ICE use is rife in the building and construction industry, a Newcastle addiction doctor says.
Dr David Outridge has treated a growing number of trade and construction workers using crystal methamphetamine via his work in addiction medicine at the Samaritans’ Recovery Point.
“It is rife. If 10 guys are wearing high-vis shirts in some of these industries, and you ask how many are on ice, I would say you’d get at least two,” he said.
“That is my impression, based on contact with the small contractor end of the industry, where formal testing would not be routine. It is not based on formal study, but from my experience and anecdotal reports.”
Dr Outridge said the drug was also favoured by many fly-in-fly-out workers.
“Many of these people haven’t run into problems yet, they are just using it recreationally, and still have a bit of control there,” he said. “But sooner or later, they’ll misjudge it. They will start being late for work, or they’ll start abusing people, or the boss, smashing holes in the walls. The nuts and bolts will start to come loose.”
Dr Outridge said he had patients working in trades who had been introduced to the drug by their employer – because they could work long and hard hours – only to eventually lose their jobs due to the lasting effects.
Dr Ken Pidd, of the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) at Flinders University, said construction was an industry group that had developed high prevalence rates of methamphetamine use compared to the general population.
“The National Drug Strategy Household Survey indicates that it’s about 5.2 per cent across the whole of the construction industry, where it’s about 2.1 per cent in the general population,” he said.
“I do agree that the use of ice is likely to be higher in regional areas – especially large regional areas, such as Newcastle – where there may be a lot of construction work going on. But I’d say it is more likely to be closer to one-in-10 people using it, which is still significant.
“If you ask people out on site, they might say there are certain groups – particularly on a big construction site – where it may be the case that three-in-10 workers are using ice, but when you look at the whole range of the workforce, it is probably much lower than that.
“It is a problem. But I’ll also point out that the industry is making strides to address it.”
He said workers unions had agreed to on-site, random drug testing – now part of the building code; and employers had introduced “fit for work” policies to give their employees the skills to speak up or intervene if they were concerned about a colleague.
The demographic of the construction workforce – which has many males under the age of 30 in trade-related blue collar occupations – contributed to the high prevalence of ice use.
“They tend to work long hours, and lots of overtime, but because of their age group, they also tend to like to go out and party. They find methamphetamine is a drug that is conducive to that, because they can stay awake for longer periods of time, or compensate for some of the fatigue you may have when you are working long hours,” Dr Pidd said.
The intoxicant effects of ice were “highly dangerous,” because people could act impulsively, and aggressively, without thinking.
“But a fair proportion of the risks also come from when they are coming off it, when they can have aggression problems, and problems with their mental health,” Dr Pidd said.
The Construction Forestry Maritime Mining And Energy Union rejected suggestions of an ice problem in the industry.
“The CFMEU does not believe there is any credible evidence to support the claim that two out of ten construction workers are using the drug ice,” CFMEU National Construction Secretary, Dave Noonan said.
“This is a problem across the whole community. The construction industry has very serious procedures in place for anyone who comes to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“The industry and the union provide counselling and rehabilitation for workers who have issues with drugs or alcohol.”
Dr Marcia Fogarty, the executive director of Hunter New England Mental Health Services, said it was not just the construction industry that had a problem with ice.
It was popular among white-collar workers, such as lawyers, too, and in industries where people had to look good, and be “sharp.”
“There are a few groups where substances are a risk. Another big group are chefs, and restaurant workers,” Dr Fogarty said. “If you think about it, they start fairly early in the day, they are working hard, and going flat chat until 11pm or midnight.
“When they knock off, all of the usual places are shut, and they have to get up and do it all again the next day. Also, any group that has to be active, look good, and be on the ball seem to find it very attractive.”
The number of Australians seeking help for use of amphetamines, including ice, is growing, as a new report shows the number of treatment episodes tied to the drug has more than doubled in the past decade.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare will release on Friday its Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services in Australia 2016–17: key findings report, which shows more than 127,000 Australians received drug or alcohol treatment in 2016–17, equivalent to around 1 in every 170.
AIHW spokesperson Moira Hewitt said alcohol was the most common drug for which Australians sought treatment, with 32 per cent of all treatment episodes for alcohol.
“However, the fastest growing treatment area is for amphetamine use, which has more than doubled over the last 10 years – in 2007–08, 11 per cent of all drug treatment episodes were for amphetamines, but this rose to 26 per cent in 2016–17,” Ms Hewitt said. “Even in the past few years, this growth has been substantial - since 2012–13, treatment episodes for amphetamines rose by 123 per cent.”
The report showed cannabis and heroin were the next most common drugs for which people received treatment, making up 22 per cent and 5 per cent of treatment episodes respectively.
Just over half of clients were aged between 20 and 39, while a third were aged over 40.
“This age profile has remained stable since data on the characteristics of drug treatment clients was first reported four years ago,” Ms Hewitt said. “And also consistent with previous years, just under two-thirds or 66 per cent of all clients receiving treatment in 2016–17 were male.”
The report found in 2016–17, 836 publicly-funded alcohol and other drug treatment services provided just over 200,000 treatment episodes to an estimated 127,000 clients.