The worrying new face of Adelaide ‘ice’ use

Some successful young people believe they can 'regulate' their ice use, according to Flinders research.
Some successful young people believe they can ‘regulate’ their ice use, according to research.

Flinders University research in Adelaide night clubs suggests soaring use of the methamphetamine ‘ice’ could be because of an increasing normalisation of the drug among groups of high achieving young people beyond the normal user profile.

Centre for Crime Policy Researcher (CCPR), Dr Andrew Groves, who is one of a handful of researchers globally investigating this area of usage, surveyed 460 young people at five Adelaide nightclubs.

He discovered several groups of young people who perceive they can ‘regulate’ themselves and their friends’ use of ice to avoid the risk of addiction.

Certain aspects of Dr Groves’ research have just been published in a paper titled Rethinking the Methamphetamine Situation: Perceptions of Risk and Current Policy Dialogue.

As part of his research he notes that, “these are otherwise intelligent, successful groups of young people who do not consider themselves to be serious ‘users’, and work hard to avoid having the appearance of being on ice”.

“They acknowledge the risks touted by experts, but believe that through engaging risk management strategies – such as designating drivers, looking out for each other, regulating usage among their group through ‘chill outs’, and even temporary expulsions of friends who breach these social norms – that they can successfully manage their use.

“In the vast majority of these cases, you would never know they were on ice, and they will be back at their jobs, or studying at university, again on Monday morning, feeling like they’ve had a great weekend.”

Figures from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2013 show that while use of methamphetamine in general had stabilised since 2010, there was a shift in forms of use with the use of ice – the most potent form – more than doubling among current users (from 22 percent to 50 percent), with this pattern also observed in the frequency of use where the proportion of people using ice daily or weekly also doubled (from 12.4 to 25.3 percent).

Dr Groves believes that much of the anti-drugs advertising and legislation misses the groups he has identified because they do not believe it applies to them, maintaining perceptions of control.

He said this meant a more open dialogue is needed among drug enforcement agencies, health care organisations and government in order to address this growing user population, and to review society’s approach to drug and alcohol usage more generally.

“These groups genuinely believe they have enough information to manage the risk,” he said. “They see the anti-drugs advertising and legislation and don’t think it’s relevant for them”.

“Their focus isn’t on drug use, it’s on friendship and having a good time, and they believe – if carefully managed – the risks are worth it for the benefits of a cheap, long lasting high.”

Unfortunately, Dr Groves said these groups are likely unwittingly underestimating the risks of ice use, and that it is only a matter of time before they find out the hard way.

“The truth is that the so-called ‘management’ of these risks is fraught with danger, particularly in the longer term, due to the numerous steps involved where things can go irreversibly wrong,” he said.

“Just as with alcohol, some people will still become addicted after the first use, and others will fall through their safety net no matter how hard their friends try to save them.

“When that happens – and eventually it will – the effects are catastrophic and can ruin lives in a matter of weeks.

“For these reasons, we need far more evidence of what is going on in these social settings and how young people conceive of and understand their drug use in order to provide a comprehensive, effective and meaningful response to the use of ice in our communities.”

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