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Record numbers as ice addiction accounts for half of treatment seekers

in News
19 Dec 2016

Record numbers as ice addiction accounts for half of treatment seekers

+ Heroin/opioids down in rehab, but not out

2016 Odyssey House Annual Report

Addiction to amphetamines like ice has surged to become the leading problem for a record one in two people seeking treatment for alcohol and other drug dependence, according to a report by Odyssey House, which is one of Australia’s largest rehabilitation services and treats people from around the country.

Released today, the 2016 Odyssey House Annual Report reveals 49 per cent of clients entering its residential rehabilitation programs in Sydney during the 2015-16 financial year cited amphetamine-type stimulants as their principal drug of concern[i]. This is up 53 per cent on 2015 admissions (32%) of clients and more than triple admissions a decade ago (2006; 15%).

With ice addiction an increasing burden on families, communities and services, Odyssey House CEO Julie Babineau said she looked forward to the roll-out of Federal Government funding for amphetamine treatment, allocated in response to the National Ice Taskforce Report, and to new NSW Government drug funding coming on line.

“We could fill all our empty beds and treat more people if we had increased, longer term funding that enabled us to employ and train the staff we would need to be fully operational,” Ms Babineau said.

“Ice is a very concerning health and societal problem, but many frontline services like ours have not yet received the funds necessary to meet growing demand from people needing professional help to overcome dependence on this highly addictive drug.

“To add to the treatment challenge, many Odyssey House clients have difficult personal histories and social disadvantage, so rebuilding their lives requires more effort, time and assistance.

“For example, the average age of ‘first intoxication’ with alcohol or other drugs reported by our clients this year was when they were 12-13 years old, compared with 16-17 years of age in 2003.

“This year 44 per cent of clients were admitted with a coexisting mental illness. Ice in particular can have significant impacts on mental health including psychosis, depression and anxiety, or it can mask or exacerbate pre-existing problems.

“We’re also seeing the gradual ‘ageing’ of our client population and therefore more people with long-standing drug problems – now, over two-thirds (69%) of clients are over 30 years of age, compared with 44 per cent in 2006,” she said.

Addiction to heroin and prescription opioids such as methadone, morphine, fentanyl and oxycodone accounted for 16 per cent of Odyssey House clients admitted in 2015-16, down 45 per cent on the previous year (29%).

Although this was good news, particularly given the dangers of opioid overdose, Ms Babineau cautioned against assuming the heroin problem is on the wane.

“Many people who would usually use heroin and/or misuse painkillers may switch to ice or speed – or vice versa – depending on what drugs are more readily available or affordable,” she said.

“We easily could see another surge in heroin/opioid problems like we did last year, when Odyssey House had a 164 per cent rise in opioid admissions and a 20 per cent fall in amphetamine admissions.”

Alcohol remained a significant problem during the year, nominated by 20 per cent of Odyssey House clients as their principal drug of concern, a decrease of 9 per cent on 2015 (22% of clients). Seven in ten of all clients nominated alcohol as one of their drugs of concern.

Odyssey House admissions for cannabis as the principal drug of concern decreased by 21 per cent to a record low of 11 per cent.

The average wait to enter treatment at Odyssey House during the year was 15 days between a person’s assessment and their admission to the Residential Rehabilitation Program, and eight days for the Withdrawal Program.

“I’m very proud of our dedicated Odyssey House staff, who handled 30,000 enquiries during the financial year, assessed 1000 people for treatment, and worked hard to assist 619 adults admitted to our long-term Residential Rehabilitation Program,” Ms Babineau said.

“We also had on average eight young children living with their parents in our Parents’ and Children’s Program in any one month. Our program enables families to stay safely together while the parent/s undertake rehabilitation and learn parenting skills, and the children receive support.”

Tom rebuilds his life and corporate career after ice addiction

Odyssey House graduate, Tom[ii], 38, lived a normal, law-abiding life before personal problems and depression led him to spiral into ice addiction, crime and homelessness in his mid-thirties.

“After serious workplace bullying I took a redundancy; having been ‘married’ to my job, my self-esteem plummeted and I became so depressed I couldn’t leave the house,” Tom said.

“I had heard of ice and the possible consequences, but I thought I could control things and I was desperate. My use quickly escalated and within 12 months I was injecting ice daily. I had psychotic episodes and lost my job, and I’m ashamed to say I turned to selling drugs to fund my habit and survive. My dog and I ended up homeless for three months, living in motels or my car.

“The police caught up with me and I spent four months on remand. The judge considered my crime too serious to qualify for rehab, but I fought in the Supreme Court to go to Odyssey House. Prison stopped me from dying, but my 13 months at Odyssey House saved my life. Through peer support and therapy, I realised I carried shame and guilt for being gay and had become a workaholic to avoid facing that; family members had also shunned me after finding out I was gay.

“Eventually I was sentenced for my crime, but the judge acknowledged how well I had done with my recovery, and I was given parole. I’m now blessed to have an understanding employer and a senior management role with a great company. I attend support group meetings, see a psychologist, and my family and I are working to bridge our estrangement. I’m still married to work, but my life is more balanced. Importantly, I’m three years clean, free of a great emotional burden and back following my dreams.”

Odyssey House can be contacted on 02 9281 5144 or visit More than 37,000 people have been assisted to overcome dependence on alcohol and other drugs since Odyssey House opened its therapeutic community doors in 1977.

2016 Annual Report

[i] Many Odyssey House clients have poly-drug problems, but are asked to nominate one drug that is their main reason for seeking treatment for addiction i.e. their principal drug of concern.

[ii] Client’s name changed at his request to protect his privacy.