Lately, Gold Coast news has been full of "the ice epidemic", focussing on teenagers. I know that from a position of middle class, middle-aged privilege it's easy to write off these young people as "scum" or "worthless pieces of trash" as has been reported.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I hate methamphetamine. I hate the people who sell it to children and I hate seeing what it does to these bright young souls gone dull and burned out long before their time. I know it's a choice they make and that's really easy for us to judge from a distance, but think back to your own teenage years and remember what it was like.
I remember being the kid nobody wanted to spend time with. I never had a best friend. In central west NSW, where I spent my childhood, I was the outcast "smart kid" that everyone hated. I spent lunch hours in the library. I would walk into every exam determined to fail just to fit in -- but fortunately, somewhere inside me was a mechanism to succeed that I couldn't switch off. When I moved to Queensland I had a few friends, but in those days I thought that they'd rather spend time with someone else. I was bullied by the pretty girls, the girls who could get their way no matter what they wanted. I hated them, but I would have done anything to be like them. It is by sheer luck (and lack of access to cash!) that I was never offered illicit drugs, because it's hard to say whether I'd have made the right decision, or whether I would have desperately tried to fit in.
I had a stable, loving family. We didn't have a lot of money but we never starved and my parents were honest, never tempted into crime to make extra cash. Take that away, and my decision would have been much easier -- I'd have sought out whatever I could to find people who I thought cared about me. It's easier for kids today to make that choice, because there are people dealing ice on the street near their school, in the shopping centres and a dozen other places you'll find teenagers any day of the week.
My son is 15 and pretty much lives in his room on his X-box. I've met 15 year old ice addicts who live in boxes on the street. I've met their parents -- they're not junkie losers who wouldn't know the first thing about parenting, they're decent people being defeated by the combination of teenage insecurity and easy access to a drug that makes teens feel like they're invincible. They try to get their kids into rehab but they're too young for the local facilities, and what's the point when the dealers are waiting for them the minute they come out?
Instead of reactive blame-and-shame tactics, we need a cooperative response between all agencies that deal with these children most often: education, health, family services and law enforcement. I will put my hand up right now and say that I will do whatever I can to make sure that I never see another beautiful mind lost to methamphetamine.
I see the results of this drug almost every day, and let me tell you: if your first response to something you don't understand is to hate and punish a child, then don't open your mouth because you've got nothing to say that I want to listen to.