Surprises at a workshop on ‘ice’ addiction.

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Danusia Kaska.

Recently, I attended a training workshop on ice awareness and use, run by 360Edge and funded by the government. Entitled How to respond to people affected by ice, workshop objectives were to explain what ice is, how it affects people, and how we should respond safely and effectively. It also outlined the policies and procedures which apply to us, and the supports there for staff and volunteers.

As a volunteer of the Vinnies Soup Van Program for over 20 years, and now as the Operations Manager supporting volunteers working on the Vinnies Soup Vans, I found this workshop extremely eye-opening and educational. It dispelled my misconceptions about ice, its users, and its effects on the community. I cannot recommend this training highly enough for everyone and anyone in the community, simply to be educated on such a contentious issue as this in our society.

I went into this training thinking I had a good idea about the use and effects of ice, and believed I had seen its effects played out on the people we serve from the Soup Vans. However, my knowledge was so limited, and my misconceptions unfounded. The media portrays the issue of ice as one of extreme violence, chaos, and the cause of many crimes. It depicts ice as an epidemic, out of control and on the increase.

The workshop was all presented on fact- and evidence-based statistics which contradicted the media portrayal of the effect on the community. In fact, ice has the least impact on society in comparison to some other substances, including alcohol. Ice use is not on the increase, and it is not an epidemic.

The words we hear in the media about ‘ice-fuelled violence’ perpetuate the hype around ice, and instil fear into the public that we are not safe because people affected by ice are dangerous and violent and all around us.

The reality is that people depended on ice are not aggressive or violent; they are usually experiencing trauma, may be anxious and, depressed, or highly fearful of others’ behaviours towards them. They are responding to a perceived threat in others, will be in survival mode, and may act defensively.

They do not have the strength of ten men, as we often hear, but do have the advantage of increased endurance when intoxicated, although this effect does become depleted. ice use is usually combined with alcohol or other substances, which heighten the experience, and present behaviours of intoxication.

An important factor is that substance use and mental illness don’t discriminate; these things affect all parts of the community, and no group of people is immune to the effects. We may not realise that the people around us can be affected by ice.

ICE, or methamphetamine, is not a new issue. Such substances have been in the community for many years. The original formula of methamphetamine in the 18th century was used for lung-related illnesses, and is still used in this capacity to this day. It was refined by the Japanese, and then used by pharmaceutical companies for anxiety, depression, and weight-loss. It was even given out freely to passengers on planes to help with the anxiety of flying. The difference between ice and ‘speed’ or ‘base’, is that it is in the purest form, and therefore has a stronger effect than other forms.

Another important point made in the talk was not to use the term ‘addict’ of someone dependent on substance, in order to avoid the stigma of addiction. This is like avoiding saying that someone ‘committed suicide’, rather than saying someone ‘died by suicide’, taking away the stigma of suicide as a crime, since such people were obviously mentally very unwell.

Most of the time, we will not come across someone who is high on ice, but more likely when they are coming down, and agitated, tired, hungry, poorly articulating, etc. The most important thing I learnt about dealing with someone ‘coming down’ from ice use is to provide food and hydration, and to meet other physiological needs.  We can all do that by offering a drink, food, and rest. Even aggressive people can be de-escalated to feel ‘safe’ and ‘contained’.

It is important to have compassion for all people who are dependent on substances, as they are often suffering other emotional trauma and mental illness, and may be using substances as an escape. We do not know the stories of these people, and cannot judge them for their situation. Rather, we can increase our knowledge of substance dependency and how we can respond in the community.

Knowledge gained from accurate and scientific sources is better than fear instilled from misinformed media presentation, and this is especially so in considering the effects of ice in our community.

This is just my short reflection on this valuable free workshop to encourage others to attend. By no means, though, am I an expert on this subject. Please refer here for information on workshops in your local area. You can attend any of the workshops, regardless of your employment or volunteer capacity.

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