Need for speed is greater than heroin
By Ruth Pollard Health Reporter
July 28 2005
The number of people in NSW dependent on methamphetamine, such as speed, far exceeds dependent heroin users.
This has increased the demand for drug-treatment services and placed further pressure on emergency workers.
A study released today by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW finds that methamphetamine use is at a peak, at a similar level to heroin use in the mid-to-late 1990s. "We tended to think of methamphetamine as a recreational drug … we have never really had a good handle on how big the problem is," said the study's lead researcher, Rebecca McKetin. "This shows it is a sizeable problem."
The study found use of the common form of methamphetamine, known as speed, was very high, with one in 10 people reporting to have taken the drug.
Because most of the users inject the drug, the transmission of blood-borne infections such as hepatitis C and HIV was a strong risk, Dr McKetin told the Herald.
The side effects of prolonged use, including psychosis and violence, mean that mental health workers, police, emergency hospital departments and ambulance officers are increasingly confronted with difficult situations.
Dr McKetin said the growing popularity of the higher purity form of methamphetamine - known as ice, or crystal - also meant increasing incidents of psychosis in frequent users.
In NSW there were an estimated 19,900 regular heroin users, compared with estimates of 36,900 regular methamphetamine users, the study found.
The 2004 National Drug Strategy household survey said 3.2 per cent of people used the drug in the previous year, compared with 1.4 per cent who used heroin.
Dr McKetin said there was a lack of treatment available for users. People in Wollongong, the Hunter Valley and the Central Coast had the highest admission rates to treatment centres.
The director of drug and alcohol services at St Vincent's Hospital, Alex Wodak, said methamphetamine use had increased in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region since 1995.