Australia’s Ice Epidemic

Crystal Meth (Ice)

The illegal drug Ice (crystal methamphetamine) is having a devastating impact on a growing number of Australian addicts. Ice has several properties that make is more damaging to users and the people they come in contact with. It is highly addictive and causes enormous disruption to an individual’s brain functioning.

Changing use of Ice in Australia

Statistics from the 2013 NDSHS Survey show that, although gross consumption of meth/amphetamines has not changed, more and more Australians are using ice – otherwise known as, crystal methamphetamine (AIHW).

  • In 2013, a 28% jump in the use ice was recorded, while there were 22% less people using speed (AIHW).
  • The rate of ice consumption is also increasing with 25.3% of individual’s reporting weekly or daily use in 2013 compared to 12.4% in 2010.
  • 7.0% of people living in Australia who are 14 years of age and older reported using meth/amphetamines at least once.
  • Of the 2.1% that had consumed meth/amphetamines in the last 12 months, over 50% reported that ice was the most commonly used substance (druginfo).

The Australian public is also increasingly concerned about the growth in ice consumption. In 2013, 6.7% more individuals rated meth/amphetamines of most danger to the community (druginfo). An increased number of Australians also believed that meth/amphetamines are responsible for the most drug-related mortalities. In 2013, 8.7% of people reported this compared to 4.7% in 2010 (AIHW).

What is ice?

Ice is a synthetic chemical stimulant which belongs to the amphetamine class of drugs. Ice is the strongest drug in this class as it is in the purest form. Other drugs related to ice include base, speed and methamphetamine, which is a combination of ice and base. The most common way that ice is ingested is through smoking, although it can also be snorted, swallowed or injected.

Addiction potential

Due to the way that ice interacts with the brain and neurotransmitters, it is highly addictive. Ice stimulates a large influx of dopamine, up to 1000 times greater than the average neural concentration (health.vic). The dopamine neurotransmitter causes feelings of euphoria and pleasure for up to 24 hours (PBS). In addition to this, the release of noradrenaline stimulates the ‘fight or flight’ centres. Changes in the amount of serotonin also disrupt the regulation of sleep, mood, appetite and impulse control.

The long term addictive effect of ice is due to the destruction of dopamine receptors combined with the exhaustion of the brain’s natural supply of dopamine (PBS). Recurrent ice users can no longer experience the natural release of dopamine and must rely on the amphetamine instead. Fortunately, the brain’s dopamine receptors will re-generate eventually, but permanent cognitive impairment of the reasoning, judgement and motor skill centres can occur (PBS).

Psychotic effects

The chemical ice works by stimulating the release of excess amounts of neurotransmitters including dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. High amounts of these substances can induce psychotic effects, some of which make the individual dangerous to themselves and others. These include: hallucinations, paranoia, psychosis, panic attacks and high levels of aggression. As ice disrupts the production and use of dopamine in the brain, it can cause many long term psychological effects. These can manifest as: depression, paranoia, substance dependence, insomnia and memory loss (PBS).

Physical and social impacts

Due to the changes in serotonin that ice makes, acute physical symptoms such as appetite suppression, raised glucose levels, liver damage and teeth grinding soon become problematic (health.vic). Long term physical effects can manifest as a higher susceptibility to life threatening conditions including seizures, stroke, HIV and cardiovascular diseases.

Another serious consequence of ice use can be death. The most recent available data shows that there were 86 deaths which were directly linked to meth/amphetamine use in 2009 (NDARC). A further 20 were thought to be indirectly caused by meth/amphetamine use. Mortality rates per population have increased from 3.4 deaths per million in 2001 to 7 deaths per million in 2009.

Social impacts of using ice include verbal and physical abuse, poor impulse control and isolation. These are related to changes in mood, sleep and aggression levels. Individuals who develop a long term habit can experience a disruption in their schooling and employment as well as losing contact with friends and relatives.

  • During 2013, 8.3% of Australian’s reported that they had experienced some form of abuse caused by illegal drug use (AIHW).
  • Of these victims, those experiencing physical harm has jumped from 2.2% in 2010 to 3.1% in 2013.