (SHARC) to the Law Reform, Drugs & Crime Prevention Committee into the Inquiry into supply and use of methamphetamines, particularly ice. Monday 14 th October 2013 Appearing for SHARC Ms Heather Pickard, CEO SHARC would like thank the committee for the opportunity to appear before you today and to contribute to this important Inquiry. SHARC, a not-for-profit, community-based organization, promotes self-help approaches to recovery from severe alcohol and other drug related issues. SHARC provides housing, education, advocacy and family support; working with families, individuals, and youth through a peer support model. The peer support approach is integral to our work, acknowledging that when people come together to share about common problems, there also arises the sharing of solutions, and cuts through the sense of isolation and despair of feeling alone. All SHARC programs are significantly supported by volunteers, currently 68. Our Programs include: Family Drug Help: a support service for families and significant others; Recovery Support Service (RSS): a supported accommodation treatment program for young people under the age of 25; APSU: a consumer advocacy service for carers and service users. Each year SHARC helps 90 young people and over 7000 family members. 1

2 In this evidence we have chosen not to address all the terms of references and questions raised by the Inquiry but will focus on the experiences and insights arising from our programs and our community, in particular the experiences of families. SHARC s experience of the use of methamphetamine (ice) in Victoria SHARC has seen a steady increase in the number of people presenting with methamphetamine use as an issue in their lives. Our data shows that calls to our Family Drug Helpline is increasing steadily, from 23% of calls in to around 35% of calls currently (increase of 12%) Our community family support groups are reporting an even more pronounced increase in the number of family members seeking support due to a family member using ice (increase by 24%) With young people presenting to our Recovery Support Service, alcohol, cannabis and methamphetamine are equally the primary drugs of concern but methamphetamine is reported as the most common among other drug of concern. Particularly what is the experience of friends or family members associated with a person who has been or is using ice? It should be noted that problematic use of any drug, not just ice, by a family member negatively impacts on the family members. The families who come to us are struggling with a range of issues including worry, stress, anxiety, grief, loss of trust, financial loss, isolation etc. With ice however, there is an increased reported incidence of violence and property damage. The extreme mood changes of the users are difficult to handle and communications break down as the they just go off. 2

3 When the person using is up, they and the family may not sleep for days. Below is a direct quote from our newsletter written by a family member. When he walks in the door we can immediately tell if he has been using by the look on his face. Quite often his body language is high arousal. We have found it is better not to tackle him verbally or try and restrain him. His mood can change in seconds from friendly to aggressive and abusive. Sometimes he can be paranoid and have delusions, for example being totally convinced there are drugs under the carpet and start ripping up the floor. This is extremely frightening for us as families as we don t know what to do. Do we throw him out or call ambulance or police, or both? All of these dilemmas are racing through our minds, and we had no idea what was right. In the meantime he may have picked a fight with his sibling and before you know there is a physical fight going on. Sometimes we haven t seen him for days and when he appears at the door extremely irritable and paranoid going through the house looking for something suspicious. Sometimes at times like this I lock myself in my bedroom in fear of my own wellbeing. Where is my beautiful son? This is unbelievably hard to cope with. What are the specific needs of a family member of a person who is using ice? How can friends and family members be assisted to cope with a person who is using ice and/or other licit or illicit drugs? The help and support that families need is much the same as when other drugs are involved. They need: to know they are not alone; encouragement and support to look after themselves, including diffusing from their own trauma; 3

4 acceptance of what they can and cannot control; Learning helpful responses such as boundary setting. understanding the negative emotions they are experiencing; and knowledge of the treatment system and how and where to get help for themselves and the family member. Community peer support groups provide important ongoing, non-judgemental support and friendship from people who are going through the same challenges. The support of peers important is particularly important e.g. the case of the mother who felt guilty about seeking AVO until groups reassured her. SHARC has recently helped to convene community forums on methamphetamine use, involving local police, and community health organisations and which have been extremely well received and supported by the community. They have been attended by many family members desperate for help and information. Local family peer support groups are being established in these communities as a result of these forums. See examples of these community forums. We had well over was over 200 at each forum. Are you observing a relationship between methamphetamine use and comorbid mental illness? Yes, our young people can swing from extreme hyperactivity and aggression to extreme depressive lows. This can trigger any predisposition to mental health pathology. 4

5 Also if not managed correctly the process of reduction from arousal in withdrawal can lead to prolonged post withdrawal acute syndrome (PAWS) Also there is also an increasing need to look at the mental health impact on the family we have family members who say they would be in real mental health crisis themselves if they had not found support through our groups. Can interventions aimed at methamphetamine use (including treatment options) be better tailored to specific groups such as young people,? SHARC s main experience with treatment of ice addiction is through our community peer support program RSS which works with young people. RSS works to build the young person s positive, social connections. Treating those with an methamphetamine problem is no different except that we have observed that they need a longer time to stabilise, and that more mental health referrals can be required to assist this early on. So it is important that treatment programs are flexible and responsive to this. What strategies should be put in place to best address the issue of methamphetamine abuse in Victoria, particularly amongst young people, Indigenous people and people from rural communities? What could the Committee recommend in this respect? Evidence on the value and role of family peer support has been given to this Inquiry today. It is extremely important the family are cared for as they are often in trauma from the impacts of addiction. Generally service systems are geared to support responses to one target group, so drug and alcohol service systems need to ensure they transcend this, and be geared to address the trauma of the family and build 5

6 their resilience, prior or parallel to involving them in further support for their family member in treatment. We hear this time and time again. Unfortunately as part of the current reform and retendering of Victorian drug treatment services the funding for community peer support groups for families have been decommissioned, despite the fact that there is growing need for such support in the community. We at SHARC are gravely concerned that many families will be left vulnerable and unsupported without this credible resilience building strategy. The harm caused by impacts of ICE will be increased, and the communities ability to respond in a collaborative solution focused way will be seriously diminished. 6

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