Football clubs, VACountry and indigenous organisation funded in fight against ice

Asked to imagine what an ice addict looks like, few people would picture a football player. 

But even athletes are not immune from the scourge of methlamphetamine.

“If something is happening in society, it's happening at a footy or netball club,” Paul Hamilton, AFL Central Victoria’s regional general manager, said. 

His organisation was one of three in Bendigo this week to secure a state government ice action grant, money AFLCV will use to educate members of its rural sports clubs about the dangers of the drug.  

VACountry and the Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative, as well as nine other groups from across the state,  will also share in $118,000 of funding. 

Mr Hamilton said the sense of belonging at football clubs made them a powerful vehicle to deliver health messages.

“It's an environment where you're very socially connected and more likely to listen and be involved,” he said.

“There's peer pressure involved in any club and that can be a positive thing, if it's used in the right way.”

The funds mean AFLCV can continue its work from the past 18 months, inviting police officers and drug and alcohol nurse practitioner Cam Cail into clubrooms to educate members about the dangers of drug use.  

Mr Cail said it was important ice users and their families were not ostracized because of their connection to the drug. 

”It creates more of a monster and they’re less likely to engage in the conversation,” he said. 

It was possible that the football club setting would make people trusting enough to open up about the drug’s impact on their lives, Mr Cail explained. 

Announcing the grants in Shepparton on Wednesday, mental health minister Martin Foley said locally-grown intervention efforts were the best way to keep drug-affected residents out of court and prison.  

“Locals are the key to success – they know what will work for their area,” he said. 

Mr Hamilton agreed, calling sports clubs "the heart and soul” of regional communities and saying the longer young people remained a part of their club, the less likely they were to develop anti-social habits.

The state government launched a $100 million ice action plan in March last year and is now drafting a bill to lower the quantity of drug considered a large and commercial amount, making possible more severe penalties for traffickers. 

Commercial trafficking charges, which carry a maximum penalty of of 25 years’ imprisonment and a $500,000 fine, could be prosecuted against someone in possession of just 500g of methamphetamine.

Queer community gets online care

An HIV prevention service operating in Bendigo will use smartphone dating apps to communicate with gay men battling ice addiction.  

The Victorian AIDS Council’s Bendigo offshoot, VACountry, will train peer mentors throughout regional Victoria to start online conversations with other men whose use of the drug puts their mental and sexual health at risk.

Mentors will reach out to the men via dating networks like Grindr and Scruff, platforms which are sometimes used to solicit methamphetamine. 

The organisation secured $10,000 from a state government ice action fund to carry out the project.

Mentors will be sought in Mildura, Swan Hill and Echuca, as well as Bendigo. 

VAC services director Kent Burgess said methamphetamine use was more prevalent among LGBTI people than in the wider community, with same-sex attracted or sex and gender diverse people using drugs to cope with the discrimination they experienced. 

Those isolated in regional areas were especially susceptible, Mr Burgess said. 

A Kirby Institute report released in February this year found one-quarter of gay men surveyed had taken ice at least once before, and 12 per cent of participants had used the drug in the preceding six months. 

A portion of those men had injected the drug.

Some ice-affected men are known to engage in a practice commonly called “party and play” or “chemsex”  – the use of illicit drugs at the time of sexual intercourse – that puts them at greater risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne viruses, including HIV/AIDS.

“We want people to socialise, recreate and party safely,” Mr Burgess said.   

Peer-to-peer counselling was a proven way to encourage better health choices, Mr Burgess said, and would also be available through face-to-face workshops funded by the grant. 

“A core part of successfully addressing the issue is getting members of that specific community to be a voice for their own community,” he said.

“People are more likely to turn to those they trust.

VACountry already offers a drop-in service at its Wills Street headquarters every Wednesday, providing all members of the LGBTI community access health information and support. 

While its primary purpose is HIV advocacy and prevention, VAC already offers its community drug and alcohol education.

In Melbourne, the organisation runs a free, six-week program teaching men ways to curb their methamphetamine use. 

Participants are also offered face-to-face and telephone counselling for the program’s duration. 

Culture is key for Indigenous youth

Teaching ice-affected Indigenous youth about their traditional culture can steer them away from the dangerous drug, Bendigo’s leading aboriginal health advocate has said.

Bendigo and Districts Aboriginal Co-operative chief executive officer Raylene Harradine said traditional practices and values, like family gatherings and respect for elders, could help Bendigo’s Dja Dja Wurrung people feel better connected.

In turn, they were less likely to seek out methamphetamine, she said.

“Traditionally, if you did something wrong, it was dealt with there and then, and you actually had to take responsibility for your behaviours,” Ms Harradine explained. 

“But then, you move on from that.” 

Her service has secured $10,000 from the state government to implement ice prevention initiatives, including overnight camps for young people already using the illicit substance. 

Ms Harradine hoped the cash would not only help those using ice, but also families the drug had already torn apart.  

The service employed just one drug and alcohol counsellor, on whom ice-related cases placed an additional demand. 

BDAC will to educate participants at October’s Koori football and netball carnival about the risks associated with ice use. 

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