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A New Study Shows Meth Can Kill You in Unexpected Ways

Users are more likely to die of heart disease than by violence.
Illustration by Ashley Goodall

What if you were reading this… in an email? Keep up to date with VICE and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. A new study released Monday by Australia's National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) shows national rates of methamphetamine-related deaths have doubled between 2009 and 2015, and that 40 percent of these deaths occurred in rural and regional areas outside of major capital cities. The research also highlights the different and unexpected ways ice can kill its users. Published in Addiction journal, the research considers the rates, characteristics, and circumstances of methamphetamine-related death in Australia using statistics from the National Coronial Information System. Researchers found that while the leading cause of methamphetamine-related death in Australia was toxic overdose, this was closely followed by death by natural diseases (many of which were cardiovascular) associated with repeated methamphetamine use. Around 18 percent of deaths were by suicide, often by hanging, and around 15 percent of deaths were attributed to accidents caused by disorientation and psychosis, and hundreds of these accidents took place in vehicles. Only 1.5 percent of meth user deaths were attributed to homicide.


In its accompanying media release, the report's lead researcher Professor Shane Darke said it was important the public paid attention to some lesser known aspects of methamphetamine addiction. "To see such large and significant increases in mortality rates over the study period indicates a major methamphetamine problem," he said. "With so much public attention focused on violence, many users may be unaware that heart disease is a major factor in methamphetamine-related death." Also of particular concern to Darke is the relationship between methamphetamine use and suicide. The study shows how suicide accounted for 300 methamphetamine-related deaths, and that men and women users both suicided violently—often by hanging. This is unusual: in the general population, men are likelier to suicide violently and women more quietly. "In this series, suicide by violent means (most prominently hanging) was the main method used by both genders," Darke said. "The impulsivity and disinhibition associated with methamphetamine intoxication may be a factor. Health professionals need to be aware of the prominent role of violent suicide and take appropriate steps to monitor methamphetamine users." An earlier report released in June by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed that Australians are seeking ice treatment in record numbers. Amphetamine treatment overtook cannabis for the first time in 2016, to become the second-most treated substance in Australia after alcohol.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact your local headspace office, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. A listing of similar helplines in other countries can be found here.

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