Almost 270,000 Australians are regular users of methamphetamine, with the number of young people dependent on the drug more than doubling in the past five years, research shows, prompting UNSW researchers to call for expanded health services for dependent users.
The number of regular users (at least once a month) almost tripled from 90,000 in 2009/2010 to 268,000 in 2013-2014. The increase in use has been most concentrated in users aged 15-34, with dependent use doubling in this age group during this period.
The study, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, is the first to measure the true extent of methamphetamine use among the Australian population.
Researchers led by Professor Louisa Degenhardt and Dr Sara Larney, from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW, estimated regular and dependent methamphetamine users in Australia across different age groups for each year between 2002–2014.
The researchers found the increase in regular and dependent methamphetamine users in Australia was greatest among young adults aged 25–34 years.
“Unlike government data, which measures anyone who used methamphetamines once in a year, this new work focuses on the number of regular users – people who use the drug at least once a month,” Dr Larney said.
The researchers found there were 268,000 regular methamphetamine users and 160,000 dependent users aged 15–54 years in Australia in 2013–14.
“This equates to population rates of 2.09% for regular and 1.24% for dependent use,” Professor Degenhardt and colleagues wrote.
“The rate of dependent use had increased since 2009–10 (when the rate was estimated to be 0.74%), and was higher than the previous peak (1.22% in 2006–07).
The researchers also found the increase in regular and dependent methamphetamine users in Australia was greatest among young adults aged 25–34 years.
Patterns of methamphetamine use often show a rapid uptake among new users who initially report extremely rewarding effects that they advertise to their peers, thereby recruiting further new users.
There is often a swift development of problem use among heavy users, whose doses escalate as tolerance develops; these problems typically include psychoses and dependence, and arrests for drug possession and supply.
The emergence of these problems produces a rapid decline in new recruits as the high visibility of these harms becomes apparent to non-using peers.
“The increased number of problem methamphetamine users, particularly among young people, indicates a need for more health services and better engagement with regular methamphetamine users in treatment services,” the authors concluded.