Commissioner Professor Dan Howard SC heard some harrowing evidence on the first of a three-day inquiry examining the prevalence, impacts and response to crystal methamphetamine use in the Hunter New England.
The Special Commission of Inquiry into use of the Drug Ice will hear from Tamworth Hospital's emergency director Dr Nick Ryan on Wednesday, after starting with representatives from Family and Community Services, the education department and Corrective Services on Tuesday.
Cessnock FACS manager Anne Marie Connelly was the first witness on the stand, and spoke of the risks ice use imposed on children, including neglect, inadequate supervision, exposure to high-risk people, and the increased chance of both physical and sexual assault.
She also spoke of a 14-year-old girl using Tinder to source drugs using sexual acts as payment, as well as the fact that "heroin is making a bit of a comeback".
That was backed up by the seventh Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program results, released on Monday, which showed increases in the use of ice, heroin and MDA in both metro and regional sites.
The results also showed increased consumption of cocaine in regional areas, as well as oxycodone, fentanyl and alcohol, while nicotine remained stable. Only MDMA use decreased in regional towns.
Following Ms Connelly, both Debborah Beckwith and Tony Gadd gave evidence on behalf of the education department.
Both spoke of the disengagement of students and parents from the education system stemming from ice use, and the need for early intervention and further inter-agency support.
The first afternoon of the commission wrapped up with a closed session with a local school principal, followed by evidence given by Maitland Community Corrections manager Susan Walton and Juvenile Justice area manager David Lowe.
Ms Walton confirmed that prisoners were being released as addicts, with "about 40 per cent testing positive for drugs at the time of assessment for housing".
She said that prioritising housing over treatment after release "could be of more benefit", and suggested "community-based sentences of over two years" would reduce the likelihood of re-offending "by between 11 and 31 per cent, as more services can be accessed".
Mr Lowe spoke of the difficulty youths faced accessing services in regional and rural areas, and stressed that "youth drug and alcohol services, detox and rehab, need to be different from adult services".
Taking the stand alongside Dr Ryan on Wednesday will be five fellow frontline medical specialists, including addiction expert Dr Craig Sadler, who also works in Tamworth, as well as Port Stephens Police Superintendent Craig Jackson.