There’s no such thing as too far gone. 

It’s the guiding philosophy of Jason Farnsworth, 42, who radically turned his life away from Melbourne’s criminal underworld and drug addiction, and now uses his lived experience to help others break the cycle of drugs and alcohol. 

After his 16-month-old daughter drowned, 18-year-old Mr Farnsworth looked to numb the pain in the only way he could think of — with heroin.

For 15 years, addiction and violence would dominate his life as he became entrenched in Melbourne’s criminal underground, manning a strip club and two nightclubs for a criminal organisation. 

“I was in a position where I didn’t care about myself or anyone else around me,” he said.

“I was in a self-destruct mode and [due to] being quite a large young man that was doing powerlifting and bodybuilding and MMA [mixed martial arts], I became very employable to what I’d call ‘the underworld’.”

Mr Farnsworth manned a strip club and two nightclubs for a criminal organisation.(Supplied: Jason Farnsworth)

While he managed to step away from Melbourne’s “heavy scene” in about 2004, he continued to use illicit drugs and it would take nearly a decade for Mr Farnsworth to admit he had a problem and seek help.

Though he was able to “function” while using heroin, the destabilising effect of methamphetamine became the straw that broke the camel’s back.

After checking himself into a Queensland rehabilitation centre based on cognitive therapy, Mr Farnsworth began to address the root of his addiction.

“The rehab centre started off with detox, getting clean … then starting to work deeper and deeper into the issues as you can get more emotionally available,” he said.

“[Then] at about the three and a half months’ stage, [my psychologist] asked me about my daughter, which triggered a whole heap of memories that I had literally numbed to the point of not remembering anymore.

“It was very confronting and very difficult to put yourself in that place to be teachable and allow people to speak in your life.

“It certainly was the centre of change for me … helping me with my self-awareness of who I am and who my character is, and also what my identity was away from drugs and alcohol.”

Mr Farnsworth has founded a support service to fill a gap in regional areas.(Supplied: Jason Farnsworth)

Regions crying out for help

After turning his life around and getting clean, Mr Farnsworth moved to Adelaide to work for the not-for-profit Teen Challenge SA and study community services, cognitive behaviour therapy and trauma-informed therapy. 

In the process, he learnt about how a lack of drug and alcohol services was disproportionately impacting on people in regional and remote SA, resulting in people often spending years being “looped around” in the public system as they tried to get help.

Mr Farnsworth is trying to prevent people from being “looped around” in the public system for years.(ABC North and West SA: Annabel Francis)

“People are always screaming out for help, especially once we get up into the APY Lands,” he said.

“I’m a country boy. My heart is on the land.”

After relocating to Kadina on the Yorke Peninsula, some 144 kilometres north-west of Adelaide, Mr Farnsworth set up his own peer support group, Addiction Support Group Australia.

Three years on, the not-for-profit has established networks at Point Pearce on the APY Lands, Port Augusta and in Adelaide, with a view to expand to Whyalla, Berri and even Perth in Western Australia.

Mr Farnsworth has founded several support groups across regional South Australia.(Supplied: Jason Farnsworth)

The meetings, which can also be attended virtually, mean members can attend several sessions in the one week for additional support as well as their local in-person meeting.

Addiction help not a ‘high priority’

Whyalla mother of three Steph Fry has battled addiction for 10 years, starting with the illicit drug known as “ice” (crystal methamphetamine), before also taking up prescription painkillers.

While she was able to stop using ice by moving away from Adelaide to regional SA, Ms Fry needed help to overcome her painkiller addiction.

But SA’s public health system was under huge strain.

Ms Fry has battled addiction for 10 years.(ABC North and West SA: Arj Ganesan)

“I went and saw my GP and he said, ‘There’s a bit of a wait because it’s not a high priority’, which was heartbreaking,” she said.

“I just wanted to be a better person for my family.”

The 29-year-old subsequently spent nine months on a hospital waiting list for detox treatment.

During that long wait, Mr Farnsworth’s support group became a lifeline. 

Ms Fry said hundreds of Whyalla residents could use support but the cost and lack of services put it too far out of reach for those battling addiction.

“I was meant to start seeing a psychologist and I had to pay $157 to see them … Medicare covered some of that so I think out of pocket it was about $87 and I don’t have that kind of money,” she said.

Since undergoing her detox, Ms Fry said she had begun using painkillers again, but in smaller amounts.

“It just numbs whatever pain is in my head. I’ve lost 11 people to suicide [last year] … the Panadeine Forte is my coping mechanism,” Ms Fry said.

“Mentally, I’m a bit disappointed in myself. I haven’t gone back to like six or eight a day, it’s like one or two a day,” she said.

“So eventually, the long-term goal is … I want to be completely off them.”

Steph Fry says there are hundreds of people in Whyalla who need better access to services.(ABC North and West SA: Arj Ganesan)

No person is ever ‘too far gone’

Mr Farnsworth said the biggest myth when it came to addiction was that someone could be “too far gone”.

“I’ve had people say to me, ‘Ah, don’t want to worry about them, what are you wasting your time for? They’re too far gone’,” he said.

“Well, I was once that person that was too far gone.

Mr Farnsworth is adamant there is “always hope” for people battling addiction to recover.(Supplied: Jason Farnsworth)

“I was once that person that people looked at and said I didn’t stand a chance, that there was no hope for me.

“But the reality is, there is hope, we do change [and] we do recover.”