Dangerous recipe of drug use, mental health and disadvantage
NICKY Tillier was snorting speed when she was about 12 years old, shooting up by 14 and "badly addicted" in Kings Cross by the age of 17.
Her turbulent story of redemption, shared at a NSW special commission of inquiry on Wednesday, underscored expert testimony that traumatic upbringings and disadvantage are fertile grounds for amphetamine addiction.
"As a kid I often felt tired and sick," she told the drugs inquiry in Sydney, recalling a childhood marred by domestic violence and sexual abuse. "The speed made me feel alive." Through her 20s her addiction was "just crazy" and she was living a double life - corporate worker by day and dancefloor fiend by night.
Ms Tillier battled addiction for decades, briefly giving up amphetamines - but not cigarettes or marijuana - when she fell pregnant at 35 after a one-night stand.
NSW Users and AIDS Association chief executive Mary Harrod on Wednesday warned the inquiry punitive policing and social stigma can stop users seeking treatment.
Ms Tillier's late 30s are a textbook example of that. She'd moved onto ice as the amphetamines landscape changed in Sydney.
"I was arrested by police in possession of an eight-ball of speed and a butter knife," she said.
Her criminal history now includes drug and weapons possession as well as larceny.
It's more than a "constant reminder" of her past - she's eyeballed nervously in job interviews and searched by border patrol every time she goes through an airport.
Ms Tillier, now 50, is a coordinator and therapist at the Campbelltown addiction service which plucked her from prison and helped get her life together. Others shared their journeys into addiction on Wednesday.
Users and experts on indigenous and LGBTIQ communities appeared unified on one point: drug use, mental health and disadvantage are related and must be treated together.
Dr Herrod pointed out that heavy-handed policing was doing more than just keeping addicts down - it was affecting casual users as well.
Festivalgoers often "preload" before entering a venue by downing an excessive amount of alcohol and drugs, she said.
High alcohol prices inside the festival are one reason but the other is the presence of sniffer dogs and police searches.
"You have to run the gauntlet of what could be up to 20 police officers at the entrance to the festival plus sniffer dogs," Dr Harrod said in Sydney.
"To reduce the risk of arrest, which is a higher risk to people than any substance that they're taking … you would ingest everything you have before you enter the festival."
She's heard of users needing care at a train station before they've even made it to the venue.
Drug detection dogs make it harder for people to follow her organisation's call to moderate drug use over a period of hours to reduce the risk of overdose, Dr Harrod said, adding that alcohol and drug binges are on the rise.
That could also be due to the rise of casual work and Sydney's lockout laws.
"You (increasingly) get one chance to party and you're going hell for leather at that point," the chief executive said.