2.1 Methamphetamines in Australia
2.2 Background to this research

2.1 Methamphetamines in Australia

Amphetamines have been a feature of drug use in Australia for a number of years, with concern about the levels of use among young people first raised in the mid to late 1980s. The 1990s brought significant changes in the nature of amphetamine use in Australia, and has resulted in larger numbers of people becoming regular or occasional users.

Firstly, there was a change in the manufacture and supply of amphetamine to the more potent chemical derivative of methamphetamine, which now accounts for over 90% of all amphetamines seized in Australia1. Compounding this was the introduction of crystalline methamphetamine (commonly known as ice or crystal meth) into the Australian market in the late 1990s. The introduction of ice has been strongly associated with increased harms among existing users of methamphetamines2, and the take up of smoking methamphetamine among a broader group of ‘recreational’ drug users3. At the same time that crystalline methamphetamine emerged on the Australia drug market, domestically produced methamphetamines began to be marketed as high purity damp or oily powder called 'base'4.

All forms of methamphetamines can be used administered using a variety of methods, the most common of which include snorting, swallowing, smoking through to injecting. Methamphetamines are usually sold in the quantity of a 'point', which is approximately 0.1 grams of 'base' or 'ice', or half-to-one gram of the low purity powdered 'speed'5.

These changes in manufacture and supply have resulted in methamphetamines being the second most commonly used illicit drugs used in Australia today, with almost one in ten Australians (9.1%) having ever tried methamphetamines. To some extent, these statistics disguise the prevalence of methamphetamine use among younger Australian. The 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey6 found that on in five (21.1%) Australians aged 20-29 years claimed to have methamphetamines in their lifetime. Some 10.7% reported doing so within the past 12 months7.

According to the National Drug Strategy Household Surveys, undertaken every three years, the lifetime and current prevalence of methamphetamine use has not changed significantly since large increases were first reported in the mid to late 1990s8. However, data sourced from Australian Crime Commission's Illicit Drug Data Report from 2000 to 2006 indicate increases in methamphetamine related arrests from approximately 8,000 in 1999 to almost 10,000 in 2004. Similarly, hospital admissions due to the use of stimulants (other than cocaine) increased from approximately 7,000 to just under 10,000 in the same period9. Top of page

2.2 Background to this research

These increasing rates of methamphetamine related problems, and increases in use of other psychostimulants in Australia, highlighted the need to develop coordinated, complementary and innovative interventions focused on the use of these drugs. To this end, the Australian Government allocated over $15 million to the National Psychostimulants Initiative from 2003-4 to 2009-10. Measures taken under the initiative aim to address prevention, treatment, harm and supply reduction of psychostimulants, including methamphetamine.

One of the difficulties facing the National Psychostimulants Initiative is that it is difficult to define the typical characteristics of methamphetamine users given the significant number of people (estimated at around 1.5 million10) who have tried the drugs. Regular users, those that use the drug at least monthly, can vary from highly functional young 'new' users and 'recreational' users from a range of demographic backgrounds, through to chronic dependent users who are more likely to be injecting drug users, possibly from low socio economic backgrounds and with a range of comorbid mental and physical health problems11.

A number of surveys of methamphetamine users have identified that the majority are young adults who are socially networked with other users of the drug12. These studies also identify that regular users are often dependent on government allowances or, if they are employed, are in a variety of non-skilled and semi-skilled occupations. One of these studies highlights that while highly educated people in high-level management and professional occupations may use methamphetamines, they are usually under-represented in surveys due to the way in which they are conducted13.

The Department of Health and Ageing, in consultation with the Expert Reference Group (ERG) that has been engaged to advise the Department National Psychostimulants Initiative, identified a number of sub-groups of methamphetamine users that it is believed would benefit from targeted approaches to information, treatment and other interventions. These groups (the ‘target audiences’) include, but are not limited, to:
  • the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community (GLBT)
  • regular rave / dance party attendees
  • Indigenous people
  • those living in rural and regional areas
  • workers in particular industries eg long-haul truck drivers, construction, hospitality
  • young people aged 16-24 years
  • university students
  • general users, including occasional/recreational users (people aged 25+ years) Top of page

1. McKetin, R., 2007, in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007.
2. Topp, et al, 2002 cited in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007
3. McKetin, R., et al, 2005, cited in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007
4. McKetin, R., 2007, in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007
5. McKetin, R., 2007, , in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007
6. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2005, cited in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007
7. All figures quoted are drawn from McKetin, R., 2007, in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007.
8. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1999, 2002, 2005, cited in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007
9. McKetin, R., 2007 in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007
10. Australian Crime Commission, 2000-2006, cited in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007
11. McKetin, R., 2007, in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007
12. Lynch et al., 2003, McKetin et al., 2005, cited in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007
13. McKetin et al., 2005, cited in Illicit Drug Use in Australia: Epidemiology, use patterns and associated harm, (2nd edition), Ross, J., (ed), National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, 2007