ACT News

Drug experts warn of increasing ice threat in Canberra

Rehabilitation and drug experts from across the ACT are warning that more Canberrans are seeking treatment for dependence on ice or crystal methamphetamine as the purity and strength of the drug increases. 

Camilla Rowland, the chief executive of the Karralika drug outreach program, said the number of people seeking treatment from her organisation for ice use had increased during the past 12 months and was expected to continue rising. 

"We have seen a significant increase in the proportion of people coming to us seeking treatment who have identified methamphetamines as their primary drug of concern," she said.

The proportion of people seeking treatment for ice use with Karralika increased from 15 per cent during 2012-13 to 30 per cent during 2013-14, which almost equalled the number of people seeking treatment for alcohol.

"For many years, alcohol has been identified as the primary drug of concern by the majority of people – which is consistent with the ACT and national data," said Ms Rowland. 

Major Scott Warrington from the Salvation Army rehabilitation centre in Fyshwick said he had also noticed an increase in people seeking treatment for ice or methamphetamines due to an increase in the quality of the drugs and associated harms. 

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"There has always been an issue with people using methamphetamines but the quality of the drug has risen to the point where we are seeing greater harm to users and families," he said.

Of the 218 people treated for drug and alcohol problems at Fyshwick centre during the last 12 months, 22 per cent listed amphetamines as their primary drug while 35 per cent said they had used amphetamines among other drugs. 

Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT executive officer Carrie Fowler said it was clear drug users had changed how they consume methamphetamine, however overall consumption was not necessarily increasing in the ACT.

"Nationally, all indicators say there are changes in methamphetamine use and harms and that's what the ACT services are saying," she said. 

"There has been a rapid change in drug use shifting towards to the use of methamphetamines in crystal forms and consequently a lot more harm being experienced by the user."

Major Warrington said there was now a higher rate of families calling in to ask for help as their children displayed behaviours that they weren't raised with.

"We're seeing a more desperate plea from families and multi-generational families trying to help their sons and daughters as their situations become more desperate "

Major Warrington said as the purity and quality of ice has increased, so too has the number of violent incidents and mental health problems in communities.

Earlier this year, a study led by ANU researcher Dr Rebecca McKetin found a direct link between the use of ice and violence.

After studying 278 chronic users of methamphetamine, Dr McKetin and fellow researchers found only 10 per cent of users were violent when not taking the drug, although 60 per cent were violent when using ice often. 

"It is clear that this risk is in addition to any pre-existing tendency that the person has towards violence," she said.

"Heavy ice use alters the chemicals in the brain that are responsible for controlling emotions like aggression."

Earlier this month, the Victorian government tasked a committee to make recommendations on how to tackle what has been described as an "epidemic" of people abandoning street drugs for more concentrated methamphetamines. 

The report found the purity of crystal methamphetamine had increased over the past two years across the nation, which in turn exacerbated the drug's harmful effects.

"It is this shift in use which could account for the increase in the extent of harms reported by the community," read the report. 

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