Tackling meth in the wheatbelt

In July last year, the number of people accessing treatment at Holyoake across WA for methamphetamine overtook alcohol.

This prompted the State government to look at new ways to deal with the issue including harsher legal penalties.

A WA police spokesperson said the drug was a huge issue in the State. 

These people are living in your community already only they are unsupported

Holyoake regional manager Denise Graham

“Methylamphetamine causes significant harm to the Western Australian community and the WA Police Force is committed to interrupting the supply of this illicit drug,” the spokesperson said. 

“Community and stakeholder support is also crucial in addressing this issue.”

Staff at the new Holyoake methamphetamine clinic in Northam said there was a great need for the Wheatbelt service.

“For the first time, the number of people accessing treatment for methamphetamine locally has exceeded that of alcohol and we know that is of concern to the community,” said Holyoake regional manager Denise Graham.

Ms Graham said the trial would hopefully reduce crime and antisocial behaviour in the community. 

“Soon as they start getting support, that (crime) starts calming down – which is the good thing,” she said.

Holyoake regional manager Denise Graham.

Holyoake regional manager Denise Graham.

“This team has a medical component as well, so there is a real support around cravings…so people are not angry, anxious and acting out, which is what people are afraid of.”

Ms Graham emphasised people with drug problems already existed in the community.

“These people are living in your community already only they are unsupported,” she said. 

“What this is doing is providing safety.”

The staff said the local Magistrate Jennifer Hawkins was on board and fully supportive of the clinic.

“When she recommends it (in court) people stop and have a think and go ‘oh, alright’,” Ms Graham said.

Northam is also home to a residential recovery centre run by Fresh Start, that helps men from Perth, the Wheatbelt and interstate recover from drug dependence.

Fresh Start clients must have a naltrexone implant, be male and over 18 years of age.

The new Holyoake service deals with both men and women, medical treatment is optional and it only deals with clients in a 100 kilometre radius of the centre. 

Working with clients

Ms Healy said it is important to be non judgemental and have a love for your work, when working as a counsellor.

“A passion and compassion,” she said.

Ms Graham said the way clients presented was “pretty ugly sometimes – but that’s not who they are”.

Holyoake senior clinical case coordinator Erica Lucas.

Holyoake senior clinical case coordinator Erica Lucas.

“There is a person there, when unaffected by methamphetamine, is a wonderful person,” she said.

Senior clinical case coordinator Erica Lucas said change was very complex for the client.

“A lot is suppressed,” she explained. “A lot of past pain and past issues. “As a society we think you come off this stuff and you are going to feel great – but really, you feel worse before you feel better.”

Ms Lucas said staff have to be patient and understand that people will come and go when they are ready. 

Holyoake counsellor Collette Healy.

Holyoake counsellor Collette Healy.

Ms Healy added a big fear for clients when considering coming off the drug was how they would cope.

“They don’t have any self-esteem or self-worth, and they feel that they need this drug to help them function in society,” she said.

“We try to help them understand that you can live your life without using this substance.”

Client 

A Wundowie client, who was using methamphetamines for 20 years, said she was seeing a counsellor before she heard about the new Holyoake service.

Mary, whose name we have changed to protect her identity, said she has been clean since May and has enjoyed receiving help. 

“It’s wicked,” she said. 

“They have been really supportive.

“They pick me up every morning to come here and drop me off.”

They get into your life and what you really need, instead of just going by the book

Holyoake specialist methamphetamine clinic client

Mary was attending a workshop at the centre on the day of the interview. 

“It’s good – today we have art therapy so we have people from Fresh Start coming in,” she said.

“It’s good to be able to talk to people and relate to people that have been in the same position as you,” she said. 

Mary said she felt comfortable with the councillors.

“They get into your life and what you really need, instead of just going by the book,” she said. 

Mary said she decided to get clean because she was sick of the lifestyle, but said it is not an easy process. 

“I have used it for 20 years so I am still thinking about it all the time,” she said.

“Everything reminds me of it, even the smell of dinner. “It was a whole part of my life.”

Mary said she was on naltrexone at the moment which has helped her stay off methamphetamines.

“It stops the urges and has opened up another path in my mind,” she said. “I now loving cooking and I have thought about going to TAFE and yeah – making things better.

“I feel completely different like I have a conscious now, but you know, some days are good, some are bad. I am going through the motions.”