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Australians are overestimating meth use

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Date Published:
13 Aug 2015

Australians are completely in the dark when it comes to the scale of ice use in the country, according to a recent survey by the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC), based at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW.

The online survey of more than 11,000 people – the largest of its kind to-date in Australia – found almost half the survey respondents believe 30 – 100% of Australians have tried ice in their lifetime. This is despite reports from the Australian Drug Strategy Household Survey that indicates lifetime use of methamphetamine is closer to 7% of Australians, with ice use specifically making up about half of this. A further 36% of respondents indicated they believe 10 – 30% of Australians have tried the drug, and only 14% answered correctly.

Professor Jan Copeland, Director of NCPIC, said while there is no doubt ice is an extremely dangerous and damaging substance, and use has definitely increased in Australia in recent years, this misconception is both interesting and disturbing. “Survey respondents, in general, felt prevalence of use was much higher than it actually is, with a fifth thinking more than half of their fellow Australians have tried ice at least once in their lifetime. That’s an enormous portion of the population who are assumed to have tried a highly addictive and potentially deadly substance. The most worrying aspect of this is that it normalises ice use in the minds of those who may be thinking of trying it.

The survey asked respondents whether they have ever tried ice, would consider trying it in the future, or have tried or used it already. “While the survey was by no means a prevalence test, it did provide us some valuable insights into the mindsets of those people who have tried the drug, and perhaps of more concern, those who now clearly know the dangers of ice but are thinking of trying it anyway.”

Asking respondents to rate their perceptions of the how dangerous they believe ice to be for a user, how dangerous they believe users are to others, and how addictive the drug is, the survey revealed Australians view ice differently based on their desire to try it.

“Of most note, was the differences in perception of dangers and addictiveness of ice. Understandably, those who won’t try ice, thought it highly dangerous to health, users dangerous to those around them, and the drug as being extremely addictive. Interestingly though, it was the potential future users who were at the opposite end of the scale, feeling ice is less dangerous to health, users less dangerous to others and the drug less addictive, compared even to those who have actually used ice.”

“This result points to a subset of society who are clearly aware of short-term and long-term side effects of ice, who are subject to regular media portrayals of its harms, but believe it to be less dangerous and addictive than it really is.”
While Australia does have one of the highest rates of methamphetamine use in the world, Professor Copeland believes there is a significant need for more targeted education and awareness, in order to lessen the gap between perceptions and the reality of ice.

In addition to perceptions of harms, the survey also explored the demographics of self-identified ice users. It found their profiles may not match stereotypical perceptions of drug users, with over half identifying as middle-to-high income earners, and also a slight over-representation of stay-at-home mums who use ice escape reality.

Professor Copeland believes ongoing research into perceptions of drugs and drug users is a crucial part of preventing uptake.

“It’s really important prevention-based education and awareness campaigns use research like this to gain a better understanding of the ways ice and ice users are viewed. Exploring the gaps between public perception and the realities of use can help create a constructive national conversation about the issue, and guide future attempts to reduce uptake and use.”

To read more about the findings of NCPIC’s recent survey, please click here.


NCPIC is an Australian Government initiative supported by the Department of Health.

For enquiries or to arrange an interview with Professor Copeland, please contact:

Matthew Tooth
Ph: 0434 928 348
E: m.tooth@unsw.edu.au

Amanda McDonald
Ph: 0479 154 603
E: amanda.mcdonald@unsw.edu.au