The small town of Byron Bay has exploded over the years, growing from a small surf community into the bustling tourist centre it is known for today. With this rapid development, drugs and alcohol followed, often with disastrous results. While incidents don't happen as often as in Australia's larger cities, Byron Bay still feels the effects of addiction. This is especially true because there aren't that many government-funded treatment and rehab centres in town.
Drug Use in the Byron Bay Area
When it comes to illicit substance use, Byron Bay experiences spikes throughout the year due to the town's regular music festivals. Splendour on the Grass, held every July, is one of these events. In 2014, ABC News wrote of how 113 people were caught trying to enter the festival with drugs within the first three days. Police seized over one kilogram of cannabis, pills and powder from festival goers.
The Morning Bulletin wrote of the Falls Festival in January 2015 mentioning how full the medic tent was from people showing drug-related effects. A man also died in circumstances police believe was connected to drugs.
At Byron Bay Hospital, wardens have to act as security guards to protect doctors and nurses treating patients affected by ice. It can take up to six people to restrain someone who has taken amphetamines. At night, there may not be this number of people available meaning that some of the medical staff have sustained injuries in the line of duty.
With this escalation of incidents within Byron Bay, some people have stood up and offered assistance. A group of social workers, ex-addicts and people affected by amphetamines creating the Ice Awareness Northern Rivers Sub-committee to spread knowledge about how to tackle this growing epidemic.
Alcohol Consumption in Byron Bay
As a tourist town, Byron Bay definitely experiences a fair amount of drinking. However, consumption rates dramatically increase during Schoolies Week as the town is the country's second most popular Schoolies destination outside of the Gold Coast. The Herald Sun writes that there is a two or three-fold increase in alcohol-related assaults during this period. The cheap price of alcohol is often blamed.
The Northern Star writes of another scary statistic: that Byron Bay has the highest drink driving rate in NSW. Between November 2012 and October 2013, 284 people were charged with drink driving offences. Local police can't pinpoint a singular cause although they say the local culture and a lack of public transport may be to blame.
In one high profile case of drunken behaviour, the captain of the Wallabies rugby team managed to escape criminal charges after going on an alcohol-fuelled rampage. He jumped on a car, damaging it, and was caught trying to rip a street sign from the ground. As it was a minor endeavour though, no charges were given.
Rehab Choices for Byron Bay Locals
While there aren't any large government-funded rehab centres in Byron Bay, there are a few alternatives for addicts. One is the Byron Central Hospital service which is run by NSW Health and offers assessment, referral, inpatient detox and counselling. Self-help programs, withdrawal management options and residential rehabilitation are also available.
A second option, Family Drug Support (FDS), is funded by the Australian and NSW governments. This organisation is run by a group of volunteers who have been affected by alcohol and drug abuse. They have fortnightly meetings in Byron Bay and educate the public about drug use including coping tips, support and treatment, and making a plan for the future.