Australia is known to the world as a happy, friendly and prosperous country, but its problem with crystal meth, or “ice,” is so profound that a former prime minister called it a menace to the nation. This issue manifests among all groups, from teens to urbanites to Aboriginals and country folk. And because ice is an especially harmful drug that causes extreme physical and mental decay, its abuse creates unmeasurable disasters on a personal and social level.
Recent surge in meth abuse
One sign of the seriousness of the problem lies in statistics counted over the decade ending in 2015. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, during that period the percentage of addicts seeking help for methamphetamine abuse rose from 9% to 20%. Further, over six-tenths of those were abusing other substances at the same time, which complicated their situation and treatment.
Why people choose ice
The glamour of ice leads many to try it. When it’s ingested, it gives a sensation of great energy, pleasure and clarity of thought. This occurs due to a huge increase in dopamine, the chemical that is naturally released into the body as a reward for certain types of behavior. Heart rate, breathing rate and sexual drive all intensify as the drug is absorbed. This can last for half a day, so the high is prolonged and deep. It’s the comedown that’s tough: exhaustion, mental fatigue, depression, headaches, and even paranoia are some of the symptoms.
The physical and mental destruction ice wreaks
The potency of crystal meth is illustrated in one anonymous man’s story. This Australian from a disadvantaged background began making the drug in a makeshift lab (a common method of production) at the age of 15 for a biker gang, who had recruited him four years earlier. The lab lacked proper ventilation, and the fumes were nauseating. He began to vomit blood and had extreme cramps and muscle pains. Frightening hallucinations also started. By the time he turned 19, he had early-onset arthritis and chronic dislocation of his eroded joints. The severe toxicity of the fumes explains how actual ingestion of the drug causes people to age greatly and suffer extreme degradation in skin and facial appearance. But these terrifying results aren’t enough to stop addicts from going in too deep.
Sailors also vulnerable to meth abuse
It’s not just the typically disadvantaged people who abuse it, either. A cluster of suicides at the Australian Navy base HMS Stirling were clearly linked to abuse of ice and alcohol. Sailors were working in stressful conditions and not following normal routines, and binge drinking and crystal meth abuse became common. Ice was easy to access in the area, so the sailors had no trouble finding it. The families of the dead blame the navy culture for promoting substance abuse and not taking treatment or diagnosis seriously enough to intervene in time when sailors were clearly troubled.
Victoria responds to the crisis
With all this evidence of a deep-rooted problem, governments are not standing by. The government of Victoria formed a task force to address ice abuse and dedicated AUD 18 million to create rehab facilities for addicts. 80,000 residents of the state had used ice within a single year recently, partly due to an almost-sixfold increase between 2004 and 2013 in the number of illegal labs that made it. Still, only 500 Victorians gained access to treatment as a result of the new financial resources dedicated to the cause.
Ice abuse also causes crime to rise as those who are high on it can attack property or people. In fact, Victoria plans to create a strategy to protect police, nurses and other professionals from such attacks. Other measures include a hotline for families and abusers and more resources dedicated to identifying and shutting down the illegal ice labs.
A holistic therapy shows promise
Any therapy for such a dangerous and difficult drug must be well thought out, and this program in Hoppers Crossing, Australia aims to conquer the issue with a holistic approach. In the morning, those being treated take lessons on how to handle conflicts and how to create a new self-identity. They also learn practical skills. In the afternoon they work in specially assigned jobs. Three-quarters of those who successfully made it through the program experienced profound transformations in their lives, according to its director. This method of treatment is now spreading across the country.
Nevertheless, considering how easy it is to get ice, even if you’re a high school student, and how addictive and popular it’s become, Australia faces a long road to eliminating the drug. Many abusers, law enforcement officials and rehab workers believe that the country is in the throes of an ice boom, and the full effects won’t be clear for some time.