A spike in drug driving charges

DRUG FORUM: Hume Police District chief inspector Brendan Bernie presents to the large crowd at the Crookwell Drug and Ice Forum. Photo: Mariam Koslay
DRUG FORUM: Hume Police District chief inspector Brendan Bernie presents to the large crowd at the Crookwell Drug and Ice Forum. Photo: Mariam Koslay

There appears to be a spike in drug-driving in the city, going on the increase of related charges going through the courts. 

The charge of ‘driving a vehicle with an illicit drug present in the blood’ took up about a quarter of the court list on Wednesday, May 9.

It prompted Magistrate Geraldine Beattie to comment on the amount of such matters before her.

“Of the 86 matters in court today, 19 of these are drive illicit matters. That is nearly one quarter of my list,” Ms Beattie said.

But whether the spike in drug-driving charges is due to an increase in illicit-drug taking or an increase in drug testing and detection by police remains unclear.

A spokesperson from the Traffic and Highway Patrol said the spike in the number of cases in the courts was likely the result of an increase in enforcement.

“Recently we have been enforcing this facet of policing due to coincide with an increase in advertisement in relation to random drug testing that the police and Roads and Maritime Services have been doing,” the spokesperson said. 

“That said, we have found an increased level of detection of these offences in Goulburn.”

The spokesperson said police were doing more mobile drug testing. 

“We are doing more mobile drug testing now and we have found have found it is still a problem within the town area. 

“We went through a similar situation about three years ago when the Dragar mobile drug testing equipment first came out and police enforced a lot of drug testing, which came up with a lot of positive detection.”

They said it might be the case that the underlying drug-taking is there all the time, and just that it is being detected more. 

“The drug-taking problem might be there all the time,” they said.

“We have a lot of things we have to address such as speed and fatigue and occupant restraint as well as alcohol and drug driving, so it may spike according to what we are enforcing at the time.”

The spike, reported anecdotally by the magistrate and the police, must have been occurring in the last seven months, because Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) showed that there had been a decrease in this offence in Goulburn Mulwaree in the 12 months from October 2015 to September 2016.

The statistics revealed the total number of charges in this category for this period totaled 207, down from 624 (from October 2015 to September 2016). 

Meanwhile, a recent Drug and Ice forum in Crookwell examined the increasing havoc that Ice (Methyl amphetamine) is wreaking on rural communities. 

Despite the increasing prevalence of the drug, a message of hope came out of the forum.

The Crookwell District Hospital Wellness Centre was packed with residents on the evening of May 10.

Speakers included a police officer, a doctor, representatives of Narcotics Anonymous, Pathways and the mother of an ice user and Member for Goulburn Pru Goward. 

“In regional NSW, the possession and use of amphetamines increases every year...with the trend looking to continue,” Hume Police District chief inspector Brendan Bernie said. 

“[Ice] has a lasting effect on the whole community.”

Pathways treatment and support program representative Carol Sharp, said the current trend was to minimise harm associated with drug use.

Covering Crookwell, Braidwood, Yass and Gunning, Pathways offers family support, education, legal and employment support. 

Over the past two years, 15 clients have entered the residential rehabilitation for ice related issues in the region. A Narcotics Anonymous (NA) representative spoke of his own personal experience using ice and its gripping addiction. 

“I never intended on being an addict,” he said. “Ice addiction destroyed my life and took everything that I loved until I was living on the streets of Kings Cross, paranoid and alone.”

He said the NA meetings had helped him significantly over the years. 

“I want to share the message of hope – there is a way out,” he said. 

Crookwell Hospital Community Consultation Committee Jo Agostini said the night was well attended.