A huge spike in the availability and use of the drug ice is causing alarm across the country.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says ice is “evil”, and on March 5 he announced $46 million in new funding to treat and rehabilitate addicts.
Announcing the funding, Mr Andrews said that a large number of Victorians were taking the drug.
“Our recent data shows about 80,000 Victorians used ice in the previous year,” he told reporters.
What is ice?
Methamphetamine is a man-made stimulant drug which is a more potent form of the drug amphetamine. It was first synthesized in 1918 and used during World War II.
A report published on March 25 by the Australian Crime Commission, The Australian Methamphetamine Market. says amphetamine-type stimulants, such as methamphetamine, are the second most widely used illicit drug in the world after cannabis. Crime groups in China, Burma, Indonesia, Mexico and Iran are among the world’s largest producers of methamphetamine.
The drug comes in a number of forms but is primarily known for two:
- Speed is methamphetamine in powder or pill form
- Ice is methamphetamine in a crystalline or crystal form
The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey released in July 2014 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says ice is the purer form of methamphetamine and the “high” experienced from ice is much more intense than from other forms of the drug.
This intensity causes powerful responses from the user and the potential for addiction is much higher, the report says.
Associate Professor Peter Miller from Deakin University told Fact Check the surge in use of ice is “a huge concern because it causes greater psychological and physiological problems in people who use it”.
He says the high purity generally allows people to stay awake longer and consume more drugs which can cause many more problems.
Ice users increasing
The report of the national survey, conducted in the second half of 2013, estimates that 2.1 per cent of Australians aged 14 and over used methamphetamines in the previous 12 months.
While the report says methamphetamine use has been stable over the past three years, there has been a change in the way the drug is being taken. Ice has replaced powder as the main form for taking methamphetamines, its proportion more than doubling from 2010 to 2013.
At the same time the number of people using speed as the main form of taking methamphetamines decreased significantly. Its proportion dropped from 51 per cent to 29 per cent over the same period.
The report says: “Methamphetamine users who mainly used ice were far more likely to use ice on a regular basis with one-quarter (25 per cent) using it at least weekly compared with only 2.2 per cent of those who mainly used powder.”
Why is ice use increasing?
Traditionally ice has been supplied from labs within Australia, but since 2010 there has been a considerable increase in the amount being seized at the borders, indicating organized crime is at play, according to the Australian Crime Commission’s report.
Associate Professor Miller says when a drug becomes cheap, available and strong, people will use it.
What are the numbers of Victorian users?
Mr Andrews’s office told Fact Check that he was basing his numbers on the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.
Dr Brendan Quinn from the Burnet Institute told Fact Check the survey had the most up-to-date data available on methamphetamine use.
The survey says 1.9 per cent of the Victorian population aged 14 and over used methamphetamines in the previous 12 months. This is slightly below the national average of 2.1 per cent.
The survey breaks users into categories based on which drug they usually take. The different forms of the drug include powder, crystal, tablet, capsules and prescription amphetamines.
To get an estimate for the number of people who mainly used ice, Fact Check took population estimates for Victoria published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2013 for the same time period when the AIHW collated its survey data.
The ABS estimate in June 2013 for the Victorian population aged 14 years and above was 4,750,990.
On this basis the estimated number of all methamphetamine users, 1.9 percent of this number, would be 90,269.
The 2013 survey says under half of all Victorians who used methamphetamines – 43.9 per cent – mainly took them in the form of ice.
This means an estimated 39,628 Victorians took methamphetamine mainly in the form of ice in the year before the survey.
Are the figures reliable?
Associate Professor Miller says the survey response rate for young and often aggressive drug users is not good, making the number of users in the 2013 report very likely to be under-represented. He says this is a common problem with drug surveys.
Dr Quinn says while there are other studies that look at users in particular communities, there are no good figures for ice users in Victoria apart from the AIHW survey.
However the data from the survey does not say exactly how many people used ice. It only asks respondents: “In the last 12 months, what was the main form of meth/amphetamine that you used?”
This does not identify a definitive number of users.
The Premier’s response
A spokesman from Mr Andrews’s office said he used the figure from the survey that roughly 2 per cent of Victorians aged 14 and over used methamphetamines. This figure was about 90,000 in 2013 by Fact Check’s calculation.
When asked whether Mr Andrews had taken into consideration that only 44 per cent of these people had primarily used ice, the spokesman said experts told the Premier’s office that drug users often use more than one form of the drug.
Dr Quinn said everyone who uses methamphetamines does not use ice, and said the 80,000 figure used by Mr Andrews “was an overestimate” based on the figures from the 2013 household survey.
While it is known that ice is more readily available and more people are using the substance, it’s impossible to know the number of Victorians who used the drug in the last year. The data is simply not available.
However the best data available says roughly 90,000 Victorians used methamphetamine in the last year. It appears unlikely that 8 out of 9 of these people used ice. The figure used by Mr Andrews is rubbery.
- Daniel Andrews, Press conference, March 5, 2015
- Daniel Andrew, Press release: Ice Action Plan, March 5, 2015
- druginfo@yourlibrary, Ice, Speed & other methamphetamines
- Australian Crime Commission report: The Australian Methylamphetamine Market, March 25, 2015
- National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report: 2013, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
- Australian Demographic Statistics June 2013, Australian Bureau of Statistics