21 Apr New, Deadly Crystal Meth Fuels Epidemic in Australia
In a storyline that seems straight out of a movie, outlaw biker gangs have been invading the rural areas of Australia, recruiting local children and adolescents to produce and sell methamphetamine on the illegal drug market. The Australian hinterlands are seen as safe territory for these criminal organizations, and they are working hard to spread the infection of meth addiction all across the land. These Hells Angels-style wannabes have also formed cooperative relationships with international drug cartels operating out of China, Iran and West Africa, importing even more crystal meth into a nation that has suddenly found itself in the middle of a drug-related public health calamity.
In the largest regional hospitals and the humblest local clinics, from the prime minister’s headquarters to the offices of local mayors, Australian political and medical authorities are in a tizzy over the effects that crystal methamphetamine use is having on the nation’s citizens and in its communities. Strictly speaking, what the country is experiencing cannot be classified as an epidemic in the purest sense: in 2013 only 2.1 percent of Australians aged 14 or older admitted to trying crystal meth—most commonly referred to as “ice” in the Australian vernacular—within the past 12 months. This percentage hasn’t changed noticeably in the last decade, so the volume of ice users on the continent is not rising despite a broad public outcry about the ravages being caused by this dangerous drug.
But before anyone concludes that Australia’s crystal meth problem is more hype than substance, it must be understood that there is a big difference between methamphetamine use and methamphetamine abuse, and it is in the latter category where Australia is truly under siege. Chemical analysis of the methamphetamine currently hitting the market reveals that manufacturers are reaching a level of efficiency in production. The crystal meth passing through Australia’s illicit drug channels is three to four times more pure than the product in circulation 10 to 15 years ago, and it is the strength of this new meth that appears to be causing much of the trouble.
Australia’s crystal meth consumers are now smoking or injecting a product that is far more potent and addictive than had previously been the case. And because improvements in purity have not been accompanied by a price increase—when adjusted for inflation the price for a gram of ice has remained stable—per-capita consumption among enthusiasts has not declined. In fact, just the opposite has been happening: Australians who try crystal meth are becoming addicted faster and more frequently than ever before, and to feed their turbo-charged habits they are buying and consuming larger amounts of the drug than meth abusers of a generation past.
So what Australia is experiencing can be correctly described as an epidemic of crystal meth abuse, even if the sheer number of users hasn’t changed much in recent years. In the state of Victoria, for example, which is home to approximately 25 percent of the continent’s population, the number of ambulance calls related to amphetamine and/or methamphetamine abuse jumped by 88 percent in metropolitan Melbourne and 198 in its outlying areas, all in a one-year period ending in 2013. Overdose deaths in Victoria caused by this class of drugs have risen as well—from 13 in 2010 to 50 in 2013—and public health officials know crystal meth is to blame for these alarming statistics. The bottom line is that the two-plus percent of Australians who choose to smoke or inject ice are putting themselves at grave risk of addiction, overdose and a whole host of other serious health problems.
Methamphetamine in Australia Threatens an Era of Darkness
The movement of meth dealers into rural areas is especially ominous and frightening, since clinics and hospitals are relatively scarce and drug rehabilitation services are lacking in these more sparsely populated locales. Already Australia’s small towns and rural districts are being overwhelmed by the severity of the growing meth problem, and with the drug gangs targeting the youth market in particular, health authorities fear that a whole rural generation may be lost. This may seem like hyperbole, but with so many high-achieving young people voluntarily leaving these regions for the universities and bigger cities, the health and welfare of those staying behind is vital to the socioeconomic future of these struggling areas.
Australia was caught unprepared for this crisis, and that is perhaps why some of the publicity the country’s meth problem has been receiving has seemed somewhat overwrought. But without fast action there really is no telling how bad the problem might eventually become, since 2 percent of a population of 24 million represents almost a half-million people who are putting themselves in harm’s way by messing around with crystal meth. Increased funding for drug treatment and rehabilitation in less populous areas might be the most important step that needs to be taken, and it will also be up to legislators at the state and federal levels to make sure local police departments have the resources required to combat the drug gangs bringing crime and addiction into their jurisdictions.
Methamphetamine is one of the most pernicious illegal drugs, and it is discouraging to see it gaining a greater foothold on the Australian continent. Authorities there may get a handle on this problem eventually, but until they do crystal meth will continue to wreck lives, families and futures in the Land Down Under, just as it already has in so many other locations.
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