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In the news: Methamphetamine deaths in Australia have jumped 'significantly'

by Helen Davidson
image - Ice Square

New reports released by NDARC show that the number of methamphetamine-related deaths in Australia increased from 2010 to 2011, and more injecting drug users turn to the drug's crystal form, known as 'ice', writes Helen Davidson.

Accidental drug deaths involving methamphetamine jumped “significantly” from 2010 to 2011, according to a study by the national drug and alcohol research centre which also found ice usage has increased by more than 50% among injecting drug users.

The report by University of New South Wales (UNSW) researchers examined available data on drug-related deaths, hospital admissions, and treatment services, and also found that within methamphetamine related deaths, the drug was the underlying cause in 23%.

In 2011 there were 101 methamphetamine-related deaths in Australia, up from 85 in 2010, and preliminary projections for 2012 and 2013 data of up to 170 deaths suggested a continuing trend.

The predictions were based on trends and reported changes to estimates in previous years as the data, sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, is not yet available for 2012 and beyond.

Hospital presentations and treatment episodes for amphetamine use have also increased.

Through a survey of more than 860 injecting drug users, the researchers also found ice use among that group had increased by 52% in the past 10 years. In the national sample surveyed, frequency of ice use increased from fortnightly to close to weekly.

The biggest increases were reported in Victoria and the ACT.

Research last year from the Australian institute of health and welfare (AIHW) showed that while methamphetamine usage had remained stable since 2010, the proportion within that of users taking the crystal form - otherwise known as ice - had markedly increased.

Lucy Burns, chief investigator for the studies and UNSW associate professor, told Guardian Australia her team’s research did not contradict the AIHW data but painted a different picture based on market changes seen by current drug users.

“The AIHW was a general population survey – which means they don’t concentrate on people who might actually be in the drug market,” said Burns.

“While the AIHW has shown a change in form of drug use, we’ve shown an increase in the proportion of people who inject drugs who are now using crystal methamphetamine.”

“We’ve also shown an increasing trend in the – albeit small – number who died with methamphetamine as a cause of their death.”

“Taken together with the other information, it’s another piece of the jigsaw that shows we do in fact have a real problem and [methamphetamine use] is probably, in terms of numbers of people, increasing as well as changing form to the crystaline form which is purer.”

Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of methamphetamine usage. The Australian crime commission said in March that as many as 1.3m Australians had tried ice or speed, with nearly 400,000 using in the last 12 months.

One month later the federal government announced the formation of a national taskforce to deal with the “growing problem” of ice, headed by the former Victorian police chief Ken Lay.

This story originally appeared in The Guardian.