kids

Ice and the high price parents are paying to get their children off it.

By Ben Knight, Clay Hichens, and Elise Worthington

Across Australia, desperate parents are re-mortgaging homes, taking out loans, or pulling out their superannuation to rescue their children from ice addiction.

Key points:

  • Shortage of public rehab centres mean families are driven to private centres
  • Private clinics often charge tens of thousands of dollars
  • Experts fear private clinics have ‘no minimum standards’

For the Butters family of Bacchus Marsh, the choice was stark: come up with thousands of dollars to book their daughter into private rehab, or see her slide back into a cycle of addiction, which had seen her drifting from one dealer’s house to another.

Tiarni Butters, 19, told Four Corners that it was a drive-by shooting that made her decide it was time to go back home to her parents and get off ice.

“There was five bullets through the front window. That’s what made me switch on straight away that this is enough — like, I could have got shot right there and then. It’s ridiculous,” she said.

Four Corners spent the day with the Butters, filming as the biggest crisis of their lives came to a head.

For eight months, Tiarni had been moving between ice dealers’ houses in Melbourne, having left her first full-time job as a dental nurse.

“Every day it was like a party … drugs were always there. There was always someone there, up to like 10 people at the one house,” she said.

It was a total shock to her family. Her father Wayne stopped work to search for her; chasing leads gleaned from Facebook to the doors of drug houses across Melbourne.

“They have got steel doors. They don’t have to answer them if they don’t want to. I just put my hoodie over my head, knocked on the door … they must have thought it was just a drug deal, so the door opened,” he said.

But Tiarni did not want to go with him.

“I would hide under a bed in case he came in and tried to find me. I didn’t want him to see me like that,” she said.

Wayne was horrified by what he saw in those houses.

“I have been in houses where there’s been 14-year-old kids there. The house stinks. These kids stay in there for days and weeks, mate. You can’t stand the smell,” he said.

Soon, the dealers got to recognise Wayne’s burly frame through the peephole and would not open the door.

“So I went back downstairs in a fit of rage and grabbed an axe from the car, and I axed the door down,” he said.

“I did some horrible things to get my daughter out. They worked, but it exhausted me.”

What would you pay to get your child into rehab?

Now the Butters have hit a brick wall. There are simply no places at public rehab clinics. The waiting lists at public rehab clinics are weeks, or months long.

Time is running out. Wayne has seen the pull ice has on users, and is worried Tiarni is about to disappear again.

“I can just see it, mate. She is itching to get out the door,” he said.

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“I haven’t got another three months to fight drug dealers. It’s just too hard.”

With no public beds available, the only option is private rehab, but it is not cheap.

The standard cost for a three-month treatment is $30,000. The treatment they offer is not that different to a public rehab, but they can take a client in in a matter of days, rather than weeks or months.

For Wayne and wife Renee that is worth paying for, but they do not have $30,000.

The anxiety brings Wayne to tears.

“The last thing I want to do is sell my house,” he said.

“We built it as a family. Took me two years. There’s good times here, I don’t want to tip it all away.”

They have called in help from a volunteer community worker, who has spent the morning ringing around the private clinics trying to negotiate a reduced rate.

She has found one that will do it for half-price — $15,000. They will take Tiarni in tomorrow, but they want $5,000 up front today.

Wayne calls a mate to borrow the money. To pay him back — and to come up with the rest of the money — they will have to sell a car.

That night, the deal is done. Renee transfers the money. The Butters family have $139 left in their account, but Tiarni is in.

For the first time in a long time, Wayne and Renee can sleep in peace.

‘We’re in a system with no minimum standards’

It is a scene that is being played out over and over again across Australia. Parents are re-mortgaging homes, taking out loans, or pulling out their superannuation to get their kids into private rehab clinics.

Four Corners spoke with Garry Rothman, a financial counsellor at the non-profit rehab, Odyssey House.

“Most of the people I see who have come through private rehabs have had their superannuation emptied. It’s sort of a soft target,” he said.

Often, it will take more than one stint in rehab to get a user off ice. Some families have paid more than $60,000 for treatment, yet their child is still using.

The spread of ice has led to a surge in demand for rehab. Last year, there were more than 32,000 requests for treatment around Australia. That is almost double what it was five years before.

New, private rehabs are now opening up to meet demand. Those that are not connected to a private hospital or health fund fall into a grey area of regulation.

Essentially, when it comes to private rehabs, there are no specific rules or regulations governing what they do.

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“I could start a rehab up tomorrow and hire staff who aren’t suitably qualified, call it a rehab, and charge top dollar with no questions asked,” said Ruben Ruolle, who heads the Drug and Alcohol unit at Western Health, a major public hospital network in Melbourne.

“There needs to be some sort of review on the organisations that aren’t aligned with health providers [or] health fund providers, to become accountable.”

Professor Dan Lubman, from the Turning Point Drug and Alcohol Centre, agrees.

“Unfortunately we’re in a system where there are no minimum standards. That’s a big concern for the community,” he said.

“People often feel that if they pay for treatment, that means they’re going to get something that’s a lot better than what’s offered in the public system.

“What’s worrying is that there’s no guarantee it’s any better than what is offered in the public system. And often, I would say, is worse than what is offered in the public system.”

Families who are not happy with the treatment they receive — or who try to get their money back — have nowhere to go to get a binding resolution to a dispute other than the courts.

Last year, the National Ice Taskforce recommended that the Federal Government develop a national framework, or set of guidelines, to cover the specialist drug treatment sector.

But that has not happened yet. And if, or when, it does, it’s not clear if it would cover private rehabs.

Putting love over money

After four weeks in the clinic, Tiarni is doing well. Other clients have walked out, but she is sticking at it.

She tells Four Corners that if she had not got into rehab, and was still at home, she would probably be using again.

“I don’t think it would have worked at all. I think I still would have been out there and just doing the stupid stuff,” she said.

And that is what parents like Wayne are prepared to go to extreme lengths to pay for, and would do so again if needed.

“No matter how much money you have got, it’s hard to get love back. So, I don’t know. I prefer love over money … that’s my opinion,” he said.

Watch Rehab Inc on Four Corners tonight at 8:30pm on ABC 1.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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