fbpx The science behind the drug, ice | NDARC - National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre

The science behind the drug, ice

image - Syringe Street Square

SBS World News Radio reports on crystal methamphetamine, known as ice, with comments by NDARC Director Michael Farrell.

image - The science behind the drug, ice


Earlier this month, a National Ice Taskforce was formed, to try to work out new ways of dealing with the drug, ice.

It's seen as a growing problem across the country, having severe effects in many rural and regional areas as well as the cities.

Now, the Australian Science Media Centre has brought together some experts to talk about the science behind the addictive drug.

Rachael Hocking reports.

A fact not widely known about ice, or methamphetamine, is that it is used in various forms.

Director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre Professor Michael Farrell says that knowing how it is used helps us to understand the effect it can have on users.

"When it's smoked, the speed with which it gets spilled into the blood and into the brain and the intensity of the high in the initial experience has quite an impact on addictiveness. It releases a lot of these chemicals into the synapse that gives people a very positive feeling and it enhances dopamine release."

Dr David Caldicott is a senior lecturer in clinical medicine at the Australian National University in Canberra.

He says the way people are using ice has changed dramatically in recent years.

Dr Caldicott says this shift can account for some of the problems with the drug we're seeing today.

"There's much greater acceptability about meth being smoked, and that is not perhaps held with the disdain in that community in which injectable meth is being consumed."

Experts say while there is no question of the significance of the ice problem, there is confusion about the scale of it.

Dr Caldicott says we need to be wary of calling the problem with ice in rural areas a "surge."

And he says analysts may have drawn the wrong conclusion after observing an increase in methampetamine concentrations in sewage water.

Dr Caldicott says this doesn't necessarily mean that more people are using ice.

"My own feeling is that correlating that to the number of people we're seeing in data from the various surveys in Australia, this probably is a reflection of a marked increase in purity that's available in Australia. And that's not to dismiss that finding. That's a finding of significant concern because we know that's likely to have, for those people consuming, a far increased association with these harmful effects."

Those harmful effects can include paranoia, behavioural issues including violence, and a susceptibility to conditions usually seen in older people, such as heart disease.

Research Fellow at the ANU, Rebecca McKetin, says she's hoping the new taskforce will focus on treatment options for ice users.

"What we've seen in the past is a series of parliamentary inquiries, summits and ice forums, expert panels and so forth. What we really need to see is a sustained investment, particularly in the treatment sector and other services that are used to reduce harm associated with methamphetamine use."

This story was aired on 15 April 2015 on SBS World News Radio.