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New program to help nurses cope with ICE epidemic

Photo: Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation
As Australia continues to grapple with the societal consequences of methamphetamine, or Ice, addiction, health care workers remain at the forefront of the problem, frequently encountering patients under the influence of the drug.

Unfortunately, dealing with a person affected by methamphetamines presents a unique set of risks and challenges to nurses, which can leave them vulnerable if they do experience such an encounter, particularly as the effects of the drug vary depending on when it was taken, and how much.

Which is why the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victoria Branch) has teamed up with Turning Point to introduce a series of seminars, designed to complement the standard Frontline Worker Ice Training Package.

The seminars, funded by the Victorian Government as an outcome of the Premier’s Ice Action Taskforce, involve face to face training with nurses and midwives, providing them with a deeper understanding of Ice addiction.
Nurse Caroline Duggan attended the seminar, which she says all health care workers should attend, and says she’s gained an insight into the use of Ice that she didn’t have prior to taking part.

“I feel that all nurses should attend a course like this as Ice use is a ongoing health problem that all nurses, whether they work in emergency, cardiac, midwifery or mental health or other areas, are at some point going to have to deal with,” says Ms Duggan.

“They are going to come across individuals who are either using Ice or have used in the past. This makes attending a seminar like this almost compulsory.”

How often a nurse deals with a patient or client on Ice can range from a daily occurrence, for example in mental health and emergency departments, to less often in other areas just such cardiac or midwifery.

But no matter how often it happens, it can be scary if nurses aren’t equipped with the knowledge or skills to manage it. 

“Dealing with a individual on Ice can be scary if you have no knowledge of the effects, and the symptoms of withdrawal and cravings.

“From my limited experiences, people on using Ice can be pleasant, cooperative and easy to deal with if they have just used.
“(They) can be quiet, sleepy and withdrawn when coming down.

“Or agitated, pacing and aggressive when withdrawing or can’t access their next hit.

“This requires multiple skills of the nurse to recognise where the patient is in the cycle and how to adjust their nursing to best benefit the patient.

“(Through the seminar), I feel I have developed more in-depth knowledge about the effects of Ice and how an individual who has recently used is different to someone that might be looking for their next hit.”

Ms Duggan says along with learning about the impact of Ice on patients, the seminar also taught nurses about the importance of compassion.

“Most Ice users already feel very ashamed, they feel that people are judging them and the choices that they have made,” she says.

The seminar also provides valuable resources which can be accessed by nurses 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Despite the benefits of this seminar, Ms Duggan says more education is needed for nurses, given the seriousness of issue, and the potential consequences for patients and health care workers alike.

“I feel that the Ice seminar has given me some information that I can use to deal with patients who are using Ice, but as it was only a short seminar I think I would be better equipped if I had more knowledge of the drug, its effects and the cycle of using, craving and withdrawing from Ice.”


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.