HE was a promising Hunter surfer with the world at his feet, but after an injury – and years of self-medicating for depression with recreational drugs – Mick found ice.
“I had a hit of it, I smoked it, and I thought – where has that been all of my life?’” he said.
Everything seemed clearer. He felt “10 foot tall and bulletproof.”
For the next 10 years, there was no looking back.
“A mate of mine warned me about ice. He said, ‘Be careful, it will take your house, your car, your kids, your job, your life.’ And it did. And it does. To everyone, eventually,” he said.
Mick, not his real name, was using crystal methamphetamine – also known as ice – while working on the coal loaders at Kooragang Island, and as a fly-in fly-out worker on a large gas power station interstate.
“When you know someone, they pull you in on the big jobs, and you just go from job to job to big job,” he said.
“We’d take home three grand some weeks. I had a bit of a habit, and then I’d have two spare grand in my pocket. We had money to burn.
READ MORE: Ice ‘rife’ in construction industry
“We were all dodging the drug tests, and having the time of our lives.”
Mick remembers arriving at work so high that he tried to “swipe in” with his bank card.
At the time, he was building scaffolding and working decks at the coal loaders.
He would “power through” the work because he couldn’t sit still.
He would not sleep for up to a week at a time.
“We walk around with tinted safety glasses on all the time.
“No one is looking at your eyes.”
When the effects eventually wore off, he would sleep “for days.”
“At the coal loader, I used to swipe in and people were standing in lines for the drug tests at the Winnebagos,” he said.
“There were cars and people going everywhere.
“I thought someone was going to come and tap me on the shoulder because I had swiped in, but no one did. It was like an honour system.
“People were like sheep.
“So for three years I never lined up, and I never got tested.”
A spokesman for Port Waratah Coal Services at Kooragang Island said drug testing was “random” and “mandatory.”
“If you are on site, you are tested, and that has been our policy for a very long time,” he said.
Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group chief executive Aaron Johansen said testing was mandatory for all people on site – employees, contractors and visitors.
An audit was conducted each testing day to ensure all people entering the site’s security gate completed a test before being allowed to work.
We’d take home three grand some weeks. I had a bit of a habit, and then I’d have two spare grand in my pocket. We had money to burn. We were all dodging the drug tests, and having the time of our lives.
“While the nature of the investigation by the Newcastle Herald suggests that the employee could have been a former contractor on site, we believe our practices are rigorous enough to identify anyone who attempts to come to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” he said.
While working on the gas power station, Mick said he would smoke ice right up until about four days before a medical.
“I’d stop smoking ice, sleep for four days, self-test myself with a kit I’d buy at the chemist – know I was clean, then go and do my medical,” he said.
“After that I’d get high until my plane left. I wouldn’t sleep for a week.”
He had done things he wasn’t proud of, such as introducing other fly-in fly-out workers based at the Queensland camp to the drug.
“Some guys lost their home loans because I brought ice in to the camp,” he said.
“They had $20-$30 grand saved up for a deposit, but they loved it, and all of a sudden I made it available.”
One of his best friends had died within a year of starting to use the drug.
Ice was widespread in the building and construction industry, he said.
“It’s a double-edged sword. They don’t want guys to be on drugs while they are constructing – but they need them to be working efficiently, and fast, on night shift, and 12 hours a day,” Mick said.
For a while, he coped.
But eventually, the wheels started to fall off as his addiction took hold.
It began to affect his relationships with his friends and family.
Whenever the ice ran out, he would lose his job because he stopped showing up for work.
“When the ice is good, you cannot get any higher or clearer-headed,” he said.
“You think your life is on track for a little while, then things start happening. But you don’t blame the ice. It’s everybody else.
“I used it for 10 years, and for the last three years I was injecting because smoking it didn’t do anything after a while.”
He tried to quit, cold turkey.
He isolated himself at a friend’s house “up the coast,” smoking marijuana as a substitute.
“I had been self-medicating, mainly for depression, for years. But I loved a good time as well,” he said.
Then a friend came to visit, armed with an “eight ball” of cocaine.
“I’m not going to blame my mate, I’m a big boy. I did it because I wanted to do it,” he said.
“We came back down to Newcastle and I went back to where I had been staying, and before I knew it, I was back in the same place.
“Addicted and on the hunt for ice.”
Mick has been clean for about seven months, largely thanks to the Smart Recovery program offered at the Samaritans’ Recovery Point in Broadmeadow.
“I hit rock bottom. There was nowhere left to go,” he said.
“Ice addiction is a carousel. You can’t get off unless you jump. And most people have nothing to fall to.
“I was lucky I had the support of my family and friends – that some of them still had faith and trust in me.
“And the Samaritans helped me more than I could ever imagine.
“I’m doing clean urine tests every time I go down to the Samaritans.
“But I still think about ice every day. It’s hard, but it’s not hopeless.”
Support is available:
- SAMARITANS RECOVERY POINT: 4922 1553
- ALCOHOL AND DRUG INFORMATION SERVICE: 1800 422 599
- LIFELINE: 13 11 14