Drugs, sex and the shallow fame of Instagram

Article by Adella Beaini /
The Daily Telegraph /
February 13, 2020 /
Original Unavailable /

Their posts on Instagram and Facebook ooze glamour. They’re young, good-looking and living the good life in some of Sydney’s most salubrious suburbs.

Girls with model looks in risque swimwear on beautiful beaches. Inked muscle men showing off their honed and toned physiques in Sydney’s gyms. And all the envy of the city’s In crowd, boasting considerable followings in the fickle world of social media stardom.

But there’s a darker side to the images. These are the faces of Sydney’s dangerous new culture of drug users and drug dealers.

Clinical psychologist Cliff Battley says the age of Sydney’s dealers and users hasn’t shifted but “the significant change is the attitude, the way they deal, what they are dealing and the level of sophistication”.

“Their version of success now depends on how famous you are,” he said.

“It’s all about getting buff, looking sexy and getting plastic surgery. This all comes with drugs and the glamorous look.”

And he fears an entire generation will be “lost” to this dangerous obsession.

Founder of Therapeutic Addiction Recovery Assistance (TARA) Clinic, Tara Hurster said drug use is “ultimately a mood altering substance” and is often used as a coping mechanism for “stress and distress”.

“When people are struggling to maintain relevancy within the fast paced world of social media, it is bound to increase feelings of stress and potential overwhelm,” Ms Hurster said.

“Alternatively, the societal norms of ‘booze and bags’ showing how successful or cool you are may impact people through peer pressure.

‘Short term gain, long term pain’

Described as the “toxic mirror”, social media has become a compulsion for the younger generation and their pursuit of perfection and in so doing has become a dangerous game, Mr Battley warned.

“When they take cocaine and MDMA, a lot of them are now on Instagram and care about how many followers they get,” he said.

“It’s like ‘look how buff I am’ and showing off their looks and money and suddenly become famous and well liked.”

Traditionally, the thought was there is no common thread for drug users and that “drugs don’t select”, but Mr Battley says he now finds a link between his younger patients.

“There is change and the common thread is wealthy kids with status are getting involved in drugs,” he said.

“They have money for drugs and tickets to go to dance parties and to be attractive the quickest way is to use steroids and take MDMA, which has become almost like a rite of passage.”

Mr Battley added: “Their Facebook posts are of them shirtless and surrounded by sexy people who want lots of followers.”

“They are desperate for attention, all have low self esteem and looking for validation.”

When Mr Battley first started out in his practice, social media was “virtually not existent” and said now people have thousands of followers telling them “how amazing you are”.

“I have young kids telling me about their girlfriends and how many Instagram followers they have,” he said. “That’s their claim to fame: If she has 100k Instagram followers, then in his eyes she is famous.”

One of Mr Battley’s patients — who boasts a 300k following on Instagram — said she obsesses about her image and social media, but behind closed doors lives a complete opposite life.

“This girl is a model and has nice cars, but what you don’t know is that she is addicted to xanax and they way she gets it is she lies about her pain,” he said.

“The way she pays for it, is she sleeps with 4 or 5 men in their 60s who pay for her to have a car.”

Drug dealer spared jail

A former public servant who was busted with wads of cash and nearly 700 ecstasy pills during a raid on his suburban Canberra home will not see the inside of a jail cell.

Zac Alex Gatica, of Wright, walked from the ACT Supreme Court on Monday with intensive corrections orders, having spent just one night behind bars following the September 2018 raid.

The court heard drug squad officers found $35,350 in cash bundled in a safe in Gatica’s wardrobe, 693 pills, and a small amount of cocaine at the unit he shared with his partner, Eliza Ride.

Ms Ride was not charged and is not accused of any wrongdoing, and according to court records told police Gatica had supplied her with drugs in the past, and that she left the room when other people came to the unit to buy drugs.

Police also found a series of messages seized from Gatica’s mobile phone detailing his drug dealing.

One of the messages said: “bumping up the order today bruz, I will probably get 50 (to be honest) but will only be able to give you money for 40 today”.

Another message said: “bumping up the order to 30 bruz, I’ll have cash on me, am getting Versace or Playboys”.

