WIMMERA residents threw their support behind a campaign to rid the region of crystal methamphetamine at a community forum on Monday night.
About 250 people packed Wesley Performing Arts Centre in Horsham to discover more about the highly addictive substance, known as ice, how to prevent loved ones from using it and where to get help once addiction took hold.
About 100 people attended an ice workshop for professionals earlier in the afternoon, which focused on detecting the early warning signs of ice use and how to implement management procedures.
Wimmera Drug Action Taskforce co-ordinator and Grampians Community Health alcohol and other drugs counsellor Brendan Scale said he was overwhelmed by the response.
“It was great to see the recognition of the issues and to see so many people come along to find out more about them,” he said.
“It’s one of the biggest turnouts in Victoria by a community concerned with the ice issue.”
Mr Scale said the taskforce aimed to empower Wimmera residents and equip them with knowledge to make informed choices.
“It was good to have a broad range of experienced speakers who are at the top of their fields at the forums,” he said.
“It was also good to see the consistent advice from all the presenters. The same messages were coming across from the police, emergency services and treatment perspectives.”
Guest speakers included harm reduction agency Anex Australia project leader Crois O’Mahoney, drug prevention group Focus on the Family chief executive Brett Ryan and Victoria Police drug squad Detective Senior Constable Glenn Beadle.
After addressing the audience, the speakers formed a panel for a question and answer session.
They were joined by Wimmera Health Care Group nurse Jess McDonald, Grampians Community Health drug and alcohol counsellor Russell Reid, Horsham Mental Health Services area manager Mick Fryer and St John Ambulance chief commissioner Alan Eade.
People were encouraged to ask questions anonymously by submitting them in a box or via text message.
“We trialled the anonymous question process at our prescription drug forum a couple of weeks ago,” Mr Scale said.
“Ice is still relatively taboo and there is a lot of shame attached to it for families, so I think people felt more comfortable asking questions this way.”
Mr Scale said speakers made it clear ice was a community issue.
“It’s not something we can get rid of by just arresting people or treating them,” he said.
“The community, including sporting groups and community groups, have to band together and say we are not going to accept ice in the Wimmera.”
Mr Scale said the event would not have been possible without collaboration between the taskforce, police, health professionals and the media.
“We put the community response down to the work of the partnership,” he said.
“A big thanks to all the people who contributed, from financial sponsors to in-kind support to those who donated products.”
Horsham Inspector Trevor Ashton said the forum was a positive step towards tackling the Wimmera’s ice problem.
“I was very satisfied with the event and even more satisfied with the wide age range of those present – we had everyone from young teenagers through to mature-age adults,” he said.
“What was even more pleasing was the question and answer session – there were some very good questions asked.”
He said the experts urged people to fully consider the risks before deciding to try ice.
“It is important to understand the ramifications of what you’re introducing into your body and think very hard before doing it,” he said.
“People also need to understand they have the power to say no to peer group pressure.”
Mr Ashton said Wimmera people needed to be on the front foot to tackle the impact of ice.
“Ice is a very real problem in our community,” he said.
“We need to educate people about what it is and what it does and I’m very appreciative of the support shown by the community so far.”
Mr Scale said there would be a family forum on ice at Grampians Community Health on December 12 at 7pm.
He said people could call Grampians Community Health on 5362 1200 for more information or to register their attendance.