PETER LLOYD: Health authorities in Victoria are raising the alarm about the skyrocketing use of crystal methamphetamine, or ice.
Ambulance figures show the number of emergencies involving crystal meth more than doubled in the past year.
Simon Lauder reports.
SIMON LAUDER: Crystal methamphetamine, or ice, makes people feel euphoric, excited and energetic. It can also make them paranoid and aggressive.
The coordinator of the emergency department at Melbourne’s Angliss Hospital, Fran Chandler, says ice makes a shift in the emergency ward a lot more challenging.
FRAN CHANDLER: When they are confronted with a patient who is screaming and kicking and punching and spitting, and it is just so frightening. And it happens often.
SIMON LAUDER: Every year the Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre collates data from Ambulance Victoria to track drug trends across Melbourne.
The last couple of years has seen a massive increase in ambulance call outs for people on ice. In 2010 there were 136 cases; in 2011 there were 282. Last year, there were 592.
Researcher, Dr Belinda Lloyd.
BELINDA LLOYD: They increased by 110 per cent between 2010-11 and 2011-12, and this follows on from an increase of around 108 per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11.
And this is of real concern in terms of those acute harms in the population.
SIMON LAUDER: So is that people who have overdosed on the drug?
BELINDA LLOYD: It’s a combination of kinds of attendances. So it may be people who’ve overdosed; people who are experiencing mental health symptoms like psychosis as a result of their use; people who have been either victims or involved in cases of violence; maybe in motor vehicle accidents, so they may have been driving while they were drug affected; or had an accident, another kind of accident, so say falling for example.
SIMON LAUDER: Do you think this means more people are now using ice than before?
BELINDA LLOYD: That’s a difficult thing to assess because population level surveys of the general population don’t show a real increase in new populations using these drugs, but potentially this is being driven by new populations or by people who may have used other drugs in the past or used less frequently, perhaps using more frequently and experiencing more harms associated with their use.
It may also be a marker of increasing purity of a drug or increasing availability. For people who are already using those drugs, their use patterns might change and that may increase harms associated with use.
SIMON LAUDER: Dr Lloyd says the Turning Point study is the only one in the world to collate data from frontline paramedics, so there are no comparable figures for the rest of Australia.
Drug and alcohol counsellor for Odyssey House Victoria, Rene De Sant’Anna, is not surprised to hear ice is causing more harm to people year upon year. He says it’s becoming a mainstream party drug for young people and it’s cheap.
RENE DE SANT’ANNA: It’s seen as a Friday night sort of weekend party drug. The average price that I’m hearing now is around $40 a point of shard. That would keep them going for a good 24 hours or so.
In the scheme of things as a party drug, they do get a lot more bang for their buck.
Pretty much, they feel like they’re six foot tall and bulletproof.
SIMON LAUDER: And what about the long term impact? What are your concerns about what we might be seeing five or 10 years from now?
RENE DE SANT’ANNA: Definitely long term impacts would be depression and psychosis. Also the other issue for society is this whole normalisation of the drug actually becoming popular and normalised in our culture.
SIMON LAUDER: While the ice trend has the paramedics, hospitals and drug counsellors concerned this year, it’s a long way from being their biggest problem.
As always, the number of people who need an ambulance because of alcohol far outstrips anything else and the report released today shows callouts for alcohol related harm increased by 27 per cent in the past year.
PETER LLOYD: Simon Lauder.