Pilbara not immune to ice 'scourge'

Kelly Bell and Peter de Kruijff

The Pilbara is not immune to the "scourge" of methamphetamine and one regional doctor says more "functional" addicts were listing ice use in their medical histories.

Hedland Health Campus senior medical officer Ganesan Sakarapani said from his "seat-of-the-pants experience" there were a significant number of workers employed in the mining and construction industry who were regular methamphetamine users.

"In taking their history they do admit to using it," he said.

"It's not just an indigenous, homeless or dishevelled person problem, it's more ubiquitous than that throughout society."

As a task force prepares to report to the Federal Government on the national ice situation, specifically what is and isn't working, frontline Pilbara personnel have spoken out about their experiences in the face of the increasing use of the drug in country areas.

In August 2013, roadside drug testing was introduced to the Pilbara which allowed police to test whether a driver was on the road with either methamphetamine or cannabis in their system.

Targeted testing in Karratha by police, based on drug intelligence, resulted in one in three tests coming back positive with substance use, mostly meth.

Pilbara traffic Acting Sergeant Geoff Pritchard said for the past few months police had done blanket testing of the public and the percentage of drivers testing positive had been slightly lower but around the same mark.

West Pilbara Detective Senior Sergeant Jon Mundy said he had witnessed the growth of methamphetamines in the past 10 years.

Det. Sen. Sgt Mundy said when he worked in South Hedland in 2003, "ice" wasn't very common but in the past five to six years, the quantities of the drug being seized had grown exponentially.

"If you were to get an ounce of meth three or four years ago, it was a big deal," he said.

"Now that's fairly commonplace … it just indicates the popularity and availability of it. Mining towns are ripe for criminal networks because there are people who can pay for it (drugs)."

Dr Sakarapani testified to a "significant increase" in people presenting in a psychotic state associated with ice or marijuana use.

He said the number of people listing meth use in their medical history when presenting at the emergency department had also increased.

"You get aggressive, violent and psychotic patients regularly coming in and usually the trigger has been drug or alcohol use," he said.

"Methamphetamine is associated with a higher rate of psychosis than say alcohol is - marijuana can cause psychosis but it is usually associated with long-term and heavy use. Whereas with methamphetamine it can just be a single use … they're aggressive, agitated, anxious, and can be violent."

As the hospital's senior medical officer, Dr Sakarapani has had two staff members assaulted by drug-affected patients never return to work because they were so traumatised. He said drug-affected patients had chased staff around the ward attempting to assault them and "trashed" the ward.

"Psychosis is usually associated with some degree of loss of touch with reality," he said.