A new response phase to crystal methamphetamine?

March 2017
Professor Ann Roche, NCETA

Are we entering a new response phase to crystal methamphetamine?  Over the past two to three years, Australia has experienced unparalleled levels of concern and attention focussed on the drug crystal methamphetamine. The media in particular has directed extensive coverage to the issue – not always from the most balanced and considered perspectives. Politicians and policy makers have also been heavily engaged around this issue. We have seen several national enquiries as well as a number of jurisdictional taskforces set up to conduct community consultations, investigate and explore response options. The latest of these being in South Australia (currently underway) and Queensland (flagging a similar approach). The roll out of responses from the National Ice Task Force is also getting underway.

The previous levels of often near hysteria, justified or not, seem to be morphing into more sober, reflective, evidence-based and practical strategies.  All indications are that levels of crystal methamphetamine use will continue to increase into the foreseeable future, including: high levels of interdiction of overseas supply (now the main source of most crystal methamphetamine); increasing presentations to generic health services; the thin-on-the-ground-AOD-specialist treatment services are experiencing unprecedented demand; and waste water data analyses show substantial escalations.  All in all, the trend is upward.

There is every reason for concern.  Previous efforts to dampen stigmatising rhetoric and exaggeration of this drug’s effects by downplaying the extent of the problem are now being recast to some extent. The reality is that we are confronting significant and potentially expanding problems associated with crystal methamphetamine. It is crucially important however that this concern is constructive and that it drives appropriate responses.

The temptation to yield to pressure to implement popular but ineffective and potentially counter-productive strategies needs to be resisted. Importantly, such efforts need to be identified and challenged. In the current climate where there is an appetite for anti-science and legitimatisation of evidence free zones it is more important than ever that the AOD sector rallies to mobilise decades of knowledge, experience and understanding of the complex phenomenon of drug use. This can be hard call for a sector that has suffered serious resourcing cutbacks and is feeling under considerable pressure if not daunted by the growing demands.   Nevertheless, there is an imperative to ensure that the best possible prevention and intervention response options are made available to communities and families across Australia. It is also a time to not only galvanise support around our effective treatments (and treatment for methamphetamine is effective) and interventions but to also explore well thought-through innovations and consider creative but measured options.