Just before her 21st birthday, Mary was given an unusual gift: addiction
Posted on September 6, 2019 | By Henry | Leave a response
It is hard to find a woman in a relationship with anyone on ice who hasn’t been violently abused, say experts. Credit:
just before her 21st birthday, Mary* was given an unusual gift – addiction. “My boyfriend of the time gave me my first injection of ice,” Mary, a pseudonym, told a special inquiry into the drug ice and other amphetamines.
Her violent boyfriend, who was addicted to ice, had been trying to get her to use drugs with him “all the time”. Mary gave in, only to discover soon after that she was pregnant.
She stopped using for some time, but the beatings from her boyfriend continued. At five-and-a-half months, a scan revealed that her baby had died, and she went into the hospital to deliver the stillborn child.
Callous as well as violent, her boyfriend feigned grief about his dead baby to score more ice from his dealers. “I just lost my child, but behind closed doors he wouldn’t let me grieve,” said Mary. Her boyfriend controlled who she saw, what she did and cut her off from friends and family.
Mary is 34 and lives north of Sydney.
Now clean and the mother of a young daughter, she agreed to speak to the Herald and Age (using a pseudonym) because she wants a better life for her child. She is also advocating for more detoxification and rehabilitation services, and refuges for women who are addicted to ice who are also fleeing violent relationships.
After 15 years using ice off and on, and in relationships with four violent men who had ice addictions, Mary says unprecedented levels of paranoia and sudden violence marked nearly every relationship she experienced or witnessed where one or both partners were using crystal methamphetamine (also known as ice).
“All have been victims of domestic violence,” she said of the women she’s met in rehabilitation and when she was using.
“I don’t think I knew a relationship that could sustain a happy household. I only know two people who are together who are happy using out of all the thousands and thousands I have met.”
In hearings since April, the inquiry has heard that domestic violence nearly always accompanies ice use.
Like Mary’s boyfriends, the inquiry has heard ice users are “stronger, angrier and more unpredictable” than those on alcohol and other drugs.
The ice made a beautiful, caring, thoughtful, hard-working young man violent and angry.
Mother of a son aged 35 on ice
Announcing NSW’s special inquiry, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said ice was a destructive drug that was ruining too many lives, especially in regional centres. She agreed later to extend the inquiry to all amphetamine-type substances, including MDMA (ecstasy).
The magnitude and complexity of the problem, including its impact on the number of children at risk in families where ice was being used, prompted the inquiry’s commissioner, Professor Dan Howard, to ask in May for a six-month extension. He got three months more, until January 2020.
According to the most recent National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 1.3 million Australians aged 14 and over have used methamphetamines at some stage. Nearly 300,000 had done so in the last 12 months, the commission heard on its first day. From 2009 to 2015, deaths from methamphetamine doubled in Australia.
Testing for the presence of methamphetamine
The inquiry has heard that ice – and the violence it very often unleashes – was causing family breakdown. In other cases, there were multigenerational households where grandparents, parents and children were using the drug.
Crystal methamphetamine incites extreme emotions, but then robs users of the ability to feel. Within seconds of inhalation or injection, crystal methamphetamine causes dopamine to be released in the brain. Users feel euphoric. They can do anything, they think. They want to have sex. Lots of it. Often without caring whether their partner has said yes or not.
But the drug also damages or destroys dopamine receptors in the brain, says the government’s website Cracks in the Ice, sometimes to a point where the person using the drug no longer feels normal without having ice in their system. After withdrawing from the drug, former users have told the Herald that they feel flat, unable to feel joy from anything.
In submissions sent in desperation to the inquiry, families talked of chaos and criminality.
A mother of a woman with an ice addiction, and a grandson, born with an addiction, said she “had to clean out many places after [my daughter] left. Needles. Rotten food. Mouldy dishes and absolute filth.”
A mum said her once peaceful son had become violent, unpredictable, paranoid and out of control.
In Broken Hill, the commission heard ice was a factor in the removal of every single child – 17 in total – who had been placed in care between January 1, 2018 to May 15, 2019. It was a similar story in Nowra, in Maitland and other places.
Sometimes the [domestic violence victim] is being made to take the drugs.
Evidence to ice inquiry
A review of 55 domestic violence deaths also found ice was a factor in a third of these homicides.
In evidence to the inquiry, NSW’s new state coroner Teresa O’Sullivan provided the preliminary results of a survey of 55 domestic violence deaths between July 2014 and June 2016 which had been reviewed by the Domestic Violence Review Team. In 17 of these deaths, either the offender, the domestic violence victim or both were using ice.
Among these 17 cases, ice use was identified among 22 people. That meant that in a number of cases both the domestic violence victim and the offender were identified as using ice, said Magistrate O’Sullivan in the submission to the inquiry. She cautioned against concluding that ice was the cause.
Victims of domestic violence deaths who used drugs and alcohol faced other barriers. They were “blamed for the violence that is perpetrated against them”, Magistrate O’Sullivan wrote.
