Principals and youth workers fear Victoria’s ice epidemic is becoming so widespread that schools could soon become targets for drug dealers.
Welfare authorities say that children as young as 12 are being exposed to ice in some country towns, while teenagers are becoming increasingly susceptible, particularly at parties with older peers.
With rampant methamphetamine use devastating communities, schools say they are now having to deal with the flow-on effects, such as students turning up to class with anxiety or other challenging behaviours because family members are addicts, resulting in a dysfunctional home.
But while many schools have taken a proactive approach - participating in ice forums, beefing up education programs, and providing staff with training to “read the signs” - some also fear vulnerable students could eventually become direct targets for dealers.
“We know that ice is out there in the community so there’s always a fear that it could come into schools,” said Shepparton High School assistant principal Ashley Robinson. “You do worry because you’ve got this captive audience of young people, some without direction, who can be quite impressionable.”
The latest police data shows that a boom in the traffic and use of methamphetamine has led to a nearly 20 per cent increase in the rate of drug crime over the past year.
But experts say the impact of ice on school-aged students would be hard to quantify because of the nature of the dealing that takes place.
“We’re not talking about a ‘stereotypical’ drug world, where you'd have the stereotypical drug dealer standing outside the school fence trying to sell to minors,” said Brendan Scale, co-ordinator of the Wimmera Drug Action Taskforce.
“Dealers can be people’s friends. They’re people in the community, like tradies and apprentices earning crackers in the building industry, who are more than subsidising their apprenticeship wage by on-selling the meth to mates.”
In the rural town of St Arnaud, local primary school principal Mark McLay said one of the knock-on effects of ice was evidenced by children displaying signs of erratic behaviour, or a lack of sleep or concentration, because parents or siblings were users.
“The potential impact of this drug - the availability of it, the price of it, the fact that it’s so easy to make - really scares and worries me,” he said.
Mildura High School principal Andrew Ough said that while ice was not a problem in his school, “we’ve done a lot of work with our staff to ensure they’re aware of the signs and symptoms. It’s about constant vigilance.”
Ararat College principal Geoff Sawyer agreed. “I’ve got no doubt there’s an ice issue within the wider community, so you do need to keep an open mind,” he said.
Fears that schools could become the next frontier for drug dealers is likely to trouble both sides of politics as they head towards November’s state election.
In this year's state budget, the government provided $34 million to tackle Victoria’s ice epidemic, but it has come under fire for earlier cuts to drug education specialists and regional officers.
Australian Education Union state president Meredith Peace said many schools felt isolated and needed more support to tackle the issue.
Youth Support and Advocacy Service chief executive Paul Bird said he was yet to see evidence of ice filtering into schools, but agreed there was a high level of anxiety about its prevalence in the broader community. Figures from the Statewide Youth Needs Census, co-ordinated by YSAS last year, found that methamphetamine had tripled in the last 18 months as the drug of primary concern, and was more likely to be used by people aged 19-21.
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