Some of the pills police seized were stamped with the Versace and Playboy logos.

Gatica’s unit was also strewn with paraphernalia frequently seized in raids on drug dealers’ houses, including scales and clip seal bags.

His Instagram account showed him flaunting a lifestyle of luxury hotels and designer clothes before his arrest.

The courts have previously heard he quit his public service job when he saw the “writing on the wall” when he was stood down shortly after being charged.

He pleaded guilty in March last year to drug trafficking and receiving tainted cash.

Justice Chrissa Loukas-Karlssen flagged as early as December last year she would not be sending Gatica to jail, saying he was young, had a clean criminal record and had two “wonderful women” – his mum and Ms Ride – supporting him as he tried to kick his drug habit.

Justice Loukas-Karlssen sentenced Gatica to two intensive corrections orders, which, combined, run until October 2021.

Sex and power

For many drug dealers and users caught in the act, a court appearance or conviction is not necessarily enough to deter them away from the dangerous lifestyle, with many ending up on a path of self-destruction.

“Girls are addicted more to ice, MDMA and cocaine and they use sex to swap for drugs. It’s known as ‘cock for rock’ and there are sites for this specifically,” Mr Buttley said.

“That’s why women are less likely to go to jail and usually end up dead.

“Guys have to get the money to commit the crime and end up in jail, whereas the girl more than likely ends up as a prostitute on a local website, which isn’t what they show on Instagram.”

Another patient Mr Battley treats has now resorted to posting older pictures of herself to her Instagram followers, in a bid to hide her deteriorating physical appearance from her use of drugs.

“This person’s dream was to be a famous reality television star, but she takes cocaine every day and barely eats and she looks haggard.

“She is starting to repost older pictures, or instead she heavily alters her current photos.”

Gym junkies versus social media influencers

Working as a fitness instructor at a gym, Mr Battley said he fears an entire generation will be “lost” to the obsession and crave for perfection, with social media acting as a platform that validates them instantly.

“The underlying thread between these two groups is drugs. They get big and buff with shirts off and once they see people ‘like me’ then that is success,” Mr Battley said.

“When I teach fitness classes, I rarely ever go to the men’s bathroom mid workout and not see a guy adjusting his hat, changing his shirt and spending 10 minutes on the mirror taking selfies.”

“It’s as if they are getting ready for a show at the gym.”

The pursuit has “nothing to do with reality” but instead everything to do with how you look and “am I good enough?”.

“Steroids give you this answer quickly. And when they train a whole week to look good for a festival on the weekend,” he said.

“They then take their cocaine, MDMA and ice because that’s what their social status becomes underpinned by.”

Social media and the influence of drugs

Ms Hurster said the use of drugs and alcohol, along with the crave for social media likes is like “all setting off the dopamine hit” and is connected to “our perception of survival”.

“Dopamine is a major part of our ‘happy hormones’ in the brain associated with pleasure and survival,” she said.

“Back in the ugg ugg days we would have a rush of dopamine when we came across a space that had adequate food and water so that we would remember where it was and find it again the following year.”

“If our likes go down, we feel like we are going to die so we do more to try and keep them up which can lead to trying new things, getting more risky or creative and essentially doing everything we can to stay alive.

“It may sound strange, however, our brain hasn’t evolved quickly enough to understand that getting 50 likes compared to 1,000 likes won’t actually result in our death.”

Melbourne University academic and social scientist, Dr Lauren Rosewarne, said social media has become highly influential on the younger generation.

“It’s consumed throughout waking hours and the cumulative impact of similar kinds of messages can make the messages and values transmitted quite potent,” Dr Rosewarne said.

“Unlike on broadcast television – when you knew you were watching a commercial – the line between advertising and entertainment is thoroughly blurred and thus it’s often difficult to discern when you are being sold something

But Dr Rosewarne warned that social media, like all media, is not the “only influence” on a person’s behaviour and said: “The assumption that social media can make a person do dangerous things is misguided. It can be a contributor to decisions but it’s never our sole influence.”

