Services fear ‘sleeping giant’ of ice addiction is going largely ignored in Alice Springs – ABC News

Services fear 'sleeping giant' of ice addiction is going largely ignored in Alice Springs - ABC News

Shannon Althouse knows what rock bottom feels like.

He was there seven years ago.

Behind bars at the Alice Springs prison, he was serving a 10-year sentence for attempted murder.

It had all started years earlier, with a single life decision he still wishes he could take back.

Just one hit, a moment of unbelievable euphoria.

And a high that would send him crashing to depths he’d never imagined.

Before he knew it, he’d lost his job and was caught up in warring drug gangs.

It all led to the attempted murder — revenge on a rival who’d run him down in the street.

Shannon was in jail for more than 10 years, charged with attempted murder.()

Then, he was behind bars.

But nothing had changed, his days still filled with endless fights, and no end in sight to the cycle of crime that seemed to be his life sentence.

And there it was — rock bottom.

Dark, hopeless and completely alone.

Until two men showed up at his cell block, and offered him a way out.

Meth addiction gaining a foothold

In recent weeks, alcohol has been front and centre in reporting on the Alice Springs crime wave.

But local drug services say an all-too-hidden, and equally sinister crisis is looming — methamphetamine abuse.

It’s known as the “sleeping giant” of Alice Springs.

One hit of this substance promises a tempting, but fleeting escape from pain.

And in a region suffering high levels of trauma and disadvantage, it’s tightening its stranglehold.

There are concerns methamphetamines are gaining a foothold in Alice Springs.()

While rates are nowhere near as high as alcohol abuse, frontline workers say the drug is gaining a foothold in the community.

The clients they’re seeing are younger, with more females seeking help — and an overwhelming majority of young meth users are Indigenous.

Services on the ground say they’re seeing children as young as 11 fighting over needles on the riverbanks.

And they’re calling desperately for more attention on this issue, before it’s too late.

“A lot of the people in parliament are talking about alcohol,” Sailosi Tupou, a local addiction worker, said.

“But one of the factors is meth, and we’re not talking about it.

“It’s something that’s hidden down in the community that needs to be brought out into the light.”

The boxing sessions teach discipline and focus, and allow the men to build friendships.()

Guidance towards a new path

When Sailosi and his colleague Dion Fuamatu showed up at Alice Springs Correctional Centre seven years ago, they helped set Shannon on a path towards healing.

“You don’t really get that help and support when you leave the system,” Shannon said.

“It’s just you out in the street with no support whatsoever.”

The two men are methamphetamine case workers at local addiction service, Drug and Alcohol Services Australia.

Along with their colleague Amanda Houston, they provide mentoring and life coaching to men and women trying to walk free from ice.

Dion Fuamatu is using his love of boxing to help people walk free from addiction.()

This includes prison outreach, as well a music program with Sailosi and boxing sessions with Dion, which have both proven to be hugely therapeutic.

“I’d like to paint the picture to somebody that they can do it. And find that place within themselves,” Dion said.

As far as they know, theirs is the only meth-focused service of its kind in the country, and it means they get referrals from all over Australia.

With just three of them on staff, it’s a 24/7 job.

And it’s not unusual for them to get calls at all hours of the night — often from people on the brink of giving up hope.

But Sailosi doesn’t think twice about answering his phone, no matter the hour.

That person could’ve been him.

The boxing program helps addicts put their life back together.()

‘I’ve seen what it does’

It only took a couple months for Sailosi’s life to come crashing down.

After his divorce in 2016, he felt a terrible emptiness.

Desperate to fill it however he could, he found meth.

One morning, three years later, he reached a crossroads.

He was standing in a room filled with strangers and littered with drug paraphernalia.

Staring into a mirror, he struggled to recognise the man looking back at him.

And in that moment, he realised none of the people in that room cared if he lived or died.

Sailosi Tupou struggled with meth for several years.()

That was his “rock bottom” — and while he’s been sober four years now, the memory is still raw.

“That was a bad part of my life,” he said, wiping away tears.

“I’ve seen a lot of good people turning into the most horrible people.

“So that’s why I’m so passionate about it. Because I’ve seen what it does.”

Police and governments pledge to tackle ice

There’s limited data on the true prevalence of ice use in Alice Springs.

While the national wastewater drug monitoring program offers general figures for the NT, police say the data is unreliable, as there’s only two testing sites in the entire territory.

According to NT Police, the vast majority of illicit substances are being imported into the NT from outside the territory.

There’s limited data on how prevalent ice use is in Central Australia.()

While the bulk of drugs end up in Darwin, police said substances were also being smuggled into remote areas, targeting vulnerable communities.

Police said they were working hard to stamp out drug crime “on all fronts”, through multiple ongoing operations.

It’s a promise echoed by the NT and Australian governments, which fund addiction services in the territory — with the local meth outreach service funded by the NT Primary Health Network.

Both governments said they were working hard to support those on the region’s frontline.

But peak bodies said local services continued to feel the issue of meth abuse was being largely ignored.

“I completely respect that there’s a lot of work being done to address alcohol across the territory and it’s really important to keep focus on,” Association of Alcohol and Other Drugs Agencies NT executive Peter Burnheim said.

“But we can’t take our eye off of some of these potential other areas that may emerge and become bigger problems if we don’t keep on top of them.”

The program aims to help people turn their lives around.()

‘Better than meth’

On an early morning in Alice Springs, a group of men are sparring as the sun rises.

Standing beside Dion, Shannon helps to coach the class.

It’s been just seven weeks since he was released from prison.

And there’s a quiet pride on his face, as he calls out to the men, encouraging them to keep going.

Shannon knows if it weren’t for programs like these, it would’ve been too easy for him to fall right back into the system.

Shannon Althouse wants to help others heal from meth addiction.()

“There’s always moments where you’re helpless,” he said.

“Depression, anxiety, you’re never winning. It’s just always a downhill battle.”

But with support around him, he’s determined to keep fighting — and wants to help others win the war.

“We all work together to help the youth, help people, help those struggling on the streets,” he said.

“The enjoyment you get out of that is a lot better than the enjoyment you get out of meth.”


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