NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione: ‘The figures we’re seeing are horrifying.’
Half of drivers caught on drugs in regional NSW police swoop
- THE AUSTRALIAN
- SEPTEMBER 26, 2015 12:00AM
Almost half of all drivers tested positive for illegal drugs, including ice, during a recent police operation in regional NSW, with the rate of motorists using narcotics across Australia many times higher than that of those driving while drunk.
Police have recorded similar figures in several recent operations ranging from far north Queensland to Victoria in recent months, where between one in two and one in seven drivers have been found to be under the influence of drugs.
Senior police commanders and politicians say the results raise serious fears over public safety and confirm how widespread ice, or crystal methamphetamine, has become throughout the country.
“The figures we’re seeing are horrifying,” said NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, who has called for a repeat of the decades-long public education campaign against drink-driving.
“We know that the single biggest category is amphetamines. The simple reality is people who are high on ice are paranoid and deluded and simply should not be behind the wheel of a car.
“They cannot control themselves, let alone a vehicle.”
One in every 15 drivers subjected to roadside drug tests by NSW police this year had recently taken cannabis, methamphetamine or MDMA, the class of drugs including ecstasy.
Comparable numbers have been detected in Victoria and South Australia, where a week-long operation by police caught four parents who were dropping their children at school in Adelaide while under the influence of methamphetamines. A fifth parent was drunk.
The rate of positive tests in the ACT last year was almost one in six. In contrast, the proportion of drivers found to be under the influence of alcohol during random breath tests in each of these states and territories is much lower, ranging from one in 76 to one in 567.
Dedicated operations targeting drug-drivers in regional Australia have returned more worrying results. In July, 640 drivers were pulled over in Wagga Wagga, NSW, with one in every 2.4 testing positive to drugs. Figures of between one in four and one in seven drivers were recorded by NSW police in Newcastle, Lismore, Goulburn and Tweed Heads during the past eight months.
Also in July, Victoria Police conducting roadside drug tests in Colac, near Geelong, found that almost half of 35 drivers tested returned positive results, with 10 having taken methamphetamine, four having taken cannabis, and three testing positive for both.
Last month, police in far north Queensland said more than one motorist every day was caught drug-driving. Of 650 drivers caught across the region, 179 tested positive for cannabis, 122 to methamphetamines, and 128 tested positive to both types of drug.
Earlier this month, police in Toowoomba, in southeast Queensland, found drivers in more than half of 29 roadside drug tests conducted over two days returned positive results.
At present, roadside drug tests cannot determine whether a driver is “high” at the time, or has taken the drug recently enough for it to remain in their system. Despite this, senior police across the country say there is genuine cause for concern.
“The scale of the problem is clear,” said Mr Scipione, whose force has trebled the number of roadside drug tests it conducts from this year. “It took a considerable effort during the 80s and 90s to educate the public around the dangers of alcohol. A repeat of this effort is required to address this current ice problem, so starkly born out in these random drug-testing results.
“People affected like this have no place on our roads.”
NSW Deputy Premier Troy Grant said: “These staggering results only confirm what we already know: ice is gripping our community like no other drug before.”
This week, The Australian revealed the damage ice is wreaking in remote Aboriginal communities, where the numbers of people being dealt with by police for amphetamine offences is increasing faster than in Sydney.
“Drug-testing is an important tool in gathering intelligence about the prevalence of a particular drug in an area,” Mr Grant said. “This is more so the case in regional areas, where the ripple effect of only a few people using a drug can tear a community apart.”
The Australian also revealed that the National Ice Taskforce, due to report next month, will find that years of police work have not made it harder for addicts to buy ice, with the price remaining stable or falling in that time. While policing will remain a priority, the taskforce is expected to also call for increased spending on health and education campaigns, to stop the drug’s advance.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING: MICHAEL OWEN
Original article here
For three days now this newspaper has documented the scourge of the drug ice and foreshadowed a national attempt to deal with it. We told the story of a father of eight, Charlie Rose, who took his own life when in the grip of the drug.
Ice is not only an inner-city affliction and so we reported on its swift invasion of communities in the far west of NSW. Last October Marcia Langton, an Aboriginal academic from the University of Melbourne, warned of “a youth epidemic” of ice usage and “organised drug-dealing syndicates” in remote Aboriginal communities.
Ice, or crystal methamphetamine, has been linked to psychosis and senseless violence; it is clearly a factor in recent horrific cases of domestic violence. It’s estimated that usage of ice has more than doubled in recent years; about 200,000 Australians are thought to have tried it in the past 12 months. Despite record seizures and arrests, the street price of this drug has been stable or falling. It is tenaciously addictive. Community leaders in western NSW acknowledge that alcohol is still the dominant problem but they say that ice appears to inflict serious damage more quickly than any other drug.
It is also emerging as a road safety issue. As we report today, almost every second driver pulled over by police in Wagga Wagga, NSW, in July was under the influence of ice or other drugs. Across NSW this year, one in every 15 drivers tested positive for drugs such as cannabis, methamphetamine or MDMA, the drug class that includes ecstasy. Similar figures have been reported by South Australia and Victoria in recent years. In the ACT, almost one in six drivers tested positive for drugs last year. These are much higher rates than for drink-driving which, after years of campaigns, ranges across the country from one in every 76 drivers to one in 567. Many innocent lives are at risk. As NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione says: “For motorists in NSW to know they are sharing roads with people who are high on ice and who have absolutely no control over what they are doing is the most frightening aspect of this.”
A national taskforce on ice, led by former Victoria Police chief commissioner Ken Lay, is due to hand down its findings within weeks. Set up by Tony Abbott, it will become the responsibility of the new Turnbull government. As this newspaper reported yesterday, the taskforce is expected to document the failure of attempts to interrupt the supply of ice across Australia. The likely response will be an attempt to reduce demand by targeting addicts through increased treatment options, education and other support strategies.
Education and rehabilitation are obviously important elements in any successful strategy, but it is reassuring to see federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan stressing the role of better law enforcement. “The most important response is always the law enforcement response,” he said. “We want to find the people who are peddling it, we want to lock them up.”
Locals in Brewarrina, the NSW outback town where there have been several ice-related deaths this year, had complained that dealers had been targeting children without any police intervention. Local police insist they have been doing their job.
In the north Queensland town of Yarrabah we covered another essential response to ice: mobilisation of the community. No amount of policing can succeed without the vigilance and co-operation of locals.
Original article here