An anti-drug program where former ice users share their personal stories with students has been criticised by South Australian authorities, but the group responsible says it is important for young people to understand the drug’s consequences.
- The Australian Anti Ice Campaign’s workshop program is being trialled at an SA school
- The workshop incudes former users sharing their personal stories
- Authorities have labelled the program “experimental”
James Watson is part of a program run by the Australian Anti Ice Campaign (AAIC) which, despite being new to South Australia, has attracted criticism from established drug and alcohol authorities and the State Government.
He told the ABC he endured seven years of addiction to ice, and was now sharing his personal story with students in an effort to deter them from the highly-addictive drug.
“I hate it now, you know… I hate it,” he said.
“In the seven years I’ve been doing it, I’ve seen the damage it causes, and I just can’t take it anymore.
“I just want to make a difference, because it hurts so many people.”
The program started its first trial at Blackfriars Priory School in Prospect, north of Adelaide.
AAIC director and former ice addict Andre’a Simmons said the program’s slogan “not even once” had resonated with students interstate.
“I first started rolling out the program in Queensland three or four years ago,” she said.
“Somebody could have warned me [about the dangers of ice] but I didn’t have that opportunity.
“It almost killed me… and it’s left me permanently damaged [with] heart problems, kidney issues and memory issues.
“I stole from my friends… and did whatever I had to do to get that next hit.
“Most of that I can’t take back, but I can use what almost destroyed me to give the message to our youth and our community.”
No evidence program is safe, commissioner says
The trial was officially launched less than a fortnight ago, but it has already generated controversy.
The SA Network of Drug and Alcohol Services said there was not enough evidence to support the use of “shock and awe” tactics.
“Scare tactics will scare a lot of kids who would probably never have used drugs in the first place,” the network’s chief Michael White said.
“There is a cohort of young people who will hear those stories and think, ‘I can do that without getting into trouble’ and it actually increases the risk.”
The State Government echoed the concerns and said the program did “not align with evidence-based practice”.
“We already support a number of other drug education programs in schools and remain committed to making effective, evidence-based substance abuse prevention programs available to all school children,” a spokesperson said.
South Australia’s Commissioner for Children and Young People Helen Connolly suggested the program could actually encourage children to take up the drug, and described it as an “experimental, fear-based approach”.
In a four-page letter to the Department of Child Protection Ms Connolly said an investigation into a similar US program had raised major red flags.
“In fact, it found an increase in the acceptability and ‘normalisation’ of methamphetamine use and a decrease in the perceived danger of using drugs among school students who were exposed to [that] program,” Ms Connolly said.
“There is significant, repeated long-term evidence that programs such as the one being conducted by the Australian Anti Ice Campaign, that are based on fear do not result in changes to young people’s behaviours and can in fact encourage those at risk to engage in the behaviour.
“From the information publicly available the program lacks any evidence base that the program is both effective and safe.”
Ms Simmons defended the program’s methods and intentions.
“We have to look at what’s worked in our nation,” she said.
“Let’s look at the drink-driving campaign, the anti-smoking campaign and the [anti-HIV] Grim Reaper campaign — they actually got results.
“We’re about telling the truth, and if it’s scary, then that’s what it is.
“The ice life is scary.”