Dubbed the “devil’s drug,” crystal methamphetamine, better known as “ice” or “meth,” is a powerfully addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system, creating an intense high that can last as long as 24 hours. The drug causes brain damage similar to that caused by Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and epilepsy. Its use can also produce psychotic behaviour, resulting in extreme violence. Ice has devastating effects on its users and society. It has destroyed families and is flooding our prisons, hospitals and rehab centres with addicts. As New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione observed in a television interview, ice is a bigger issue than terrorism in Australia; he believes that “it’s more likely to take lives; it’s all-pervasive; it’s as evil as a substance can get.”
Last year, Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie revealed that her 21-year-old son was addicted to ice. She described her despair at being unable to help him: “I just can’t do anything. I’m powerless, and as a parent, to be powerless to help your child is the most devastating thing.”
The philosophy that you first have to hit rock bottom before admitting that you need help is common among professionals helping those struggling with addiction. Supporting this theory are justice systems that do not have the authority to order drug offenders into special rehabilitation programs. The person has to want to be rehabilitated and has to want to stay in a program. Proponents of this philosophy argue that mandatory treatment infringes on the civil liberty and human rights of those involved by forcing them into treatment. Others argue that denying a person’s autonomy to make a decision will result in resistance to treatment.
Waiting for a person’s commitment to seek help seems logical, but what if you wait too long? What if the “bottom” is suicide, an overdose or a car accident killing the addicts themselves and maybe innocent lives?
It can also be difficult for young people who are confused by drugs, struggling with underlying mental health issues or overwhelmed by the sheer chaos of their daily lives to grasp why they should seek help to recover. Evidence from psychiatry and pharmaceutical research shows that severe drug abuse can cause deformities in the prefrontal lobes, which causes problems with controlling one’s impulses and with decision-making processes.
After analysing the international literature available and conducting a study on non-custodial offenders in 2008, the Crime and Misconduct Commission of Queensland chose not to recommend “the current treatment philosophy of waiting for people with drug and/or alcohol abuse problems to get themselves psychologically motivated and demonstrate their readiness to receive treatment.” They found that offenders with more serious drug and alcohol abuse problems were more likely to recognise their problems but weren’t more likely to seek treatment or achieve better treatment results than those with less severe addictions.
Interestingly, mandatory treatment programs don’t necessarily produce better results. A California study on methamphetamine users found that people who were forced into treatment by the criminal justice system and those entering treatment of their own accord had similar rates of methamphetamine use following treatment. They also had similar rates of total abstinence and similar overall recovery rates at 24 months after treatment.
Universally, however, whether they were forced into rehabilitation or volunteered, people who stayed in treatment for longer periods had better outcomes than those who finished more quickly. As addiction specialist Nadine Ezard observed, there’s no evidence that short-term hospital stays cure addiction and there’s more success using long-term counselling. She said “the things that work are promoting people’s motivation to change their behaviours and promoting people’s confidence that they can change their behaviours.”
A common rationalisation for forced treatment is that, though people may not initially want treatment, they may change as they progress through the program and see a life of recovery that’s not only possible but desirable. After all, it’s often hard to see the possibility of a better future through the haze of addiction.
In support of this, Australian Children’s Court magistrate Jennifer Bowles has proposed a model for young offenders or children in protection to stay up to six months in a secure rehabilitation facility. They would engage in intensive counselling and therapy under the care of skilled staff. They would have access to education with external supervision, including judicial oversight. She envisages a homelike environment, as opposed to a penitentiary setting, and she stresses that the focus be on therapeutic goals, not punishment.
But there’s a third approach. Mary Holley is an obstetrician in Alabama, USA, who is the founder of Mothers Against Methamphetamine—a ministry that distributes methamphetamine-related literature nationwide. In an interview with Charisma Magazine, she says that a faith-based approach is the key to rehabilitation, because it goes “deeper into the heart of people.”
One such person was Mat Kratiuk, whose life was transformed by faith-based rehab after being addicted to ice for 15 years. He became addicted after smoking it only a few times, and soon he was smoking more than $2000-worth of ice a week. His life spiralled out of control, and he was selling drugs and considering suicide, before entering a 10-month rehabilitation program through a faith-based organisation.
As reported by the Illawarra Mercury, Kratiuk, who had tried rehabilitation twice, attributes his recovery first and foremost to God. “The difference this time was that I was serious and I allowed God to play His part,” he says. “Most of all, I want to thank God. Without Him, none of this [transformation] would have been possible. It truly is amazing. . . . I was a man who once was completely dark. . . . I was once enslaved, but now, thanks to God, I’ve been set free. I love my life now.”
Then there’s former ice addict Sarah, whose story was published in The Daily Mail. For 16 years, she lived a life of crime, addiction and prostitution. But in her weakest moment she fell to the floor as tears poured down her face. Then she screamed out, “If there really is a God or Jesus that I have heard about, then I beg You, please save me from this life. Either let me die and be at peace now or show me how to live my life!”
Sarah began her road to recovery by admitting herself into a special care emergency unit in a hospital. A few days later, she was transferred to a clinic under the supervision of an addiction medical specialist. While at the clinic, she received special permission to attend church, where she met God, felt happiness and forgiveness for the first time, and cemented her determination to rid herself of her addiction. Shortly after that she received a call from a Salvation Army rehab centre with an available bed. Sarah spent nine months there, supported by her church pastor.
“Letting go of our old lifestyles isn’t easy,” she told The Daily Mail. “Integrating back into society is challenging. Working on our deepest issues is difficult and understanding what drove us to such a destructive lifestyle and working through the trauma that addiction creates is . . . hard work.
“But I’m learning to replace old negative behaviour with positive behaviour and healthy routines. There’s no cure to ice addiction. But as addicts we can, and we do, recover.” Today, Sarah is helping other addicts to stay clean.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
Whether rehab is voluntary or mandatory, ice addicts don’t need to be punished. They need support and help—and an introduction to a Saviour who loves them.