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WA to test sewage to determine extent of ice usage

August 13, 2015
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ELEANOR HALL: To Western Australia now where the Government is going to unusual lengths to gauge the extent of Perth’s ice problem.

The Police Minister has revealed that the Government plans to test the water at three metropolitan wastewater plants to find out how many people are using the drug, methamphetamine.

WA Police have also formed special “meth teams” to pursue traffickers across state borders.

In Perth, Lucy Martin reports.

LUCY MARTIN: Western Australia has the highest ice use in the nation, according to the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

3.8 per cent of the population aged over 14 admitted to using the drug.

The national average is 2.1 per cent.

The Police Minister Liza Harvey has told Fairfax radio the Government will start testing Perth wastewater to measure just how big the problem is.

LIZA HARVEY: Because it’s an illegal drug, it’s difficult to determine how widespread the use of it is. And what this testing shows us is the metabolites that are broken down after meth has been processed, obviously that gets excreted and we can measure the amount of metabolites in the black water waste.

LUCY MARTIN: The tests will happen at three wastewater plants, taking in about 1.8 million people.

Ms Harvey says it’s obvious WA has a meth problem.

LIZA HARVEY: I mean I think it’s important that we note this is just an additional tool for us to get a snapshot of the use of methamphetamine in the community, and it was certainly effective in South Australia and Victoria, where it has been trailed. But we’re not sitting on our hands waiting for this.

LUCY MARTIN: Ms Harvey has announced WA Police are forming dedicated “meth transport teams” which will target trafficking over state borders via road, rail, air and post.

Last week police arrested three men after seizing more than 20 kilograms of the drug from a unit in Perth.

It was the second multi-million dollar drug bust in Perth in three weeks.

Karl O’Callaghan is the Police Commissioner.

KARL O’CALLAGHAN: One of the things we’ve been talking to Government about is a new piece of legislation, which is called Drug Transit Route legislation; they have that in South Australia. The idea of that would be able to declaring a road which we would consider to be a transport route for drugs, then when it’s declared we can stop and search vehicles and trucks on that road for the time it’s declared.

LUCY MARTIN: Sheila McHale is the chief executive of the Palmerston Association, which provides rehabilitation and counselling services.

SHEILA MCHALE: Look there’s no doubt that law enforcement action is a necessary measure. But it needs to be part of a bigger picture. And that picture must include more support for families, better responses to a drug which is insidious for regular users, early intervention, support for front line workers.

LUCY MARTIN: Professor Gary Hulse is an addictions specialist at the University of Western Australia.

He works with remote communities in the state’s Kimberley region.

GARY HULSE: We don’t have withdrawal services; we don’t have major treatment services that are available up there. And that’s one of the major areas we’re talking about where meth is being used. There needs to be more energy put into doing that quickly. If the Commonwealth isn’t going to initiate something quickly then the State Government has an obligation to its people to get out there and start something.

LUCY MARTIN: The Police Minister Liza Harvey insists the Government is tackling that side too.

LIZA HARVEY: You have to have penalties and you have to target the people who are peddling this stuff. We have got to have the education campaigns to try and deter people from entering into the drug space and then we also need to beef up the rehab opportunities for people so that if they want to move out of the drug culture there is a place for them to go.

That’s probably the weakness we have at the moment and that’s where Helen Morton has actually been working hard in trying to build capacity.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s the WA Police Minister Liza Harvey ending Lucy Martin’s report. 

Published by ABC, 10/08/2015