Professor Paul Dietze presenting at the NCETA National Methamphetamine Symposium
The so-called ‘ice crisis’ in Victoria has more to do with an increase in methamphetamine purity than an explosion of its use in the general community, according to Burnet Institute researcher, Professor Paul Dietze.
In a broad-ranging address to the recent NCETA National Methamphetamine Symposium in Melbourne, Professor Dietze said the popular media representation of a meth ‘epidemic’ was misleading and potentially counterproductive.
“We know there hasn’t been any real indication of increase in methamphetamine use in the general population,” Professor Dietze, Head of Alcohol and other Drug Research, Centre for Population Health, said.
“In the National Drug Strategy Household Survey it’s been pretty stable for a while.
“We don’t have an epidemic of use in the sense of there being an explosion of use within the general community … but we have an epidemic of harm.
“This epidemic of harm does seem to be happening, and this increase is real … because of a dramatic increase in purity.”
Analysis of methamphetamine seizures made by Victoria Police from July 2013 to June 2014 shows a dramatic increase in purity, particularly in seizures of less than one gram, which people are ‘using’ rather than trafficking.
“There has been a major increase in purity, and that’s bound to have an impact on people who are purchasing at the same size,” Professor Dietze said.
“People generally purchase methamphetamine in points and they’re getting dramatically more for that dose.
“Price is important as well, and price has got up a little in Victoria, but it hasn’t gone up anywhere near as much as the purity.”
Professor Dietze said that while the general trend to increased purity is clear, the level of methamphetamine purity varies enormously from supplier to supplier, with significant implications for the user.
“If you end up getting the methamphetamine from a different supply source, from one time to the next you can get a four of five-fold difference in the amount of drug that you’re actually ingesting,” Professor Dietze said.
“That can have a huge impact on the experience you’re going to have.”
Professor Dietze said more resources are required to support injecting drug users through needle and syringe programs (NSPs) to reduce blood-borne virus transmission.
“We know a lot of people who are using methamphetamine inject the drug, and they are possibly the ones who are experiencing most of the harm,” Professor Dietze said.
“How well are we actually servicing those people?
“We know NSPs are effective; we need to be investing in them more; we need to be thinking of vending machines.
“In Victoria we’ve started to move in this direction and we’re a number of years behind other states, but other states will be thinking we need to be targeting regional areas more effectively with them.
“Vending machines are a useful way of removing stigma that might go with trying to collect clean injecting equipment in small regional centres.”
Professor Dietze and Dr Brendan Quinn review the latest ice awareness campaign for The Conversation.