Ice, or crystal methamphetamine, is a highly addictive drug.
Use of the drug “ice” is becoming more common among the most hard-core, disadvantaged drug users but is decreasing among more casual drug users, data shows.
Two research papers released by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) on Wednesday show the differences in the ways drug users are engaging with the drug ice, which is a form of crystallised methamphetamine.
The papers track drug use by following groups of “sentinel” drug users: people who are known to inject drugs already and another group who regularly use ecstasy or similar drugs.
They found that injecting drug users were increasingly abandoning the powdered form of amphetamines, often called “speed”, and replacing it with ice – although heroin was still by far their drug of choice, and those who used it were using it more regularly.
And even among this group, which tended to be more disadvantaged than other drug users, people who used ice were more likely to have been in prison or had other risky behaviours such as sharing needles.
“They’re also reporting more mental health problems and psychological distress,” said NDARC research fellow Courtney Breen. “They’re a profile of a more risky group”.
And this increased ice use was clearly having an effect, with data showing more people were ending up in hospital because of ice, and more lives were being lost than ever before.
NDARC director Michael Farrell said increased seizures of ice also showed it was increasing in strength and purity.
“We think that this, for people who are injecting drugs, [is] presenting new and more complex problems,” he said.
Professor Farrell said Australia was seeing an increase in ice use while countries in Europe were not.
This could be down to the fact it was being produced in “industrial quantities” in south-east Asia.
“Australia remains pretty much a sitting target for marketing and implementation.”
Yet despite all this, among ecstasy users amphetamine use was at record lows while ice use specifically had declined over the past three years.
This group of regular drug users was far more likely to be employed, were younger, and were more likely to have a university degree.
While in 2003 84 per cent of the ecstasy users reported methamphetamine use, by 2015 this had fallen to 38 per cent. For ice use numbers had fallen from 36 per cent to 3 per cent.