Insufferable trauma in her formative years led Billiejo Kleehammer to drugs and alcohol.
For Billiejo, marijuana and liquor was her release.
“It just became a coping strategy,” the Kangaroo Flat resident said.
“I started using more drugs and it just got worse over time.”
At 14, Billiejo began drinking, which progressed into marijuana dependency by 16.
“I was surrounded by drugs and started having occasional ones, which became a habit and coping mechanism,” she said.
By 18, Billiejo’s mindset had deteriorated to the point where she was admitted to an adolescent mental health hospital in Melbourne.
“It (drug taking) was a daily habit which got out of control,” she said.
Now 30, Billiejo has been in and out of rehabilitation facilities in Bendigo and Melbourne, with varying degrees of success.
A relapse for Billiejo is, in many ways, compounded by the process involved in getting back into a stable, supportive environment.
Detox is the first challenge after a relapse.
While there are local detox facilities in Bendigo, Billiejo has found it easier, and quicker, to find a short-term place in Melbourne.
The DePaul house in Melbourne took her in two weeks ago, but a family emergency meant she had to come back to Bendigo, where she is in departmental accommodation to remove herself from further risk of relapse.
Therapeutic day sessions are available in Bendigo, like the Salvation Army’s Building Bridge’s program, and while Billiejo praised the support, she said it had a glass ceiling for her.
Longer-term solutions, such as rehabilitation beds, have proved most successful for Billiejo.
However, Bendigo has just 19 beds.
Bendigo Community Health Services’ Nova House has five beds, providing a withdrawal service for up to 10 days, and the Salvation Army Bridge Program caters for a further 14 people.
However, the Bridge Program, which offers six weeks of residential rehabilitation, is restricted to adults under 30.
Billiejo waited seven months in 2015 for her first bed at the Salvation Army Bridge Program – an agonising wait when she was most vulnerable, she said.
“Its very stressful because you want to get on top of it straight away,” she said.
“The waiting lists are way too long because there isn’t the support in Bendigo.
“I’m just trying to get my life back on track.”
Turning 31 this year, Billiejo is now ineligible for a local rehabilitation bed, instead her focus, like many others, has shifted toward Melbourne.
“It’s very restrictive – there should be more (beds) for adults,” she said.
“Anyone at any age can have problems (with drugs and alcohol) and it would be good to get a rehab place in Bendigo for people 30 and above.”
Private services are unrealistic for Billiejo, who is currently unemployed.
Victorian Drug and Alcohol Association chief executive Sam Biondo recently told Fairfax Media non-accredited, private services were charging up to $30,000 a month.
“Not many people have that amount of money – most people that do go into rehabilitation are on Centrelink payments,” Billiejo said.
Billejo’s comments follow recent analysis of the state’s sewage, which found regional Victorians are using dramatically more ice, alcohol and nicotine than their Melbourne counterparts.
The first drug testing of waste water in regional Victoria found twice the amount of methamphetamines compared to metropolitan Melbourne, raising concern about a lack of rehabilitation and health resources available for users.
The result, discovered in June and July last year, estimated that 1.8 grams of the drug was being consumed per day per 1000 people in regional Victoria.
According to the Victorian drug trends report from 2015, ice users reported paying about $75 to use 150mg in a typical "session".
The water testing, performed by Turning Point and Monash University, also estimated that 20 litres of alcohol was being consumed per day per 1000 people in regional areas compared to 13.5 litres in Melbourne in March 2015.
Figures recently released from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, show that in 2014-15, 118 people were hospitalised for drug and alcohol use in Bendigo.
Bendigo had a combined total of 1003 hospital bed days during the same period, meaning on average each of those patients spent 8.5 days in hospital.
Ballarat’s patients spent nine days on average in hospital, while Maryborough (7.4) and Heathcote - Castlemaine - Kyneton (6.4) recorded lower results in 2014-15.
The need to increase rehab services for Victorians was recognised in the state government’s Ice Action Plan.
It involved an $18 million investment over four years to expand therapeutic day rehab, providing support for an extra 500 Victorians per year.
Thirty-two residential beds for forensic clients were announced 2015, with two additional rehabilitation beds based in Bendigo.
However, Victoria still has less beds per capita than every state in Australia, except South Australia, which illustrated how the sector was “at the bottom of the funding pile”, according to Mr Biondo.
"This cycle of making these people illegitimate to support and assistance has to stop," he said.