March 1st 2014

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Union-related corruption: the issue that won't go away

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Royal commission will hit unions financially and politically

RURAL AFFAIRS: Push for a rural reconstruction bank

FAMILY LAW: The innocent victims of 'no-fault' divorce

EDITORIAL: Indonesia's elections and Australia's future

BORDER PROTECTION: Abbott stops illegal boat arrivals on Australia's shores

QUEENSLAND: Bill Glasson's support for 'gay' marriage cost him Griffith win

EUROPE: Belgium extends euthanasia to children

ILLICIT DRUGS: The folly of decriminalising cannabis

ILLICIT DRUGS: Crime-fighters brace for swelling tide of 'ice'

CONSERVATION: Eco-activists' bid to protect man-eating predators

WESTERN CIVILISATION: Ronald Reagan on religious tolerance

GOOD FOOD: There are ants and there are grasshoppers

OPINION: Are we really a clever country?


CULTURE: A day for vitriol and Valentines?

BOOK REVIEW Absorbing account of rise of new superpower

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Crime-fighters brace for swelling tide of 'ice'

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, March 1, 2014

Methamphetamine, better known as ice (or crystal meth), is the new drug of choice for Australia’s illegal drug users. Because it is not necessary to inject ice, it is easier to use than heroin. Ice has broken out of the inner city and has spread to rural and regional areas, including the city of Bendigo in Victoria.

Ice gives an initial rush, which can extend for three to 12 hours. However, it is not uncommon for hardcore users to stay awake and in a state of nervous excitement for three days. They can be a menace to themselves and other people, especially if they are driving.

A methamphetamine (crystal meth) user:

before and after five years of use.

Ice is an “upper”, meaning it heightens the user’s sensations. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a “downer”. Mixing uppers and downers, as in a Jägerbomb, a mix of highly alcoholic Jägermeister (a downer) and Red Bull energy drink (an upper), is not a good idea. Whereas a drunken person will usually go to sleep, the addition of an upper such as Red Bull means they will be awake and crazy, and will very likely get into trouble.

Ice can be smoked in a special glass pipe, ingested or injected; but smoking seems to be the favoured method. Cable-television viewers will probably be aware of the method of manufacturing ice from Breaking Bad, an American crime drama television series set in New Mexico.

Ice is also popular throughout Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, for example, ice is known as shabu. As corruption abounds in that country, it has proved to be impossible to prevent ice from spreading from the small urban showbiz elite to the smallest village.

Heroin is fairly nasty stuff. When it is mainlined, a batch of heroin that is stronger than usual can cause a more than normal number of deadly overdoses. Ice will kill you, but it will kill you slowly. Your face will implode. Your teeth will inevitably rot away with long-term usage.

Ice is never pure. The manufacturing process can be very dirty, and when it is sold it is always cut with a filling agent, which could be anything, before it hits the street. The end user could be getting something nasty, and the strength is variable — a user in the country, for example, may be getting only three per cent ice.

Most ice sold in Australia is imported through Sydney, mainly from the United States. Local manufacture is increasing, at least partially through the influence of Breaking Bad. The over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant Sudafed is a common precursor for ice, and restrictions have been placed on maximum purchases through pharmacies. It is not uncommon for purchasers to ask for “the maximum quantity legally permitted”.

Ice is a hazardous drug to manufacture and involves using chemicals that can cause harm to both the person making the drug and people around him. Ice, like heroin, has been around since the 19th century, and is still legally prescribed in the U.S. for weight loss and for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

During World War II, amphetamines were used extensively by both the Allies and the Axis powers to increase human endurance. Not so long ago, students would take amphetamines to keep themselves awake while studying for exams.

Buying ice can be fraught with risks. Most small-time dealers are also users who can be extremely manic and can become dangerous if they feel they are being cheated. They are often violent and unreasonable. They often act as if their life depends on the deal, which it sometimes does. As for the people who make the real money, they are usually many levels away from the street-level dealers. Their transactions are in the millions of dollars.

What can law enforcement agencies do to halt this swelling tide? Australia’s state and federal police cooperate to pursue ice shipments across state borders, but finding the Mr Bigs is often a matter of luck. They are the real kingpins.

More likely, though, it is the middle-level distributors they will arrest — if they are lucky. The nature of the Australian legal system is such that a successful prosecution involves proving such things as intent. Even so, cases involving ice are clogging the courts. Ice is also corrupting prisons, with guards frequently conniving with prisoners to distribute drugs in the jails.

The simple fact is that we have too few police officers in our drug squads. Those who do this dirty work on our behalf are often inadequately rewarded for the risks they take. In an industry that generates enormous quantities of illicit cash, the temptation to look the other way in return for a substantial sling is ever present for the police officer on an important case.

If it was not for the dedication and enthusiasm these men show in these high-risk postings, things would be far worse.

Jeffry Babb is a Melbourne-based writer. 

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