Adelaide is the world’s meth capital, according to a recent study. (Image source: Anthonycramp)
By Stephen Galvin
Adelaide has been recorded as having the highest methamphetamine use in the world.
A study undertaken by the journal Addiction, which studied wastewater from 120 cities across Australia and the world, has found that Adelaide uses ‘ice’ at a rate of up to 659 milligrams per 1,000 people each day – compared with just 270 milligrams in Canberra. In simpler terms, that equates to about 80 doses per 1,000 persons per day being used in Adelaide, compared to the national average of 30 doses per 1,000 persons per day.
The closest city to Adelaide’s rate was Seattle, which recorded 418 milligrams – a difference of over 60 per cent less than Adelaide.
The numbers are even worse now during COVID-19, with record high drug consumption (including methamphetamine, as well as heroin, cocaine, and cannabis) reported across all of Australia by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program.
Crystal methamphetamine, or ‘ice’, has long been decried as being a blight on society by academics, politicians, the police, as well as – most likely – your friends and family while you’re sitting at the dinner table.
The South Australian Network of Drug and Alcohol Services (SANDAS) published an alarming report that stated “smoking of crystal methamphetamine is viewed by some users as a recreational drug, similar to MDMA… however people had become regular users, and dependent on the drug in a much shorter period of time than with other drugs”.
Crystal methamphetamine is in no way a ‘recreational drug’, in the same vein as other drugs – it has been documented as having an extremely adverse effect on users’ mental health (with drug-induced psychosis being common), affecting the physical health of users, negative effects on users’ relationships, difficulty in obtaining and keeping a job, and having access to housing.
The insidious nature of the drug – in the way that it is presented to potential consumers – makes it incredibly hard to counteract. SANDAS posits that most users start consuming the drug by either eating it, snorting it, or smoking it; this method of use makes it easier for users of other drugs to make the jump to methamphetamine, as they are already familiar with taking other drugs the same way, and can avoid the stigma associated with injecting drugs.
Some people may even be introduced to the drug without even realising it – ecstasy pills are commonly ‘cut’ with methamphetamine (according to eClipse).
South Australia’s Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Stephen Wade, said the drug takes “a devastating toll on both the physical and mental health on those who use the drug and their family and friends”.
“This [methamphetamine epidemic] requires effective health systems responses,” Minister Wade said.
“That is why the State Government is investing millions in alcohol and drug treatment services across the state.
“These include funding non-government organisations to provide rehabilitation beds across the state, including 18 beds in regional South Australia, as well as ensuring people have access to outpatient treatment appointments in various metropolitan and country locations.”
Combating the production and supply of crystal methamphetamine is incredibly difficult – SANDAS reported that because is it produced both locally, and imported, as well as the ease in which it can be manufactured (it requires only rudimentary chemistry knowledge and basic equipment) small scale production can be undertaken almost anywhere, and stopping one supplier may just open up opportunities for others.
In response, Minister Wade said “we must take a multi-pronged approach addressing both supply, through the justice system, and demand, through health and education”.
Minister Wade neglected to comment further on what a ‘multi-pronged’ approach would entail.
Shadow Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Chris Picton, slammed the government’s action (or lack thereof) on their handling of the ongoing methamphetamine epidemic, saying, “We know that, sadly, South Australia has the worst figures in the country, yet what we see from the government is no action, and the problem is just getting worse, and they’ve got no proposed solutions, no programs, no action – very different to what they promised”.
“They’ve [the Liberal government] done very little; they promised before the last election that they were going to have, in their words, a war on drugs,” Shadow Minister Picton said.
“But there’s been so little action taken on this in the past two and a half years.”
On the issue of rehabilitation centres, the Shadow Minister derided the lack of action taken, saying, “At the moment what we are seeing is all of those [rehabilitation] programs right across the community are overwhelmed”.
“What we have at the moment is a lack of availability of all types of treatment, of all types of rehabilitation,” Shadow Minister Picton said.
He declined to comment on how a Labor government would approach any of these issues – simply saying, “We will be making those announcements in the lead up to the next election”.
The Shadow Minister did, however, completely rule out adopting any sort of legislation like the US state of Oregon, or Portugal, where hard drugs have been decriminalised. Portugal did so in 2001, and has since lowered its national HIV rate, drug use has declined among those aged 15-24 (the population most at risk of initiating drug use), and the government has saved money, as court systems are no longer clogged up with drug users who have been arrested for a possessing a personal quantity of a drug.
While South Australia has already decriminalised cannabis (possessing anything below 28 grams is simply met with an expiation notice, and does not attract a criminal conviction), Shadow Minister Picton described them as being “completely different drugs”. This may be the case in some ways, but cannabis, like crystal methamphetamine has been proven to have adverse effects on mental health – it can increase anxiety, cause drug-induced psychosis, as well as trigger schizophrenia in individuals who are predisposed to developing it.
So, the question is, why is one decriminalised and one is not? Why, when politicians can look at the positive effects that the decriminalisation of all drugs has had on the country of Portugal, do the government and politicians ignore it? Instead of spending money on putting people through the court system when they were only caught with a personal quantity, why does the government not send them to a rehabilitation centre?
One of the most successful rehabilitation programs for methamphetamine addicts in SA is the Matrix Program, ran by PsychMed.
Developed over the course of 30 years, the program is modelled on programs ran in the United States for methamphetamine and cocaine addiction.
It runs for 16 weeks, three times a year, across four different locations – the southern suburbs, the northern suburbs, the Riverland, and the city.
Incorporating group therapy, individual sessions with psychologists and trained substance abuse counsellors, and 12-step programs, PsychMed calls the Matrix Program “the gold standard therapeutic approach for methamphetamine dependence”.
The program is open to anyone who has become dependent on methamphetamine and has not used for three weeks. To determine eligibility to be accepted into the program, participants must undergo an assessment and must meet the DSM5 criteria for severe stimulant use disorder in the past three years; this is because they only have a limited number of staff and funding.
There is no age restriction or cost to attend the program.
The Matrix Program has a staggering success rate – with clinics averaging between 55-70 per cent remission rate, compared with an average remission rate of 20-30 percent in other Adelaide-based rehabilitation programs.
On the subject of directing more government funds to The Matrix Program if Labor is elected into power at the next election, Shadow Minister Picton declined to comment if he would look into funding it more, but said “ultimately what treatment somebody should embark upon should be determined by doctors or other health care professionals, not by politicians”.
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Originally published in The Junction.