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The Ice Age – Meth users in Australia – full documentary

It’s cheap, highly addictive and ultra-powerful. “Ice”, or crystal methamphetamine, is now more popular than heroin, playing havoc with the minds and the bodies of nearly 50,000 Australians.

Ice is filling emergency wards with psychotic, dangerous patients, to the alarm of doctors who thought they’d seen everything. “They’re the most out of control, violent human beings I have ever seen in my life – and I’ve been around for a long time,” says one. “It makes heroin seem like the really good old days.”

Four Corners goes to the heart of this destructive new epidemic. Reporter Matthew Carney takes his camera into a netherworld inhabited by hardcore ice addicts – or skaters as they call themselves – who live for their next hit.

This tribe of junkies roams the inner city, scoring and shooting up. They stay manically high for up to a week, without food or sleep. Finally, they crash and eat, before the welfare cheque arrives and the cycle starts all over again.

“We’re the fringe-dwellers,” says “Mick”, whose veins are so wrecked he can barely find a place to inject. His mate “Mattie” can’t imagine life without ice: “It just seems to find me, it’s like everywhere I go, it’s there… who knows what’s gonna happen in 10 years’ time mate?”

“Lenore” boasts 23 personalities, each with its own name. She obsessively sorts through rubbish for days on end when she’s on ice. It’s her way of making order out of her chaos. Asked what would stop her from using ice, she replies: “Death.”

Another friend, “John”, is covered in scabs. He picks constantly at his skin to rid himself of “ice bugs” that he imagines to be living inside him, the result of a bad batch of ice. His delusion is common among ice addicts.

Ice isn’t only a cheap drug for hardcore addicts. It’s also big on the party circuit and is used across the social spectrum. “Jason” used to be a computer engineer earning good money. Now, he’s trapped between the ice he needs to get himself going, and the heroin he uses to settle himself down.

Remarkably, authorities appear to be ill-prepared to stop the ice wave that is sweeping the country. Australia has no dedicated treatment programs. Jails are the main rehab facilities. There are no legal substitute drugs. Research funds are scarce.

To prepare this report Matthew Carney followed groups of ice users over the summer. His extraordinary degree of access – revealing the participants’ candour and confronting behaviour – will challenge and unsettle viewers.