The Meth Project: Ex-ice addicts teaching kids of seven how to dodge drugs

By Emma Reynolds of news.com.au

Former ice addicts are visiting schools to tell children aged just seven years old about their experiences with crystal methamphetamine.

It's a confronting program based on a US model called The Meth Project, in which ex-users describe what the drug that's become the scourge of Australia can do to you.

The former junkies show kids aged from seven to 18 deep scars as they relate stories about attempting suicide, getting involved in violent crime and sex work and watching friends die.

It may sound extreme but the speakers say it's a necessary step: because what they're hearing back from the children is even more chilling.

Some sob in the talks because they have family members on ice, others say they've tried free "sample packs" dealers bring into schools or found it online. Some have even turned to selling their bodies for money.

Andrea Simmons, an ex-addict from the Gold Coast who has adapted the American plan, said she'd even seen "a 13-year-old kid die because of a drug deal" when the money wasn't produced.

"I was able to detox her friend on my couch, because the wait for rehab is two to three months," Ms Simmons told news.com.au.

"She was 17. But the 13-year-old I wasn't able to fish out. She was murdered. The 17-year-old watched that happen.

"How does a 13-year-old get hooked on that product? The answer is, her parents gave it to her, sitting on the couch, they passed her a pipe.

"I'm sure that parent loved her, it's just your brain is taken over by the drug."

Former meth user shares her experience via the Meth Project. Photo / methproject.org
Former meth user shares her experience via the Meth Project. Photo / methproject.org

'It's taking over the brain much quicker'

Ms Simmons knows that only too well. She tried ice for the first time at 40 when going through a difficult divorce, and soon abandoned her daughters and successful career to pursue a $500-a-day habit that almost killed her.

It's a crisis that's reflected across the nation. Australia is in the grip of an ice epidemic, which is destroying families and tearing communities apart.

More than 500,000 Australians aged 14 years and over have used ice in some form over the past year, according to the Australian Drug Foundation, and Ms Simmons says 27 children a day are trying it for the first time.

"The potency is 70 to 90 per cent, as opposed to five years ago when it was 15 to 17 per cent," she said. "It's taking over the brain much quicker. Kids are suiciding all over the place."

Her organisation, Australian Anti Ice Campaign, has visited schools and held community forums across Queensland and she's been contacted by educators desperate for the program to be rolled out in other states before it's too late.

She's submitted a document to the Federal Government and is working with health minister Sussan Ley and the Department of Education and Training while she waits for a response on how the scheme can be brought in nationwide.

In the meantime, she is relying on community and corporate support, with the program costing around $10 per child.

Shocking pics from former meth user. Photo / methproject.org
Shocking pics from former meth user. Photo / methproject.org

'My kidneys still bleed'

All AAIC speakers have been ice addicts, attended rehab for at least 12 months and are cleared to work with minors and trained in drug education. They supply information, cards with detox phone numbers children can leave out for parents and guides to the different street names for the drug, of which there are around 20.

With children as young as nine trying ice, Ms Simmons believes primary-age kids need this.

"They're going to see it on the street," she said. "Ice users can smoke from a light bulb. It can be melted down, shot up or mixed with water.

"If it's scary, good. We're just exposing the reality of ice. It's that or lose their loved one.

"It saves kids' lives."

Her daughters, who were once furious with their mother because she had "lost the plot, now both work for the AAIC, one as a psychologist and the other as an accountant".

"I should have been dead today," said Ms Simmons. "I've been given a second chance."

The Meth Project reduced ice use by 64 per cent in eight states over 10 years.

Ms Simmons says its success relies on the fact the former addicts don't lecture students on the dangers of drugs, like their teachers might.

"What's different with us is we've been there," she said. "We can tell them how we were affected, and still are now - my kidneys still bleed.

"We can share the hell we lived through and say, 'Do you really want this?'

"We're not your parents. We're not even going to tell you not to do it. We're going to tell you what happened to us."

- news.com.au

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