EDITORIAL: Search for ice solution
INSIDE the western Sydney police station Kerryn Johnston was cradling her 24-year-old daughter.
Her Ellie is there under a pockmarked, gaunt face; evidence of her addiction to the drug ice.
Words tumble out of Ms Johnston’s mouth, like she’s trying to keep up with the flashes of memory from less than two months ago.
“There’s the toilet and there’s the seat and there’s this other lady ranting and raving outside and I’m sitting there with my daughter,” she said.
“It was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said.
Even at rock-bottom in a police cell, Ellie says anything that will get her out of custody and able to score her next hit.
“I can do this mum. I can work this out,” she tells her as police watch closely.
Ms Johnston doesn’t know how to rescue her Ellie.
The Mount Beauty mother is like other parents across the country who feel like they are losing their children to the drug.
“In my heart of hearts, I don’t know that I can save her,” Ms Johnston said.
First came the desperate phone calls from Sydney and money sent in response.
When that disappeared she sent Ellie bus tickets to bring her back to the North East or waited at the train station but her daughter never arrived.
There were care packages of groceries, make-up and clothing that she was never sure Ellie received while she was moving from house to house.
Then came the arrests and new contacts with police, courts and health services who still gave no clear answer as to how Ellie might be rescued.
A place for those seeking drug rehabilitation in a private facility can cost up to $30,000; in the public system it is near impossible to get a bed in a mental health unit.
For Ms Johnston the problem remained; even if either of these two solutions were possible, how did she get her adult daughter to agree to go?
“If I can get her help ...” Ms Johnston said.
Ms Johnston has offered the story of her Ellie as evidence at a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the proliferation of the drug ice that began last month.
A public hearing has been promised for Wodonga at a date still to be announced.
Ms Johnston, a 52-year-old mother of four, said the inquiry had offered her a way to help for the first time since she saw the signs of Ellie’s addiction in November.
In November, Ellie came home to Mount Beauty.
Ms Johnston could hear a change in her voice.
She spoke in circles and quickly too, and there was a “silly little laugh” at the end of her sentences.
The 17-year-old had moved to Sydney seven years ago to make it as a hairdresser and according to her mother, had always been careful with her appearance.
But at her brother’s wedding she wore a black beach dress and her nails were in tatters.
“She reminded me of an alley cat,” she said.
In August, Sydney police phoned her to tell them Ellie was arrested for being a look-out for her “mates” while they were breaking into homes.
For Ms Johnston it was almost a relief. Maybe a magistrate’s sanctions would force her to get help.
“She’s breaking bail after bail now and she’s going to go to the big house and we’re happy if she does,” Ms Johnston said.
At the Border Mail office, sitting next to her husband of two years, Ms Johnston pulls her mobile phone out of her pocket and switches it back on, worrying that she’s missed a call or text from Ellie.
She has seven phone numbers for her daughter and her friends, some that are named in her phone by dates, “friend, 23/09”.
There are days when Ellie will ring every hour; like the day a boyfriend had dumped her and she didn’t know where she was and had nowhere to go.
Her question then was “mum, could you ring someone to pick me up?”
“I want you to go to the Salvos,” Ms Johnston told her.
“That’s for the lowest of the low,” Ellie replied.
“But El, that’s where you’re at.”
Ms Johnston fears if she pushes too hard, if she says no, then she’ll lose contact with Ellie forever.
“The minute she gets what she wants or needs that’s it, I don’t hear from her. She disappears off the face of the earth,” she said.
Ms Johnston feels guilty for speaking publicly but it’s the only way she feels she can help her daughter.
She hopes other parents will spot the warning signs in their own children that they could be using ice.
“This inquiry has to happen. It’s consuming our communities and we are going to lose a generation,” Ms Johnston said.