USERS' STORIES: ICE IN THE BUSH
When we were putting together this "Rural Edition", we wondered what it was like as an ice user living in the bush? So one of our reporters found Geri and Will, who live and use ice in different parts of rural NSW and interviewed them about the sorts of issues they face. This is what they had to say...
UN: What do you think the hardest thing about using drugs in the bush is?
Geri: Living in a small country town makes it difficult to be an ice user. It's a nightmare - from scoring to trying to get new needles.
We are a small community, so everyone knows everyone. I'm a single mum with 3 children. I don't want my drug use to affect my children. I need to be careful to maintain my looks. Whether I'm hanging out or high, I try to look normal and fit in so no-one knows. Because if one person knows, everyone knows.
UN: You mentioned it's hard to get new fits. Can you get them in town?
Geri: The one chemist in town is near my parent's shop and the pharmacist is my Mum's friend from the Country Women's Association, so I couldn't pick up needles there even if they sold them. There is no hospital close. Therefore I end up re-using. Sadly I know now that's impossible to do without consequences. I am living with hep C because I re-used someone else's fit. I thought I had been following the instructions for cleaning the fits properly but I obviously hadn't - at least once.
UN: Have you tried to get treated for your hep C?
Geri: The big upside in my life at the moment is that I am on treatment for my hep C. A friend of mine was getting treated and told me where to go. I decided I had to do it, for my kids. I am being treated at the hospital a few towns over. Each month I go there for tests and to get a new lot of tablets. At the same time, I stock up on new needles which solves that problem as well. I have another 2 months on treatment then I'll be back to the same dilemma. I may have to keep making the trek just for needles but it's a few hours round trip. It's hard to organise on an ongoing basis with 3 kids.
UN: Are there other situations where you worry you will be "outed" as a drug user?
Geri: Scoring is very hard. My dealer lives above the pub and is "known" but it's the only way I can get ice here. I have to be very careful that I'm not seen "talking" to him too often.
UN: Apart from getting new fits, what's the main thing you wish you could access that you think would be easier if you lived in the city?
Geri: One thing that frustrates me to no end is that there's no-one to talk to face-to-face. There's no "Drug and Alcohol" help. When I tried to get help from the hospital, I was told "Lifeline or your GP". I certainly cannot talk to my GP about drugs. He's been my family GP forever. He helped birth me and my kids as well.
So really all you have is your drug using friends. If you've had a big binge, only they can help you through the desperate downs afterwards. There is no other support. I get used to making it look like I am coping, but that can get really exhausting, really stressful. Sometimes you just need to talk but you don't want to be whinging to your mates all the time. I only have a few people I can trust so it can get a bit wearing. I would love someone I can trust to talk things over with. Someone who gets me but is not too close - a worker not a friend. Yeah and if they could bring me some new needles at the same time, it would be perfect!
UN: What's the hardest thing about being a country lad and a drug user?
Will: As a bloke who has lived in this town all his life and have generations of family history in the area, my drug use is a huge stress. Not only have I lost the respect of my family but all my relatives and close friends. Once one person knows, everyone does and the bad press around ice means there's a lot of fear. When you've been on it a while, it can show. There are some people who can tell you're on it. And they will tell your family and friends... nothing is secret here. Everything is fair game. They say it's concern, but really it's just gossip.
UN: How is it getting new fits for users?
Will: Even though it's a big country town, there's only one hospital where we can get fits and one chemist in town which also doses methadone. If I'm seen going in there instead of our family chemist, people assume there's only a couple of reasons - on 'done or buying fits. I got hep C by sharing. I wouldn't go the hospital for fits because you've got to get them from the emergency waiting room, where everyone can see you. And I wouldn't go to the "druggies'" chemist where you don't want to be seen. You can drive 3 hours to another town but you have to have a reason; people would want to know why you were going there.
Those of us who inject around here try to get someone to go to Sydney and get boxes of 100 fairly regularly.
UN: Have you had any treatment for hep C?
Will: I don't hear much of what's going on with that sort of stuff except through friends who are heroin users and are on the 'done program. They tend to hear more but ice users just aren't connected in like heroin users are, so we don't hear a lot. I know there is stuff I would be eligible for if I was on 'done but I'm not. I did get a list of private doctors who know about it in the area but I was told I would have to pay for all my tests and for the medication. I just can't afford it at the moment.
UN: Are there any particular issues that come from being an ice user in the country?
Will: Ice I can buy from so many people because they make it around here, it is everywhere and it is cheap, no problems. I worry now that I'm at risk of getting busted by the cops. People are scared of ice so they're scared of people who use ice. And no way would you want to end up in the local hospital, they treat drug users like shit.
UN: What do you wish was different?
Will: There is no-one I can talk to, no counsellors who deal with ice. I'd have to go to Sydney. The hospital deals with heroin with the 'done program but there's no ice help. A doctor wanted to put a mate of mine on bupe for ice. Unbelievable ignorance. You have your mates who use ice but they have their own stuff going on. You help each other as much as you can. But it would be good if there was something for ice users like for heroin users. There's heaps of things you can do if you take heroin but no-one seems to know what to do with us except be scared of us.
A note from the Editor:
You probably noticed that both Geri and Will feel pretty isolated from their peer community and the lack of support and information that comes with that.
We reckon that if you know people who are using in the country and feeling isolated, the best thing you can do for them is tell them about User's News. Reading the mag may help them feel connected our community. It will certainly give them the info they deserve about looking after their health, using harm reduction techniques and making the most of available services.
A lot of people who read UN pick up their copy from an NSP, methadone clinic or other health service, but people who don't access those services may never see the mag. So why not be a harm reduction hero and spread the news! Suggest your friends subscribe and get it delivered to their door. It's free and it's discreet (we don't advertise our name or details anywhere on the package - we just have our Australia Post customer number printed on the envelope so undeliverable copies can come back to us). Ask them to call us on 02 8354 7300 or 1800 644 413 to get on the mailing list and become a part of the NUAA community.