Australians Are Seeking Ice Treatment in Record Numbers

It's now the second most-treated addiction in Australia, after alcohol.

by Maddison Connaughton
28 June 2017, 3:54am

New research released Wednesday reveals the number of Australians seeking treatment for amphetamines has nearly doubled since 2013. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) amphetamine treatment overtook cannabis for the first time last year, and now makes up 23 percent of the 206,635 "treatment episodes" in Australia. But alcohol abuse remains the most-treated issue by far, at 32 percent.

The Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2015–16 report shows the latest jump is just part of a longer term rise in amphetamine treatment in Australia, which is up 63 percent since 2006. Over this time, ice became the most-used form of amphetamines for people seeking treatment, as opposed to speed or dexamphetamine. More people are now smoking and injecting amphetamines than in earlier years.

The report paints a picture of the "typical" person who's seeking treatment for ice addiction: they are most likely to be between 20-39 years old, and male. In fact, more than two-thirds of people who sought treatment for amphetamines were men, which is in line with the split for all drug treatment.

Professor Dan Lubman, director of alcohol and drug centre Turning Point, says these results are not surprising. "A decade ago it was much more concern around cannabis and opiates," he explains. "But presentations to ambulances, calls to police and health services around methamphetamine have grown enormously over the past five years."

However, Professor Lubman says it might not just be that more people are using ice. Growing media coverage and government focus on the ice issue could be driving more people to seek treatment themselves. In the report, most people seeking treatment referred themselves. Only around 18 percent came into treatment through diversion programs.

"Drug use is still highly stigmatised in the population, it's still very much seen as a moral issue or immoral issue... there's not much empathy. So it can be up to a decade before people actually seek help," Professor Lubman explains. "But there's a growing recognition in the community that this is an issue." And people who bring themselves in for treatment are much more likely to finish the whole course, rather than leaving unexpectedly, which happens around a quarter of the time.

Does that mean the government's intense anti-ice ads are working? Well, not really. Professor Lubman says people talking more openly about their own drug issues and positive media coverage of drug treatment are effective. "But it's still highly stigmatised, there's a delay in health seeking, and it's not helped by government campaigns that further stigmatise drug addiction," he says. "There's still a long way to go though, in terms of changing the reporting of drug treatment in the media and in government messaging.

There has been some additional funding for treatment; however, if you live outside the major cities there remains few options. Only four percent of treatment services in Australia are in remote areas. Professor Lubman says there are also significant gaps in the treatment for complex cases—such as people seeking help who are also struggling with mental health issues. "But we've done a lot of research that shows treatment works," he says. "There is treatment available, and treatment does work."

Nationally, some 134,000 people received drug and alcohol treatment in Australia in 2015-16. This works out to about 1 in every 180 people. This was an 11 percent increase on the year before.

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