Responding to growing crystal meth problems

Increasing global availability, supply and use of crystal methamphetamine or ‘ice’ has resulted in Australians consuming 11.1 tonnes of methylamphetamine each year (ACIC 2021), with rates of use remaining high, particularly in regional areas.

While the supply and use of amphetamine-type stimulant, and particularly ‘ice’, was dampened slightly during COVID-19, Flinders University’s Associate Professor Caitlin Hughes, an expert in Criminology and Drug Policy, says signs are that the market is once again thriving.

“This poses many challenges, from increasing risks of dependence, mental health disorders, family disruption, and demands on emergency departments, to name just a few,” says Associate Professor Hughes, who will deliver a public lecture about this situation on Tuesday December 7, held at Flinders University at Victoria Square.

“It’s therefore timely and important to discuss the latest trends and policy responses that could be taken in Australia and South-East Asia, so that we can reduce health, social and economic harms.”

While methamphetamine can be produced in Australia, it most commonly arrives from Asia Pacific countries including Malaysia, Cambodia, China (including Hong Kong), Thailand and Laos – as well as Mexico, US, Germany, Canada and UAE.

In 2019-2020, more than 5000 kilograms of amphetamine-type stimulants (excluding MDMA) were seized upon entering Australia, primarily through international mail (ACIC 2021).

Recent unrest in Myanmar’s Shan state has led to a significant increase in Golden Triangle drug supply of methamphetamine.

Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia regional representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), believes this has now swamped the wider region – underlined by 55 million methamphetamine tablets and more than 1.5 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine being seized in Laos during October 2021.

These issues will be discussed as part of Flinders University’s third ‘Crime in the City’ lecture, with an expert panel discussing new challenges and potential policy responses to drug trafficking issues in Australia and the Asia Pacific.

Mr Douglas will be speaking about trends in amphetamine-type substances in the Asia Pacific, while Associate Professor Hughes will present on methamphetamine supply, use and access to services in regional South Australia.

Flinders University’s Professor Mark Halsey will speak on the onset and desistance from methamphetamine use amongst young people engaged in criminal behaviour.

The event will conclude with a Q & A panel with additional experts Dan Howard (Former Commissioner NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice), Marina Bowshall (State Director, Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia, SA Health), and Scott Wilson (Director, Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council – SA).

  • The Flinders University Centre for Crime Policy and Research’s Crime in the City lecture at 4.30pm on Tuesday 7 December is open to the public – Level 1, Flinders University building, 182 Victoria Square, Adelaide – or can be watched online. Register here to attend.

Additional points:

  • Ice levies an immense economic burden on Australian society, conservatively estimated at AUD 5 billion annually, with the greatest costs incurred in relation to policing, courts, corrections and victims of crime (AUD 3244.5 million), followed by premature death (AUD 781.8 million), and workplace costs (AUD 289.4 million) (Tait et al., 2018).
  • Recent commentary by Dan Howard – former commissioner of the NSW ice inquiry. The commissioner who led the state’s ice inquiry has accused the NSW government of missing a once-in-a-generation opportunity for drug reform and ignoring his recommendations 15 months after handing down a landmark report. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get this right, and I think we’re on the brink of the whole thing being pigeonholed and blowing it, frankly.
  • Of all illicit drugs, methamphetamine continues to be the leading cause of harm to Australian communities. Following a decade of unmatched growth in the availability, purity and consumption of ice through local production as well as importation (ACIC, 2020a), understanding the nature of supply is of fundamental importance.”

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