Rising crime rates are the tip of an insidious iceberg, as methamphetamine abuse cases soar in Australia.
The methamphetamine drug called ice is the drug of choice among young people, and so powerful that it can take just one hit for its users to become addicted.
Authorities warn of an “ice epidemic”; the number of ambulance call-outs to ice users has multiplied, especially in regional country towns.
In the state of Victoria, the state’s support lines have been flooded with calls for help and the number of people seeking face-to-face assistance from support services has also risen. In 2012, methamphetamine overtook heroin as the drug injected most often.
The easy accessibility of ice makes it a recipe for disaster. Young addicts say it is socially accepted as a party drug and widely used with alcohol.
While alcohol-related patients far outweigh ice users in hospital emergency departments, medical staff say the latter are much more dangerous, sometimes taking more than 5 people to hold down a patient.
The drug causes users to experience an extreme high for days without sleep, followed by paranoia, psychosis and rage as they come down. It has been linked to a surge in violent attacks, including murders and road accidents.
Meth can cause serious irreparable long-term effects including depression, anxiety, aggressive behaviour and memory loss, and is also being linked with a rise in HIV cases.
Health professionals are concerned that the average age of ice users is growing younger. Latest figures show that the 15- to 29-year-old age group recorded the largest growth in terms of the number of users seeking help.
Australia is a lucrative market for methamphetamine producers worldwide. One gram of meth in Australia has a street value of $900, more than twice the value in China, where most shipments come from.
Lured by the high profits, international syndicates work with gangs in Australia to sell the drug. The majority of the drug is manufactured in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle and reports estimate that 85 percent of illicit drugs slip through Australian customs undetected. Police say gangs also engage “cooks” to manufacture ice locally.
While education and harm reduction strategies are crucial, the Victoria state government recently axed drug educators in schools. The Opposition Parliamentary Secretary for Education Colin Brooks has criticised the government’s decision to cut 18 school drug project officers at a time when there has been a steep rise in violent crimes and mental health admissions.
Drug support services are also calling for specialised courts and tailored meth rehabilitation programs to help combat the ice crisis. Recovering meth addicts who spoke to 101 East say the criminalizing of their problems hinders those seeking treatment for what they see as a lifelong illness. They hope to see more resources put into therapeutic support groups and counselling services.
Authorities are also gravely concerned about children who live with ice users. This year, child protection workers will receive special training to deal with methamphetamine users, as the devastating consequences among families and communities grow.
In this edition of 101 East, we investigate Australia’s fight to save its young from falling victim to the “ice age”.
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