The Ice Age: Melbourne’s Meth Anarchy

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By Chris Sutton

Crystal Meth (or Ice) is available, affordable, high in purity and easy to use. Smoked or injected, it creates an immediate euphoric rush that overcomes the user, adding high confidence and a decreased need to eat or sleep, allied with extreme alertness that takes hold and leads the user into the night.

The drug is potent, powerful, dangerous and addictive.

The methamphetamine market in Victoria generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year. It’s a synthetic drug that can be purchased in various forms, be it pill, powder or base.

But it is the crystal format, or ice as the street prefers, that is causing havoc across the state.

Is this a short phase or a new era of drug consumption?

While other drugs such as heroin are lower in purity, ice purity alone has risen from 20% in 2010 to 75% in 2013. It is cheaper, can be used with other drugs, and escalates to problematic use at an alarming rate. There has been a 250 percent increase in the number of fatal overdoses since 2010.

Ice is a social drug, used amongst friends in a party setting on weekends, and is said to apparently straighten a user out if too ‘pissed’ from alcohol, or too ‘wild’ from ecstasy.

The meaning behind all this: it is more harmful to communities than speed or heroin, as it searches out addicts from all walks of life.

St Kilda News spoke to Geoff Munro, the National Policy Manager at the Australian Drug Foundation, who had various interesting views on crystal meth and addiction.

“Its use is visible because under its influence some people become aggressive and extremely violent and engaged in criminal acts,” he said.

“We expect that methamphetamine use will decline as more people realise how harmful it is”.

But the statistics of violence and criminality continue to rise, as large increases in ice related ambulance call-outs have been recorded across the state in a report produced by Turning Point in conjunction with Ambulance Victoria.

There was an 88% increase in the Melbourne metropolitan call-outs from 2011-12 to 2012-13 in regards to ice. To outline the upward trend, in 2009-10 there were 136 incidents; in 2012-13 there were 1112.

Turning Point researcher Belinda Lloyd said ice can have both mental and physical effects, but the drug can destroy families, friendships and the community in general.

How many incidents need to occur before this becomes alarming?

The normalisation of party drugs across Melbourne is a common theme according to such statistics. Dr Munro doesn’t believe this is a concern and that it is in fact wrong.

“Their use is stable and there is no sign that they are increasing in popularity”

“The proportion of the population that uses stimulant drugs in particular remains small”.

It remains the fourth most used drug in Australia, but it doesn’t need to be number one to create the greatest impact.

In a paper published by Pennington Institute, A Waste Water Analysis (WWA) was undertaken to analyse sewage for indicators of illicit drug consumption in Melbourne. This allows an estimation of consumption at a community level, and a comparison between different periods of time.

The analysis of urinary biomarkers took place on a Wednesday and a Sunday, to compare weekly use to party use. The figures demonstrated that ice was found at almost double the dosage on the Sunday, especially in the plants assessed closer to the city.

This research doesn’t distinguish heavy users from occasional users, but in one particular area 45 of every 1000 people in the community used methamphetamine.

“Addiction to crystal methamphetamine seems to occur faster than with many other drugs, and takes many people by surprise,” said Dr Munro, and this is why the growing figures pose an issue.

Ice is only second to heroin in contributing to overdose deaths. Facilities and services are struggling to cope with the increase. In a situation where a code grey event (hospital wide internal response to aggressive behaviour) occurs, the patient is placed in a room with security, specialist doctors and nurses. These resources are then unavailable to anyone else in the hospital. This occurrance is happening more frequently.

“As users of drugs become more aware of the problems, usage of methamphetamine should fall away and something else might replace it,” said Dr Munro.

Addiction isn’t easily quelled by awareness, and ‘should’ and ‘might’ aren’t enough to sweep the spike in usage away from the impact on the community.

Dr Munro has advice regarding the best way to stop the drug and the attraction towards it, especially concerning young males.

“Nightclubs and bars can do a lot to inform their patrons of the risks via methods of convenience advertising”

“Employers can educate their workers about the danger of methamphetamine, especially if they employ young males as they are the group who are most at risk”.

Dr Munro cited the hospitality, construction, sport and gymnasium industries as areas of particular concern.

“Peer pressure is one factor in drug use because people whose friends are using a drug have easy access to it and are more likely to do so. However lots of other factors affect a person’s choice including their personal values, their emotional and mental health and their knowledge about the potential problems”.

Multiple effects make ice intriguing to young men, such as intense pleasure, energy, alertness, a self-esteem boost, increased sex drive, longer lasting sex, erased tiredness, perceived freedom and reduced appetite.

This equals weight loss, stronger self confidence and the ability to work longer hours. But the harms outweigh any positives. Cramps, increased blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, paranoia, anxiety, toxicity, overdose, coma and seizures; add to that suicidal thoughts and depression when used alone, an addiction to ice is destructive.

There are no effective specialised treatment options.

There are few, if any, methamphetamine education programs directed at the using population.

The number of overdose deaths in 2010 in Victoria was 14. In 2013, it grew to 50.

Other drugs are dropping in sales with the onrush of ice. The social normalisation creates a powerful mental acceptance.

St Kilda News also spoke to James Pitts, the CEO of Odyssey House, which offers treatment to those affected by drugs in the community.

Mr Pitts said the availability of methamphetamine has been growing over the past five years, particularly in crystal form.

“It is a growing trend. Generally the harms associated with drug use and the potential for addiction are well recognised, but most individuals feel that applies to other people and not themselves”.

Mr Pitts believes there has been plenty of alarm regarding ice, with constant research and reports outlining the increases, but there is also room for improvement.

“There have been calls for a Drug Summit to discuss the issue and come up with some conclusions. We need to inform the public through health messages of the effects of methamphetamine on individuals and its impact on communities”.

Mr Pitt also said that party drugs have become more acceptable as they are seen as less harmful than the likes of heroin.

He said that research suggests the population who use party drugs “are normally employed, use it on the weekends in social groups and don’t use during the week,” so it is a more stable group who have other interests than just using drugs.

While the party scene is the most concerning and creates the widest strain, use in the workplace is becoming more common. As energy and alertness is increased by the drug, research has found young men, especially in the trades and hospitality industry, using it to get through demanding hours.

Ice isn’t regarded as something that leads to being a ‘junkie’; the social acceptance derives through the thought that use increases self-control.

Users say a night on ice can last for days, whereas a night on booze only lasts for hours. And the former is half the price. It’s the strongest amphetamine stimulant in the world. The sense of its danger isn’t present to the party scene. And we haven’t witnessed the worst of it, according to police.

90 percent of the time, users are also drinking. Then marijuana is used to come down. Ice brings all the drugs together in a cocktail of constant usage during the period, be it 24 hours or an entire weekend.

It is a new culture, an ice age?

The addicted turn into skeletons. They cannot commit to work or study, relationships or deadlines. People who attempt to help or intervene are assaulted. Families are torn apart, as parents seek answers.

But where are the answers?

Early intervention, advertisement of the harms, worst case scenarios illuminated; the government spend regularly on the problem of alcohol, but where are the billboards and slogans about the ice anarchy?

Stamping out illegal drugs is too generalised; ice is on the rise, so the specific issue deserves to be targeted.

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