Experts in family violence told the inquiry that ice has changed the dynamic by adding “another level of risk”.
Mary said most violent partners avoided hitting someone on the face where it would be seen by others. Those high on ice lacked self control, as the scars on her face showed.
When she told a boyfriend with an addiction that she didn’t want to be with him, he punched her in the face.
“He wouldn’t let me leave the room or seek help. It was too late to get stitches. I wasn’t expecting a closed a fist to the face, a full-blown punch,” she said.
Before she gave evidence, Moo Baulch, chief executive officer of Domestic Violence NSW, a peak body representing refuges and women’s services, surveyed her network to ask whether ice and other amphetamines were increasing the frequency or severity of domestic and family violence.
A 14 year old young girl [who’d been exposed to ice use in her home] was using Tinder to source older men to supply ice to her.
Evidence to Maitland hearings
The responses were unprecedented in speed and passion.
Of the 33 of 37 service providers who responded, nearly 90 per cent said it had, singling out ice as the cause.
“The level and intensity of the violence has increased to extreme acts of violence and unpredictability,” said one. Another said the frequency of domestic violence has always been there, but ice increased the severity of the assaults.
Like Mary, women were sometimes forced to take ice, sometimes without their knowledge. “The supply of the drug is then used to keep women in an abusive relationship,” said another service provider.
“We’ve never received this rapidity of response and this kind of volume of responses in such a short time,” Baulch told the inquiry in Sydney.
But many of Baulch’s members wanted her to stress that the use of ice did not in itself cause domestic violence and sexual assault. They believed it exacerbated an existing problem.
Yet, compared to alcohol and other drugs, there was no doubt they believed that ice had caused violence to become more severe, more erratic, and made working with women who had been assaulted more difficult.
While some men on ice may not have been physically violent before, Baulch said there was “almost certainly” a history of some use of power and control.
For women who are using ice and in a violent relationship, though, it was very hard to find help. Many were too ashamed to admit they took ice, and others feared they’d lose their children.
The increase in frequency and severity of domestic and family violence and the death rate will only keep escalating.
Submission to ice inquiry
Mary said she found it hard to reach out for help, because she feared being judged. “I didn’t want anyone to know,” she said.
To avoid anyone noticing her addiction, she took pains with her appearance. “I always tried to look like I never used because it was too embarrassing. I still had some pride.”
When Mary first decided to quit ice, she tried to stop by herself. “I got off ice for 29 days at one stage, which was the longest I had ever stopped.”
That didn’t last long. And there were few services near where she lived north of Sydney.
Women with an addiction fleeing domestic violence often couldn’t find a place in a refuge because the system was “at capacity” most of the time, said Baulch. Women on drugs were also considered a safety risk in refuges for victims of domestic violence.
Witnesses have said there is not enough help, particularly for those women on ice who are pregnant or have small children. In many rural centres, like Broken Hill, there is nothing.
Holes in the walls where parents have basically gone off their heads; no food; some of them haven’t had a bath, headlice …
Michelle Kelly, FACS manager
Demand for places at Kamira Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services has grown 500 per cent. It is one of the few places in NSW that offers drug and alcohol treatment to pregnant women and children.
Last year, Kamira received 605 requests for treatment but was only able to accommodate 48 women, the inquiry heard. Before 2017, alcohol was the primary drug of concern. Now it is ice. Nearly all the pregnant women Kamira has treated lately had been addicted to the drug.
Catherine Hewett, the chief executive of Kamira, told the inquiry in East Maitland that there were only three small rehabilitation services in NSW that would accommodate pregnant women.
What proportion of her clients had a history of domestic and family violence?
“All of them,” said Hewett.
Men who are ‘high’ and want sex are less able or willing to communicate safely around consent and sexual boundaries.
Evidence to ice inquiry
“So when you sit with clients and you ask them about trauma, they often don’t – they often don’t understand that they’ve actually had it, or they hear stories of other clients and think, ‘Oh, but mine wasn’t as bad as them’,” Hewett told the inquiry.
“It saddens me to – when you sit with them and you hear their trauma and that’s normal. It has been normalised because it’s what happened in their environment as a child; it’s what happened with their mother, with their sisters in their relationships. That’s just a normalised thing.”
Although Kamira had been lobbying the government for more funding since 2009 because of the rapid increase in expectant women needing help, it had no response. “They’re interested in it but there’s no funding behind it to grow this sector,” Hewett said. “We all came from a pregnant women but … we don’t prioritise pregnant women in the health sector, which I find quite baffling.”
For those like Mary who lived at Kamira while she was pregnant and after the baby was born, it was a life changer. “Having [my daughter] there helped me stay focused, to keep my eyes on the prize.”
When ice is used everything is harder to predict and worse.
A provider of services to women and families affected by domestic violence
Now living independently north of Sydney, Mary is trying to enjoy a normal life of being a mother. Her biggest challenge is developing social skills. “You can’t act like you do around drug users.”
“I cannot change the world but I hope things are different for when my daughter grows up,” she said.
*Name has been changed
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