ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
August 4, 1999

ALICE HEROIN USE - IT'S A LOT WORSE! Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Some 20,000 syringes were distributed by the Todd Street Centre's needle exchange in the last financial year, a 50 per cent increase on the year before.Manager Sue Fielding (pictured with Community Educator Chris "Jimmy" Perry, left, and Youth Outreach Worker Paola Nadich, right) says she would like to believe the jump is simply due to more people becoming aware of the service, but fears that would be naive.She and her co-workers agree that the increase also means more people are injecting drugs.The three say that the suggestion in last week's Alice News by a reformed heroin user, and confirmed by Detective Senior Sergeant Don Fry of the Alice Springs Police, that there may be as few as 20 habitual heroin users in Alice Springs is "a conservative estimate".The Todd Street Centre's statistics, gathered from clients of the needle exchange, indicate that nearly half (47 per cent) are using heroin, nearly 41 per cent are injecting speed (they know many more take it in non-injecting form), 15 per cent are breaking up and injecting pills (often opioids while waiting for heroin to become available), 2.5 per cent are using cocaine, and seven per cent, steroids.Ms Nadich, who has worked in the field for many years, says she would not be surprised if there were more than 50 heroin addicts in Alice Springs.Says Ms Nadich: "We have an average of five people a day using the needle exchange, and it's rare that we see the same person more than once a week."Injecting drug use, half of it heroin, is definitely happening and it's something our community needs to address."I don't think the approach should be, 'Let's get all the narcotics out of our town!'. If you're going to say we want a narcotic free town, why don't you say let's make it an alcohol free town, because alcohol causes even greater problems."I think we need to look at it a bit more realistically. "Users are looking for treatment and management options. "Our Northern Territory Government is continuing to say we don't have a problem so we don't need to have any treatment options, but if we don't help the people who are trying really hard to stop without any support then it will get bigger. That's the nature of the way the whole business has to operate. "If you want to use, then you've either got to have a job or, if you don't, maybe you are dealing it so you can afford it. Then if you're dealing it, you're looking for customers. "I'm not saying that dealers go out and push it onto people, but I am saying it certainly sets up a dynamic that you don't discourage new customers either."Do we have to wait until the problem's huge before we do something about it?"Ms Nadich also questioned the observation made in last week's News that there does not appear to be crime associated with injecting drug use.In a survey on the subject currently being conducted by the Todd Street Centre, respondents are asked how their drug use affects the rest of their lives, for instance legally.Ms Nadich: "Quite a few people have said, 'If I could get on a methadone program I wouldn't be breaking into houses'."We've also had people saying, 'I don't break and enter but I'm just about to lose everything, my house, my car, my business, everything'."Maybe for the last five years they have been coping with working, but now they are at that point where it is all just about to go."They are people who have lived here for a long time, not necessarily people who have come in for just a few years or who have come to get away from the drugs, they are people who were introduced to drugs and heroin in Alice Springs."So why don't we see junkies and needles on the streets as you readily do in certain areas of any of the big cities?Ms Nadich: "I think it's because the users are very, very good at hiding it, and feel particularly vulnerable in a small town like this where your whole life is going to fall apart if it's made public."Staff at the Todd Street Centre are aware that they do not see every user in town.Ms Fielding: "Because of the fear of being seen coming in here, it's common for one person to come in and get a box of 100 syringes to distribute to five or six other people. That makes it quite hard to know the full picture."Until recently, a needle exchange could be made without any contact with the staff. However, now staff speak to clients at each visit.Ms Fielding: "We feel we need the contact to build up relationships with the clients, and especially to do education on the issue of Hepatitis C."The last blood (needle prick) survey of the clientele revealed that over 60 per cent were Hepatitis C positive.The disease is transmitted by blood to blood contact, even in minuscule amounts. Its prevalence has led to a new term in needle use education "blood awareness". The old "a new fit every hit" is no longer considered enough of a precaution.The contact with clients has also revealed the need for treatment of addiction and the complete lack of options in Alice Springs.The Todd Street Centre is advocating the local provision of a small "detox" facility, which could be in the form of making available a couple of beds at the existing DASA detox facility (for alcoholics), with additional resources for medical support.They would also like to see GPs able to prescribe methadone or other drugs to assist withdrawal, currently allowed only under very strict eligibility criteria and for limited duration.Another option, being investigated by Mr Perry, is " home detox", where a kit of simple, cheap, over-the-counter drugs is used to alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal, such as cramp, nausea, diarrhoea and sleeplessness."It takes the cutting edge off withdrawal as long as the person has support in their home, 24 hour care," says Mr Perry."It doesn't have to be medical support, but nobody else in the house should be an injecting drug user, and the house needs to be kept quiet and slightly dark while the person goes through the detox. "They need to be counselled beforehand and to get everything organised, and the support person also needs someone they can talk to."The staff all agree that a simple "clean up your act" message to addicts is unrealistic, and that drug maintenance programs to assist withdrawal must get on the local agenda.Ms Nadich: "When you've been addicted to heroin over a period of time, then your life can break down to where you are really quite dysfunctional."To say to somebody who is that dysfunctional stage, 'I think you just need to clean up and get off it,' is just not going to work. "By using drug maintenance for their addiction, you can start working on their other issues, how to keep their jobs, support their families."Then they can start looking at why they are using and addicted in the first place, and work on those issues. It's a process, drug maintenance is a step in that process. "All the other states in Australia are looking at keeping their methadone programs but also at increasing their treatment options in many ways."Meanwhile, we can't even get one treatment option in Alice, it's a real concern."While the majority (87.3 per cent) of needle exchange clients are over 26 years of age, 11.6 per cent reported as being under 25 years.However, Ms Nadich says non-injecting drugs, such as alcohol, cannabis and trips, are far more common among local youth from 15 to 20 years.The staff agreed that drug use can have a "rite of passage" role in the lives of young people, along with alcohol, sex and cars.Ms Fielding: "What determines whether somebody is going to write themselves off or get stuck for a really long time are the underlying issues, their family and personal life, are they being abused at home or somewhere else, have they had a traumatic experience like rape that they are using drugs to deal with?"Ms Nadich: "Most people I talk to have had something pretty damaging in their lives, but not all people, some do take it just for fun." Mr Perry has come to the Todd Street Centre from Adelaide where he was working in the same field, mostly in the Aboriginal community.Says Mr Perry: "Among heroin users I found there had been a lot of trauma, sexual abuse." He says heroin use is a relatively recent phenomenon amongst Aboriginal people in Adelaide but has spread rapidly: "Alice Springs may well follow. "I worked in a prison where nine out of ten Aboriginal prisoners had Hep C, from injecting drugs, which is the most common form of transmission," says Mr Perry.Are they aware of Aboriginal people injecting drugs in Alice Springs?Ms Nadich says it is hard to get an accurate picture, but she does know Aboriginal people "who use heroin and use needles". "They are very, very careful about keeping it secret and quiet, even amongst their own communities," she says.Mr Perry says he has spoken to Aboriginal clients picking up syringes from the needle exchange for other people "out bush".Ms Fielding: "The issue of drug use has been under the carpet for a long time but now nationally the issue is up, and in the Territory we need to confront it too."It's difficult, it raises a lot of judgement and fear, but it's dangerous to deny it."Anyone who can assist the Todd Street Centre with their survey on injecting drug use, can ring 8953 1118, or drop in between 8.30am and 4.30pm, weekdays, at 119 Todd Street, roughly opposite Stuart Terrace.

