New South Wales police have called a recent drug bust in the north of the state a small victory in the ongoing war against the drug ‘ice’.
Last week, police, arrested a 42-year old man and charged him with six offences including: one count of supplying a prohibited drug greater than a commercial quantity; two counts of supplying a prohibited drug and three counts of drug supply greater than indictable quantity.
The man’s arrest was the culmination of a nine-month investigation called Strike Force Cheddar, which targets the commercial supply of ice throughout the Richmond area.
Despite the bust, police acknowledge they are fighting an uphill battle against the use of ice, which has tripled over the past five years.
A new study published in the Medical Journal of Australia suggests there are 268,000 regular and dependent methamphetamine users in Australia, compared to about 90,000 users five years ago.
And more young people are turning to the drug: users in the 15 to 24 age group has more than doubled – from about 21,000 five years ago to 59,000 users now. It is in this group where the greatest hope of intervention lies, with prevention and diversion strategies working best on younger users.
In light of the figures, experts are warning that Australia could be headed for a crisis similar to the one posed by heroin in the 1990s, which killed thousands of young people and caused long term addiction problems for many more.
Young people in rural areas are at the highest risk of exposure to ice, with use in country towns double that of metropolitan areas.
Many rural areas have high rates of unemployment, less opportunities for education and training, higher levels of depression and other mental health issues – all of which are risk factors to drug use.
To support the habit, users often turn to dealing drugs themselves.
Crystal methamphetamine, or ice, is a stimulant drug which speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and the body. It is stronger, more addictive and is said to have more harmful side effects than powdered forms of methamphetamine, such as speed. 1
Ice usually comes as small, chunky, clear crystals that look like ice. It can also come as white or brownish crystal-like powder with a strong smell and bitter taste.1It is also known as shabu, crystal, glass, shard, and P.2
The drug is generally smoked or injected, but it can also be swallowed or snorted. The effects last for around 6 hours, although ‘coming down’ can take several days. The drug has been linked to extreme agitation, and high doses or frequent use can cause ‘ice psychosis’ – paranoid delusions, hallucinations and bizarre, aggressive and violent behaviour.
Experts believe that simply criminalising and punishing drug users does little to deter drug use. Most argue drug use should be seen as a health issue rather than a criminal law problem, and that dealing with addiction requires a multi-faceted approach across a range of areas: parents and families, educators, health practitioners, social workers, and the wider community.