‘Education not imprisonment’

As part of Drug Action Week, this article is the second of a two-part series based on an interview Mr Alsop had with The Express. 

Related coverage: ‘Sinister statistic’

A “MASSIVE injection” of funds to implement a targeted, national education campaign on the dangers of ‘ice’ is required urgently.

That was the claim of Victorian Magistrate Clive Alsop, who was reflecting on an outbreak of the methamphetamine’s use.

Mr Alsop told The Express it was “killing people the way diseases kill people”, therefore demanded the same level of attention.

The ice crisis, which Mr Alsop said was producing multiple “casualties of the trade”, required the coordinated focus of specialists from psychology, education and medical fields, supported by government funding.

Mr Alsop stressed he was speaking as a lawyer and recognised “people with a practical involvement in teaching young kids” knew better than him how to most effectively “reach” kids in an effort to convince them of the potentially devastating impact of ice.

However, the long-serving magistrate who presides over the Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court, is consistently faced with the “appalling effects” of a drug he says has spread to “areas within the community where the damage it causes is getting bigger and bigger and bigger”.

Mr Alsop said there was mounting evidence ice was triggering a mental health crisis among users, including episodes of paranoia and schizophrenia – a claim widely backed by community service providers.

It was also behind a significant increase in incidents of random violence and other direct criminal activity, he said, echoing recent warnings from Latrobe Valley police.

The magistrate’s own fears have grown in response to repeated exposure over the past 18 months to evidence of “random offences on the rise, and the destruction of the lives of users” as well as the “destruction of the lives of families of users and the risk of people dying”.

Mr Alsop said ice led people to put themselves “directly in life threatening situations” and he was concerned the group most vulnerable to its grip, males aged 18 to 25 years, were not well enough aware of the hazards.

The magistrate called for “specialist intervention programs that will target kids at an age when they will remember it,” adding “we need something designed to hit home”.

“I think this is a specialist need, like polio was in the 1950s… the risk is always there that there could be the same number of casualties, whether it be through (the impact on) direct physical or psychological capacities or through the inability to rationalise when you are putting yourself in extreme mortal danger,” he said.

Mr Alsop applauded community service providers grappling with the new demands ice had place on their resources, but said they were “limited in their capacity and I want to see something happen on a national level”.

How do you educate young adults convinced of their own invincibility? Mr Alsop said he didn’t claim to have the answer.

“I have no idea, but I think, as a dad, grandad, magistrate and lawyer… you need to educate at that formative age group,” he said.

Referring to sex education and ‘stranger danger’ campaigns in schools, the magistrate said he knew adolescent students were taught the dangers of “particular materials”, but said educators needed to be appropriately resourced to tackle the issue of ice.

A wariness of inadvertently promoting the drug to a rebellious audience was also paramount, he warned.

“You don’t want to appeal to that (notion of) ‘I think I will give it a go so I will be the really naughty boy in school and suddenly be high profile because I don’t speak or read too well’,” Mr Alsop said, adding ice often gave users an elevated sense of importance, making it particularly appealing to young people battling self-esteem issues.

Asked whether the use of ice was evident in all socioeconomic demographics, Mr Alsop insisted it was and urged parents to be alert to the risks.

“This can happen in any family at all, so you have to not only look after your own kids, but you might have to vet the kids your own are hanging around with,” he said.

Delivering the message needed to be “the subject of some very careful thought, and educational parameters, about how you say it”.

Mr Alsop said there “may be an infinite number of approaches” and, when conducting school group talks he opted to show young girls images depicting the rapid deterioration of ice-users’ physical appearance in the hope it would deter them.

“The change in appearance, over a year, makes some of them (users) look like someone has fired a shotgun into their face… their faces are full of eruptions, they have vacant eyes and haggard looks,” he said.

“I (show them images) to deliberately shock, so they will remember it if they are offered a puff later in life.”

Mr Alsop conceded to a sense of uncertainty over whether this worked.

Regardless, the magistrate – despite having been forced to jail multiple ice traffickers for repeat offences – remained convinced the ultimate answer lay in “education not imprisonment”.

Action could not come soon enough, he said, given right now too many young people were “on a slippery dip to nowhere”.