Ask anyone these days and they will tell you that Australia is experiencing an ‘Ice Epidemic’ – anyone that is other than those people who would actually know - those working on the front line in the drug user health services.
Interestingly with all the media attention that Ice has been getting you would think that the media would interview those people who represent the users – the Drug User Organisations. So I contacted and asked them and the majority of Drug User Organisations around Australia had not even been contacted or the ones that did found that the answer they got wasn’t as sexy as they had hoped – according to the front line- there is no ‘Ice epidemic’ and lets face it - that isn't going to sell newspapers!
The topic of 'Ice' is like Poverty Porn or Terrorism– no matter how gory or horrific the details get people can’t seem to turn away from it. Plus it’s so juicy to gossip about, because everyone “knows someone who knows someone” who’s on 'the Ice'.
Fortunately for The Abbott Government this sensationalism and mass hysteria acts as a convenient smokescreen for the Liberal government policy failures. If the Government can keep the public talking about 'Ice' then they don’t have to have the conversation about high unemployment rates, cut backs to services and the increasingly high rates of suicide and mental health issues in rural settings.
The latest news coming out of Australia is that Tony Abbott has announced a ‘dob in a dealer’ hotline. A $45.5 Million hotline. This is in a reported ‘response’ to the media circus and political freak show that has traveled around the country giving a voice to every concerned parent and ‘ex user’ from Lismore to Yuendumu to Elizabeth and Margaret River.
Julie Bates is a longtime drug law reform activist and current sits on the to the NSW User and AIDS Association (NUAA) board had this to say on the subject:
What about 'dob in a drunk,' far more drunk and dangerous people out theredoing harm to themselves and others than people using illicit substances.And, the statistics prove it. Until the Australian government fullyrecognizes a harm reduction approach to all kinds of substance use andkills the war on drugs, that kills people, they will continue to prop upillicit drug sales and labs and inflate the coffers of the criminaleconomy.
Prohibition has made drugs more potent and more profitable and the drug referred to as‘Ice’ is without a doubt an unintended by product of Prohibition.
Amphetamines were discovered in 1887 and have been used for a wide range of ailments such as chesty coughs, to obesity to Narcolepsy. As a 'illegal drug' Amphetamines was sold as ‘Speed'; a bulky powder. Speed was considered the 'poor mans Cocaine' and users would consume it per gram, usually by snorting, similar to Cocaine.
Under Prohibition, drug manufacturers have to make their product more compact to avoid seizure and more potent so they get more ‘bang for their buck’ on the distribution end.
So instead of 1 gram of speed having a street value when sold uncut for approx $50, now one gram comprises of 10 ‘points’ of ‘Ice’ at approx. $500 when sold in individual ‘points’.
Other factors such as the Pharmacy ‘watch’ being placed on products containing ‘amphetamine’ type substances meant local manufacturers have had to find other ways of sourcing or even replacing the pseudo-ephedrine used to manufacture 'Speed'.
All the evidence we have indicates that we aren’t seeing an increase in methamphetamine use. What we are seeing is changes in the methamphetamine market. There is evidence right across the country that over the last 5 years the type of methamphetamine most commonly available has shifted to higher purity, crystalline forms of the drug, which is what the media call “ice”. For example in 2010 more than a third of methamphetamine users in WA reported using the weaker, powder form of the drug, and less than half reported using “ice”. By 2013 that had shifted so that only 12% reported using powder meth, and 78% reported using ice.""We think the increase we are seeing in harm is not because there are more users, but simply because the people who do use this drug are using stronger forms of it, and some of them are using it more frequently. Paul Dessauer,Outreach Coordinator, WASUA.
Surely if we have learnt anything from Prohibition is that it causes more harm than good. The problem of this ‘dob in a dealer’ is it equates to a ‘more of the same’ style of drug policy and it’s quite obvious to most logical people that if you continue to do the same thing you will continue to get the same outcome.
So if we want to more new drugs of varying strengths, quality and effects to be manufactured by criminal syndicates and if we want to keep spending more and more of our tax payers money spent on policing and a more violent and ever intrusive police force to control adults who want to have fun then by all means let’s keep on with Prohibition. I don’t think we do – I think we want something different.
Prohibition has been making drugs more dangerous since 1971.
Most of the harms that people are seeing and are blamed on ‘Ice’ are actually ‘side effects’ or unintended consequences of Prohibition.
Under our current drug system we have a whole host of legal drugs from Viagra to Dex-amphetamine ( a form of Amphetamine that we give to children for ADHD) all that are legal , regulated and owned by Big Pharma. Then we have the other ‘illegal’ drugs that are unregulated and are manufactured and sold by criminal gangs and syndicates on the streets. In fact due to a complete lack of regulations or manufacturing guidelines what we actually have are street drugs of differing chemicals in unknown and altering strengths or potency and in unknown doses. All of which will find their way onto the market regardless and they are all called 'Ice'. So in actuality, what is referred to homogeneously as ‘Ice’ is in fact an unknown amphetamine or stimulant varying in purity and strength.
Taken any unknown and fluctuating substance daily can impact dramatically on an individuals brains no doubt. Combine that with fluctuating levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain and then add a lack of sleep and poor nutrition (because illegal drugs are expensive and people are forced to choose between eating well or skipping meals and using), living rough – well you get the picture.
So instead of more of the same what are our other alternatives?
We need to take a huge step back from the edge and put things back into perspective.
One of the questions we need to ask ourselves is what right does the government have telling any adult what they can and cannot do with their own body.
We have got laws to protect us from violence, robbery and theft so does the Government really have the right to control what substances I put in my body? Would it be the end of the world if adults could access amphetamines at the Pharmacy via a Doctors script? If by doing so they knew the dose, the contraindications, side effects and symptoms to watch out for?
If amphetamines were available legally to adults on a script, and if ‘Ice’ was manufactured like Panadol each with every dose regulated and identical. Of course regulation would include age restrictions, places of consumption, keep the costs low, and no advertising. There would probably be a market for a low potency pick me up to help all the people struggling with energy levels and another for a stronger double dose for those who want to dance or play hard for a few hours etc.
When you step away from the madness that is Prohibition combined with Media who have to sell newspapers 'Ice' and other illegal substances are not as scary as they are made out to be.