Special Commission of Inquiry into Drug 'Ice': Moree witnesses call for local detoxification facility

Assistant manager of Moree Juvenile Justice Bernadette Terry.
Assistant manager of Moree Juvenile Justice Bernadette Terry.

For many young ice users in Moree, the only viable detox option is going into custody, an inquiry into the drug heard on Thursday.

During its first day of public hearings in Moree, the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug 'Ice' heard that the closest detoxification facility to Moree is in Armidale, located three hours away, which has only four beds to service the wider New England North West region.

However, that facility is only available to adults, which means the options for detox are even bleaker for young people in the shire.

Assistant manager of Moree Juvenile Justice Bernadette Terry told the commission that often the only option for clients that are heavily using ice is to return to custody to detox, before they can look at being placed in residential rehabilitation.

"[Clients] using at a high level start to drop-off with appointments, are reluctant to engage and difficult to talk to because they just can't focus on what we're saying, let alone going through a cognitive behavioural therapy program," Ms Terry told the commission.

"We'll review that client and make a decision on what risks that young person is facing and whether we should be referring the matter back to court ... Some people are remanded into custody and within a week, when they've been able to detox and not use substance, that's when we can start to re-engage and talk about residential rehabs. It's easier [for clients] to go to rehabs from custody rather than straight from the community."

In her evidence, Ms Terry explained that it is difficult to get clients who are heavy users of illicit drugs into residential rehabilitation, due to a requirement that they be detoxed before entering rehab.

Ms Terry said that the Department of Communities and Justice has funded residential rehabs in Dubbo and Coffs Harbour that they can refer young people to, however travelling long distances for treatment, is difficult for young people.

She said having a local detox facility "would be a tremendous help".

"We'd be able to provide that support earlier rather than later," she said.

"If detox was available in the community, it would have made a difference, because they possibly would not have gone on to re-offend and possibly not gone on to jail."

Maayu Mali Residential Rehabilitation Centre manager of community health programs David Kelly also provided evidence which reiterated the need for a detox facility in Moree.

Maayu Mali Residential Rehabilitation Centre manager of community health programs David Kelly.

Maayu Mali Residential Rehabilitation Centre manager of community health programs David Kelly.

Maayu Mali, an adult residential rehab centre for Aboriginal people, is the only residential rehabilitation facility in Moree, and the only one in the state which provides Aboriginal-only women's beds.

There are 14 beds available for men and four for women.

Mr Kelly told the commission that a significant barrier to accessing Maayu Mali is the lack of detoxification facilities available.

"The two things that cause people to wait the longest are access to withdrawal management or being released from criminal justice custody," he said.

"Detox and transport to detox is particularly difficult to access in this region. Within the wider New England North West region there's only one detox facility, which is in Armidale and has four beds."

Mr Kelly believes the whole detoxification process needs to be overhauled, considering the nature of withdrawal from methamphetamine is "quite different" from what the current regime was set up to support.

"The current hospital-based medical bed detox, run by the public health system, where you go in for five to seven days and then you leave, was really set-up for heroin, alcohol and benzodiazepines, [which is] a very intense, medically-dangerous detox involving seizures and all that sort of thing," he said.

"With ice, in one sense detox is much longer, it can take weeks to be feeling okay and for the mind to clear, but the physical danger is much less. So there's the potential for a new form of withdrawal management that would be much cheaper. One option is residential support for withdrawal management, supported by a medical practitioner but not in a hospital bed. Also home-detox is another option."

Moree Community Services Centre casework child protection/triage manager Binnie Carter also emphasised the need for a local detox centre, stating that in the past 12 months, they've only managed to get one parent into rehabilitation.

Moree Community Services Centre casework child protection/triage manager Binnie Carter.

Moree Community Services Centre casework child protection/triage manager Binnie Carter.

"We haven't had a lot of parents enter into detox program," she said.

"Taking them away from family is too much."

Ms Carter also believes a drug testing facility in Moree would be beneficial, to allow Family and Community Services (FaCS) workers to identify families affected by problematic amphetamine-type stimulants.

Other issues raised during Thursday's hearing was the inability to attract qualified psychologists to Moree and the need for all services to work together to provide a holistic approach to tackle the ice issue.

The two-day hearing will continue on Friday, with the commission to hear from Centacare Personal Helpers and Mentors Service and Youth Drug and Alcohol Service executive manager Cigdem Watson.

Evidence will also be heard from a number of witnesses in private sessions.