... AND WE HOLD THE SNIFFING RECORD!

Alice Springs currently has the most severe sniffing problem in the Northern Territory, according to information presented at a two day conference on Avgas and Petrol Sniffing Problems held in Alice last week.The conference heard that there are 20 chronic sniffers in Alice and up to 40 other local and visiting young people sniffing and causing problems to themselves and others.This is seen to be a significant and worrying increase and prompted the conference to call for urgent action in Alice Springs including:
provision of a Youth Sobering Up/Withdrawal Service for petrol sniffers as well as other young clients who have been misusing substances in the town;
a Youth Link-up Service to help deal with the problem of kids moving away from their bush-based families, to support the small isolated programs in the bush, and to better integrate and coordinate efforts in the town and bush;
some pilot projects to provide appropriate work and training for the most disadvantaged youth in Alice Springs and selected communities; and
greatly improved youth support, education and recreation programs for children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in the town and bush communities.
Another sniffing hot spot is the Pitjantjatjara community of Amata where the situation is described as "serious".The conference called for the immediate employment of youth workers in Amata to support the community "to make a plan and pull together all agencies".Some 200 delegates from 40 communities across three states made a commitment to act on the problems presented by sniffing.They heard about the difficulties of communities close to state borders, such as Amata, Kintore and Kiwirrkurra. Sniffers can escape the rules of one place by going to a neighbouring place where the community has no power to take action."Police, health and correctional staff are constrained in their roles by the borders," says NPY Women's Council Chairwoman, Winnie Woods.In response, the conference called for collaboration between the NT, SA and WA Governments to enact uniform legislation allowing by-laws in relation to sniffing in communities in the "tri-state region".Delegates also supported a call for the major agencies in the region to join them in a new initiative, a Tri-State Youth Network, to work with the State Health Forums, Health Departments, police forces, correctional services and the governments "to ensure that youth in Central Australia start to get the support they need".br>

ILPARPA HOONS: ON YOUR BIKES! (Letters to the Editor.)