“Social media is driven by the attention economy: the point is getting eyeballs (and likes, and forwards) and thus it’s no surprises that – to maintain their influence – influencers will do things to keep and grow attention.”

Instagram influencer’s roadside drug bust

A jetsetting Instagram model and casino hostess, with tens of thousands of admiring followers on social media, was busted by police doing shady drug deals from her car around a Sydney party district.

When confronted by officers, the dejected drug dealer immediately pointed police to her stash. When asked if she had any more drugs in the car, she said: “Yeah, some bags in the centre console … coke, cocaine.”

Veronica Zinger pleaded guilty to four charges at Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court, two of supply prohibited drug and one each of possess prohibited drug and deal with the proceeds of crime.

Zinger was also found with MDMA, commonly known as pingers, in the vehicle.

The 23-year-old who is also a gym instructor and casino cocktail waitress, was pulled in Sydney’s swanky Barangaroo precinct around 4.30pm on November 29.

One of Ms Zinger’s promotional pages says she has a “very vibrant and bubbly personality”, has done TV extra work and “would be very keen to land some feature roles”.

Ms Zinger’s Instagram page, which featured images of her photo shoots and a world travel series of herself against scenes in Italy, Greece and the Middle East, has since been shut down.

She was one of 84 people arrested on alleged cocaine charges in a citywide police crackdown on the Christmas party drug market in November and December.

Police arrested dozens of other young people allegedly caught red-handed in the largest targeted drug raids of the last two years.

Zinger will be sentenced on March 13.

Musclebound gym junkie and his bikini-clad girlfriend

Dylan Shaw of Wyee — who was on bail for importing steroids with his topless waitress girlfriend when he got busted selling drugs through the mail to undercover cops — will spend a minimum of four years in jail.

With time already served the 25-year-old will be eligible for release on November 25, 2022.

Shaw began using drugs and alcohol from the age of 12 “when he lacked the capacity to make rational decisions”.

Shaw was arrested in November 2016 following a two-year sting by Australian Border Force officers, which had intercepted steroids and human growth hormones concealed in consignments from the Philippines and China.

An undercover police officer from Strike Force Wandevan began investigating the supply of drugs through two of Shaw’ s social media accounts in February 2018.

The undercover operative contacted Shaw on the Wickr app and organised to purchase drugs on a number of occasions, either meeting Shaw at an address at Warnervale or having the drugs sent via Express Post to a PO Box at Willoughby.

At one point Shaw told the undercover cop he would have trouble filling an order for 1000 MDMA pills because “my guy got busted” but he would find another supplier.

Shaw’s girlfriend Nateesha Barlin was sentenced to an Intensive Corrections Order for three months and given 250 hours of community service for her role in importing steroids and concealing Shaw’s subsequent drug dealing.

Barlin pleaded guilty to one count of importing testosterone.

She had been caught on recorded phone taps boasting he had a “good thing going” and how he was being smart “this time”.

Youtuber caught in the back of a Toyota Yaris

Two enterprising teen drug dealers were caught red-handed by police as they made a dark alley drug deal in the back of a Toyota Yaris.

Police discovered Jennifer Shewan, 18, had been busily supplying cocaine in some of Sydney’s most prestigious postcodes when they caught her with a 17-year-old accomplice in the middle of a deal in June last year.

Shewan supplied cocaine in single gram quantities 12 times in Zetland, Randwick, Stanmore, Market City in Haymarket, Chiswick, Camperdown, Clovelly, the Intercontinental in Double Bay, Rose Bay, Maroubra and twice at the same Queens Park address.

Shewan was first busted on June 8 along with a 17-year-old accomplice after plainclothes police overheard a patron at JD’s Bar and Grill in Cronulla planning to buy cocaine.

The officers trailed the man to Shewan’s car, where the 17-year-old girl handed him three clear resealable bags containing 2.48g of cocaine in exchange for $800 in $50 notes.

Shewan briefly found infamy on YouTube as a teen in 2013, racking up 163,000 views and more than 18,000 comments on a video in which she called out social media character MirandaSings.

In other videos she emulated faded pests, pranksters and performers The Janoskians with half-hearted, foul-mouthed shenanigans conducted at Bankstown Central shopping centre.