'Choked to the point of brain damage': Ice scourge fuels domestic violence

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The growing use of crystal meth has fuelled an increase in domestic violence over the past five years, a child protection worker has told the NSW inquiry into the drug.

On the third day of the special commission of inquiry into ice, Azure Green from St Marys Community Services Centre near Penrith said meth had also increased the severity of physical violence, primarily from men towards women.

"Women are being choked to the point of brain damage and raped by their partners, beaten to the point of hospitalisation while children are at home," she said. "It’s extremely traumatic for [the children]."

The inquiry, led by commissioner Dan Howard, on Thursday heard from child protection workers, police and addiction specialists in its bid to find effective ways to combat the scourge of methamphetamine and similar drugs in NSW Ms Green said meth was affordable and widely available in her area and many parents did not want to give up the destructive habit, even with the threat of losing their children.

She said a staggering 80 per cent of matters referred to child protection caseworkers.

Ms Green said the health system was failing to recognise the relationship between meth use and mental health, with some hospitals prematurely discharging users whowere scheduled for treatment because they deemed the mental health issue as "drug-induced".

Some parents are self-medicating with ice. "[In one example] a mother had a history of bipolar but she wasn’t treated or medicated, she was using ice instead, and it was difficult to get her the help she needed … because it was seen as a drug problem not a mental health problem," she said.

Elaine Thomson from the Department of Family and Community Services said a "very busy" team of four people handled inquiries from caseworkers related to drug and alcohol use, child sexual abuse and mental health.

She said 70 per cent of the inquiries related to drugs and alcohol, of which 30 per cent related to ice. Of that 30 per cent, three-quarters featured domestic violence.

"Our staff are seeing ice use and domestic violence at a correlated rate," she said. Ms Thomsen said there were cases where children were used by parents to obtain drugs.

"Most common though is that children are accompanying their parents … but I have spoken with children who have indicated that [they stole goods] to support their parents to be able to maintain their drug use," she said. Jonathan Brett, an addiction specialist at St Vincent's Hospital, said MDMA was favoured by young people from privileged backgrounds in the clubbing scene, while meth was generally used by older people from disadvantaged backgrounds in the privacy of their home.

In relation to MDMA overdoses at music festivals, he said the drug reduced the body’s ability to regulate its temperature, causing hypothermia as well as "cooking" organs from the inside.

He said users could die from water toxicity – when excessive water intake lowers the body’s sodium levels and causes swelling of the brain – and health authorities needed to be more "spot on" with their health warnings and messaging.

Asked why drug manufacturers added cheap adulterants, Dr Brett said reasons ranged from "giving it more of a kick" to "getting more bang for your buck" but regardless they were "playing Russian roulette with drug users". He said there were no evidence-based amphetamine withdrawal treatments and more research was required.

"We’re not sure whether it’s best to do treatment inside or outside of hospital, what medicines to use, like antipsychotics," he said.

The inquiry on Tuesday heard the possession of amphetamine had jumped by 250 per cent in the past decade and on Wednesday heard that drug use, mental health and disadvantage were often related and should be treated together.

The inquiry will continue on Friday and deliver its findings to the NSW governor by October 28.

Esther Han is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald. She has covered state politics, health and consumer affairs.


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