NSW police commissioner Ken Moroney’s warning this week that crystal meth was the greatest scourge on the community he had ever seen was met with agreement by health professionals, who said the crisis was getting worse.

Moroney said the crystal epidemic was the biggest challenge facing NSW police and that the drug could be linked to a majority of violence and robbery offences.

I don’t know, in all the time I’ve been a policeman, which is 41 years, of a greater scourge on the community, he told The Australian.

The physical and mental manifestations of this drug are absolutely horrific. It has the potential to destroy generations.

Moroney had visited the ward at St Vincent’s Hospital for patients having crystal-related psychotic episodes and said, It’s just frightening, it’s just absolutely frightening.

Director of emergency services at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dr Gordian Fulde, told Sydney Star Observer crystal was arguably one of the biggest problems of drug use that our society has seen.

He said there had been an astronomical increase in the number of crystal users at the hospital.

But it’s not just St Vincent’s. It’s in country towns, it’s all through society. It’s not just an inner-city thing, it’s everywhere, Fulde said.

While crystal was popular with partygoers it was also used by people on a day-to-day basis as a stimulant, he said. There are people running around in their daily job who are using this stuff as a support, and it will drive them mad and violent. That’s the problem.

Fulde believed crystal use could cause permanent brain damage and said the epidemic would only get better when governments and communities became aware of its dangers.

The only reason it will get better in the end will be because there will be some very heinous violent crimes. Societies in other countries haven’t really paid much attention to people going mad, but when it becomes a factor in violence and murders in other countries, that’s when society sits up and says it’s unacceptable.

Detective Inspector David Egan-Lee, of Surry Hills Police, said he had noticed a slight increase in arrests involving people on crystal. But it is a dangerous one, he said. It seems to be the drug of choice at present.

It seems to have the ability to debilitate people. We don’t quite know if they’re suffering from mental illness or suffering the effects of ice. I suppose the reality of that is if they keep using it they’re going to have a mental illness anyway.

He too had noticed crystal use wasn’t restricted to one group but appeared to be moving right across the board, which is the worrying part.

Its increasing popularity was due to the fact it was cheap, readily available and had powerful effects, Egan-Lee suggested. He said most users were unaware how debilitating the side effects could be.

Stevie Clayton, ACON’s chief executive, said the problem was growing and that state and federal governments needed to spend more money responding to the crisis.

Last week the NSW government launched a club drugs campaign warning young people about the dangers of drug use, including crystal. A spokesperson for health minister John Hatzistergos said more crystal campaigns were planned for the future but could not give any details on them.

ACON last week launched the resource Crystal: Reducing And Quitting, and the organisation was about to start another round of public forums on the drug.

Clayton said ACON was working on a more comprehensive response around crystal, and that a priority was supporting and skilling-up friends and family of crystal users.

Rebecca McKetin, senior research fellow at National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, said smoking crystal was popular in the gay and lesbian community and that those who smoked it were less likely to seek professional treatment than those who injected it.

This was possibly because they didn’t consider crystal a hard drug or because their usage was too new for serious adverse effects to start showing, McKetin said.

Treatment for crystal dependence was usually based around counselling to help people cope with cravings, recognise symptoms and deal with relapses.

There was currently no crystal substitute therapy, like methadone, but trials were currently under way into such substances in Sydney.

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