Sir, As a resident of 15 years, within earshot of the Ilparpa Valley claypans, I say enough is enough.Noise from off-road vehicles is one very good reason to bar theses vehicles from the claypans.Another very good reason is the environmental damage they have caused. Both reasons are supported by at least 60 residents of Alice Springs, who have attended one or more of the public gatherings near the claypans, where they registered as being interested in the care of the Ilparpa Valley.The Ilparpa Valley Landcare Group has been talking for over 12 months about means to protect the area. Its initial solution no off road vehicles. Its suggestion to the Government a fence around the area, but with access for picnickers, walkers and horse-riders.Has anyone got a better solution?Surely, it is inevitable that something will be done soon, to protect the unique and scenic claypans habitat. This is, of coarse, the most important reason for action, but it would also be welcome for picnics at the claypans to be noise free.I'd rather not see more fencing along Ilparpa Road, but perhaps we have to have it.Michael Hewett
Alice Springs

Sir, Those motorcyclists and other vehicle users, who irresponsibly choose to stick their heads in the sand over the unacceptable and illegal environmental damage they create on the claypans and surrounding commonage (Ilparpa Valley), do not have a right to further cloud the issue with misinformation and unsustainable arguments. It is true that people have illegally abused the area in question for many years (partially due to the "vacuum control" created by the removal of the "pony clubbers"), as even a casual observer can recognise, and is easily provable. Regardless, the argument that a history of illegal activity gives some dispensation to continue to break the law, uses the intelligence of a small dinosaur, and those wishing to join that argument should realise it faces the same destiny.Furthermore, the area is now adjacent to over 150 rural blocks in the Ilparpa subdivision, and about a further 50 to the west. To varying degrees, residents are regularly subjected to great palls of dust that can be observed from as far afield as Jessie Gap (not to mention noise), resulting purely from the actions of an inconsiderate minority. Quality of life for these residents is being seriously eroded.The Government has for half a century recognised the natural values of the Ilparpa Valley. This has been expressed in various actions, and enshrined in legislation in 1980 when the area was gazetted a Wildlife Protection Area (for both flora and fauna), and reinforced in 1984 by being declared "Area of Erosion Hazard", particularly for the control of dust. I don't recall that it was even necessary for community action groups to achieve these steps then. Most recently substantial study has determined the relatively small area hosts some 180 vertebrate animal species and 464 indigenous vascular plant species; of these seven are considered of conservation significance nationally, and 43 regionally. This richness compares favourably to that of the much larger National Park at Kings Canyon.Clearly the Government has an ongoing responsibility to do far more than it has so far to protect and preserve this natural treasure for the broader community. The current proposal for managing a small portion of the Ilparpa Valley merely goes some way to honour that responsibility.Those wishing to oppose this would be well advised to put their efforts (via appropriate channels) into meeting their own needs legally, rather than selfishly commandeering a recognised natural community asset, as they have been doing.
Rod Cramer
Alice Springs

TOURIST SEASON IS A BOOMER. Report by MKIERAN FINNANE.

