The Just Ice? Symposium focused on the complex topic of child protection, family support and holistic wellbeing for families and communities faced with issues of methamphetamine use.  Entitled Just Ice? the aim of the symposium was to oust myths, find the facts and ensure that all across the continuum of child protection, family support, drug and alcohol, mental health, health, education and other services are on the same page when responding to those who either use methamphetamine or other drugs or are impacted by usage, such as family members and communities.

This symposium, through its many expert presenters, offered information, insights, a plethora of myth busting opportunities and many comments about the language we use and the perspectives we hold that we need to question.  Amongst them, we were cautioned against the use of the term addict because it is dubious, hard to quantify and not necessarily accurate as the ‘catch all’ phrase we tend to use it as. In reflecting, we also need to seriously consider our context as a nation that has a culture of drug use.  Keynote speaker, Tony Trimingham, aptly exemplified this when he asked all delegates to sit down if they hadn’t used specific drugs in the past 3 weeks.  At the end of the process, one delegate was left standing to a round of applause.

We are one of the highest recorded users of drugs in the world. In speaking about methamphetamine, we need to acknowledge the context of our use of all substances. Many use drugs for fun, experimentation and to test the boundaries.  Other presenters spoke to the benefits of methamphetamine for those coping with the realities of complex trauma. Another presenter noted that most of their clients experienced childhood abuse and trauma and 85% had co-occurring drug and mental health concerns.  The correlation between trauma, mental ill health and substance use was unmistakable.  At times substances are used to stave off the trauma symptoms.  It is clear that this is a public health issue and punitive responses will not work.

Some argued, drug use is less of an issue than our responses.  We need to be clear about what drug use is, why people use and when it becomes problematic.  Then we need to be clear about why we deem it problematic and be sure about our assessment of what makes it so.

Graham Fraine, Deputy Director-General of Policy, Department of Premier and Cabinet, in outlining the Action Plan on Ice spoke to the Government’s intervention on ice.  He also noted the stigma of ice usage and our need to address this.  He set the scene for 2 days whereby many speakers agreed with the need to cease the stigma on ice use, methamphetamine and drugs in general.

Presenters also offered insights and strategies about how to intervene and genuinely respond once the drug’s usefulness was wearing off and the negative impacts were taking a toll.  Many conversations occurred about legal and illegal drugs, prescription drugs and our culture that relies on drugs for relief of symptoms that are many and varied.

Deputy Director-General of Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, Merrilyn Strohfeldt, spoke of the need to focus on facts not fads.  She outlined concerning statistics noted within a study recently undertaken by the Department of Child Safety.  For 1 in 3 children admitted to ongoing interventions by the Department, there was methamphetamine use by one or both parents.  She also stated the many other interrelated concerns and the desire for Child Safety to work holistically with children and families in dealing with drug use amongst the other presenting issues whilst keeping them safe and working towards the most positive option of child and family wellbeing.

Whilst it is clear that methamphetamine use is a significant concern, it is equally clear after listening to 23 experts in the field that it isn’t an epidemic. Too often the media hype claiming it to be so is unhelpful for those who are using or in the process of ceasing their use.  In addition to being an inaccurate and misleading term, it generates a sense of powerlessness, robs those affected by its use of hope, and adds to the stigma already being endured by those who use this substance as well as their families and loved ones.  It also further alienates them from their community and social connections – not only the services that may be helpful to them in reducing or ceasing their use of substances but also other much needed services such as health, education and housing.

It is a symptom of a society that is flawed and those within it finding an avenue of coping with a multitude of issues.  It is just one issue amongst many that isn’t actually the issue at all.  That’s not to say we don’t need to respond to methamphetamine use and drug use overall – we absolutely must.  How we respond is key and why we respond is equally important.

With regard to child protection, many spoke of the thousands of parents in our society who use drugs in a variety of forms and parent successfully. This is particularly so for the number one drug of concern in our country, alcohol.  The litmus test noted by Professor Dawe, being parental connection and relationship with cognisance and awareness of children’s needs.

Most commentators over the duration of the Just Ice? Symposium questioned media hype and myths and requested a holistic overview of the issue of methamphetamine and other drug use in the wider context of society, family life, workplaces, relationships and culture.

Ultimately the take home message of the whole symposium is arguably, ice is a major issue but it isn’t the issue, nor are drugs.  A plethora of interrelated social issues are at the core of this issue –  domestic and family violence, childhood trauma and neglect, mental ill health, homelessness and poverty amongst them.  We were reminded that nothing exists in a vacuum and methamphetamine/ice use, is no exception.

The challenge for us all, regardless of our roles in government, non-government organisations, health, mental health, education, child protection, family support or community is to work together in responding to the individuals, families and communities as they present with concerns.   All these concerns are significant and have a basis.  The basis is never the whole story.  Our role is to respond to both the basis and the many other issues presenting.

Another presenter, Carmel Ybarlucea, Executive Director of Queensland Mental Health Commission summed up the reality for clients and practitioners alike when she stated:  A client will receive their diagnosis and assistance dependant on where they first present.  The challenge then, is to meet the many other associated needs.

This comment summed up the many other comments of expert presenters throughout the duration of the symposium.  This is not to say that many service providers don’t provide the gamut of responses needed. It notes, however, that sometimes responses are specific to the arena in which clients have initially been captured where specific professional expertise exists.  Sometimes, depending on the place of presentation a holistic response is either not offered or not possible.  This is a key area for further work and redress.

Just Ice?  was the question.  The answer, as it so often does, appeared in the form of another question.  The question now for all of us is: How do we respond to clients presenting with an immediate and urgent issue, then pay attention to and assess the plethora of associated issues and find the appropriate responses to holistically treat and provide appropriate and timely care and interventions for children, families and communities in Queensland?  This question is probably why collaborative and coordinated responses were also so clearly highlighted by expert presenters and attendees throughout the Just Ice? Symposium.

What are your reflections on the ‘Just Ice?’ Symposium? We want to hear from you! Comment over on our Facebook page.

We’ll highlight more expert knowledge offered during the Just Ice? Symposium over the coming weeks.  Please continue to send in your deposits to Ice Bank and remember to make withdrawals too!  The videos of the Just Ice? Symposium keynote presentations will be submitted to the Ice Bank as soon as they are each edited and released.