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‘Ice Epidemic?’ How increased purity of crystal meth explains Victoria’s rising methamphetamine related harms

Tracy Parish

14 October, 2014

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The purity of crystal meth has risen dramatically in Victoria.

A dramatic increase in the purity of crystal methamphetamine may explain why methamphetamine-related harms have increased in Victoria, a series of Burnet Institute studies has shown.

A study published in Addiction, ‘High-frequency drug purity and price series as tools for explaining drug trends and harms in Victoria, Australia’, has identified a sharp rise in the purity of crystal methamphetamine available to users from January 2009 - June 2013.

Combining data from Burnet Institute’s Melbourne Injecting Drug Use Cohort Study (MIX) and Victoria Police Forensic Services Department (VPFSD), shows that the average purity of crystal methamphetamine seizures increased from 21 percent to 64 percent, but consumers still bought the same quantity.

Burnet researcher Dr Brendan Quinn will present some of the findings at the 2014 Australian Drugs Conference - Ice & Altered Realities in Melbourne.

Dr Quinn said the increase in purity means that people get more drug from what is their usual purchase.

“Our data suggests that the people are paying a little more for the typical amount they’ve been using. However, the purity of what they buy is dramatically higher than a few years ago. If you are using a typical amount but the drug has a much higher strength, this can lead potentially to harm,” he said.

“This increased purity probably underpins the increases in harms that we’ve been seeing in Victoria. It’s likely that these harms are being experienced by a group of people who have been using the drug for some time.”

Burnet’s Head of Alcohol and other Drug Research and one the study’s authors, Professor Paul Dietze, said forthcoming work in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health shows that the prevalence of methamphetamine use has been mostly stable in Victoria across three different surveillance systems since 2008.

“Our findings are consistent with the National Drug Strategy Household Survey that shows that there is no widespread increase in methamphetamine use despite heightened community concern across Victoria. Instead, what we’re seeing is the effects of high purity methamphetamine among a small group of people, with much less than two percent of the population at serious risk,” Professor Dietze said.

“This has implications for the sorts of interventions we need. Instead of broad-based population wide strategies we need strategies to better equip those who on the front line who come into contact with people affected by the drug.”

Data from the MIX study also highlights that, in contrast to crystal methamphetamine, heroin purity, purity variation and harms have remained stable between 2009 and mid-2013.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Paul Dietze

Program Director, Behaviours and Health Risks

Telephone

+61392822134

Email

paul.dietze@burnet.edu.au

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