A "cracker" is how All Seasons' Frontier Oasis manager Andrew Charlton describes this year's tourist season.The three and a half star hotel had 90 per cent occupancy in July, 10 per cent ahead of last year's figure.At the top end of the market, Rydges Plaza, has also experienced a stronger winter season than last year's, according to departing general manager Chris Jackson.At the bottom end, the demand has been such that visitors have had to be turned away.Manager of Melanka Backpackers Resort, Jason Zammit, says there is no longer a "tourist season" as such. He says occupancy at Melanka is above 60 per cent year round, peaking between June and the end of September.In the first weeks of July, with 600 beds occupied, Melanka had to find alternative accommodation for around 60 guests, some of whom "swagged" it in the volleyball court.Similarly, the G'Day Mate caravan park has been full every day since the beginning of May, according to lessee Paul Simmons: "There are more people on the road," he says, and for three to four weeks running he had to turn visitors away.Brendan Heenan, owner of the MacDonnell Range Holiday Park, says June and July could not have been any better "because everyone was full" and the "shoulder" months have improved. He says part of the explanation lies in a 24 per cent increase in caravan sales in the last year.At the Frontier Oasis a lot of the additional business this year came from the European and American markets, which have been targeted by the All Seasons group's sales force based in Sydney. Mr Charlton says The Rock remains the biggest attraction in the Centre and the task for the industry in Alice Springs is to keep visitors here more than two days.He says the typical itinerary for his visitors is to spend a night in Alice, two nights at The Rock, and another night in Alice before leaving The Centre.He suggests his hotel, with its reasonable prices, is well positioned to take advantage of that market, as visitors want to save money in Alice after "spending up big" at The Rock.He too says the "high season doesn't exist for us".Business is spread out into the shoulder seasons, with an 80 per cent occupancy experienced last March, 76 per cent last February.Even December, the worst month of the year for visitation, is not expected to fall below 60 per cent.Tourists, the majority in groups, do much the same things in these hot months as they do in winter visit the gorges, Palm Valley, the Desert Park they just need to "wear a bigger hat", says Mr Charlton.Rydges Plaza's Mr Jackson says it is time for the industry as a whole to look at greater capacity:"It's nice to be busy but we could be even busier if the airlines could bring in more people." He says it has been very hard within the last weeks to get a seat on a plane in or out of Alice Springs.With some 90 per cent of the Plaza's visitors arriving by plane, he says the airlines should look at putting on wide-bodied aircraft at this time of year to bring in more people.He also says there is room for more work to make Alice Springs a "stand alone destination". His impression of current promotion is that the town is seen as but an adjunct to an Outback experience, which in any case is secondary to the dominant images of the Territory Ayers Rock and Kakadu-Litchfield.Alice Springs needs to promote itself as the base from which to experience the natural beauty of the region and Aboriginal art."A mall with nice shops is not the reason anyone would come here," he says.However, if people extended their stay in town in order to explore the region, that would "double your revenue straight away" without having to attract more people.Mr Zammit describes Melanka's average stay as "horrific": an average of 1.2 nights, at least an improvement on .9 of a night three years ago. "But Cairns experiences 8.7 nights!" says Mr Zammit.How can it be improved? By giving tourists more options in and around Alice Springs, he says , but "it's a bit late now that a direct flights airport has been opened at Ayers Rock."Melanka does well by mixing its business. It runs a three star motel alongside the 450 bed backpacker resort.The motel guests keep the bar and restaurant facilities busy, while the backpackers, who cook for themselves, spend their money on the two, three and five day camping safaris offered by a related company, Northern Territory Adventure Tours (formerly Ayers Rock Plus).SPENDING"Backpackers may only spend $10 a night on a bed in town, but they readily part with $320 to do our tour to Ayers Rock, taking in Kings Canyon on the way," he says.Melanka also offers enticements to backpackers like an Internet Cafe, and an attractive new terrace outside their restaurant, all to keep an edge in a highly competitive market.Meanwhile, at the Plaza, Mr Jackson, last weekend preparing to relocate to Sydney, emphasised the fact that Alice is but one of many places in Australia and has to find ways to make itself competitive with destinations from Cairns and Phillip Island.

SOME VENUES TREAT MUSOS WORSE THAN CLEANERS. Report by GRAEME PETER.

You hear him playing guitar, you see him under cars, you see him in the red pickup truck but you will never see him in a bra. Well not at Scotty's anyway. Let's meet the legend that is Herman Marcic.He's known as "Human horrendous unca monster".He plays in the bands You've Been Had and Brothers in Booze.His favourite TV show is Red Dwarf and his favourite pastime is choosing which guitar to play.His career highlights are playing in New Orleans at Levon Helm's bar and playing alongside some of the great musicians here in The Alice.I caught up with Herman at the Jam Session and asked him if he was still happy with the music scene here in Alice. Herman: No definitely not. Managers that were good in previous years have now decided to treat musos as lower than cleaners.Me: What could be done to improve the current situation?Herman: I have no answers on how to improve it because the people from down south come up here, like it, and stay because they don't like what's happening where they came from.Then they become the "powers that be", change the town for the worst, don't make any money, then leave and we are left with their stuff ups but I'll stick it out. Me: What advice would you give local musicians?Herman: Stand up for themselves and not be pushed around by inadequate managers. Me: What was your most embarrassing moment?Herman: I was playing at Bojangles and an Irish bloke asked me how I picked the guitar like that. I remarked that anyone without fingers can do that. He produced his right hand with only half of one finger and thumb. Talk about foot and mouth disease!Me: Ahhh ... thanks, Herman.

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