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Our ice epidemic remains unsolved, but I feel without seeing it firsthand, you won’t take it seriously. My father taught me this lesson.
There is a well known saying these days, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”
While this is actually a false variant of the original quote attributed to Joseph Stalin, this version is more well known and really embodies better the original meaning in a modern sense.
In 2001, the statistics showed that “almost 1%” of the population had used methamphetamine in the past year. These numbers have been steadily growing since, with methamphetamine abuse tripling in the five years leading up to 2016.
However, while the numbers might be staggering, the individual stories of those dying are often going unheard, and they represent the ordinary. Lives and troubles unheard, except for the sometimes small numbers at funeral services around the country, as the nation buries those affected.
My father was one of those ordinary people, those the news rarely talks about, one of those we don’t consider. Here was a man who had raised four intelligent and (mostly) well-rounded children to the best of his ability, and had people who loved and cared about him. Then the drug took hold of him. A man who was going through a mid-life crisis, struggling to come to terms with coming out as gay, and just looking for some relief from the rigours of human existence.
Allan started using ice before most of Australian society knew what it was or had heard of it, way before it was even commonly known as ice. Back then in my early twenties, I was somewhat drug aware myself, I had dabbled with various substances, as one is wont to do around that age. I thought what he was taking was merely a more pure form of ordinary “speed” as it was known in the ’90s. In many ways I was right, but little did I know back then of how dangerous and addictive the variant of the drug we now call ice really was.
Sometime around 2005 or so, just as the word ‘ice’ was starting to become a household name, Allan had progressed from snorting or swallowing the drug and was now injecting it instead. At the time I last saw my father, the drug had already well and truly taken hold of him, I just couldn’t see it in my youthful drama at the time. He was stealing from a friend’s business and using a variety of drugs, cooped up in a small apartment owned by the same friend, who was letting him stay out of long term friendship and generosity.
That last time I ever saw him was in 2006, and he had given me reason to be very angry, and I told him I never wanted to see him again, and that I hoped he would die a lonely old man. Little did I realise at the time, that would be the last time I ever saw him, and in just over three years exactly what I said would come to pass. Allan died in 2009, with a needle still hanging out of his arm as his heart gave way, alone.
Dad died in Newcastle, in an apartment he owed $30,000-something in back-rent on, with debt notices piled up on a dresser and bills amounting to more than $200,000 all up from various places, mainly credit card debt. There was no will, there was no estate. The task of dealing with all the legalities of his death would fall to me to navigate, as his eldest child, and with his wishes that his former wife not be involved in his death vainly upheld in my grief at the time.
I wish I could have gotten him help, that I had known back then about drug rehabs and Narcotics Anonymous and support networks, but those types of things are often not spoken of.
He died via a massive coronary, the apartment littered with used and fresh needles, junk scattered everywhere. Whether it was an intentional overdose, I will never know. He was found a week later after his neighbour, one of the few people he was speaking to at that point in his life, became concerned about the smell and, not seeing Allan for a week, called the police.
The upstairs neighbours told me later how the police arrived in full bio-hazard suits, forced entry to the apartment and removed the body and the entire bed in hazard bags. They also told me how the police took out what to their estimate was a 1.5-ounce bag of white powder, his remaining supply of ice, and approximately one-third of a pound of cannabis in a large bag. I grant the neighbours may have been exaggerating to some extent, but the point it makes remains the same.
My father is one of the deaths the statistics don’t even cover. His death was not even classified as drug-related, as technically it was a heart attack that killed him. Whenever I read the occasional story that trumpets the amount of damage that the drug is causing, I cannot help but think about the cost it has had on my own family. I often wonder what might have been, had I or my father realised what he was doing to himself all those years ago, and somehow convinced him to stop or get help.
When I look back, I try to remember him for the man he was, not the man he became. He had been through some traumatic experiences in his own youth, as I found out years after his death, and had likely spent a life haunted by those events in some ways.
I cannot deny though that I have not also felt a lot of anger at my father over the years, for “taking the coward’s way out”, for leaving me and my brothers without him. That said as someone with the Adult Autism Spectrum Disorder known as Asperger’s, as well as Bipolar disorder, I know too well from my own experiences what it is like when life overwhelms you to the extent that you endeavour to do anything to numb the pain.
That doesn’t justify Allan’s behaviour, it doesn’t excuse it, but I am sure that at the end there, my father was in an unimaginable amount of pain, and was just doing anything he could to cope with that, and I think that at least explains somewhat why he was doing what he was. I wish I could have gotten him help, that I had known back then about drug rehabs and Narcotics Anonymous and support networks, but those types of things are often not spoken of.
But I’ve learned that lesson, and I’m passing it on. Don’t be afraid to talk about the realities of drug use with your family, friends or children, don’t let them become a statistic. Don’t live, as I have, with the regret of not climbing over my own self to help another.
For anyone affected by drug use or someone you know using drugs, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website or the Narcotics Anonymous Australia website for help or information.