THE methamphetamine ice has devastating impacts on regional communities, where people are twice as likely to use drugs as in metropolitan areas, with small towns being hit the hardest.
It’s a flow-on effect where one person’s addiction impacts their immediate family, friends, and their work or school. And in small towns, these small changes are obvious.
An ‘ice’ education session held in Grantville last Tuesday, attended by local health care professionals, worked to debunk some of the myths around how common ice is in Victoria, and looked at the effects of illegal drugs and what draws people to them.
One of the organisers of the forum, Turning Point education officer Rita Brien, said that 70 per cent of people who use methamphetamine use it less than monthly and for the majority of the population it is not common for occasional use to escalate beyond that.
“What we do see, for people who do use it more regularly, there are much stronger links with dependence and other harms associated with using more of it and more regularly,” Rita said.
“These members of the community often have co-occurring mental health, housing and social issues that can exacerbate the harms they experience.”
She said nobody starts out using drugs to become dependent, or to ruin their life or to ruin the life of someone around them.
“And not everybody experiences dependence or harm when they use illegal or legal substances.
“We try to point out to families that it’s not their fault, drug use can escalate. It just can happen, depending on the circumstances and the individual.”
There are many factors which can influence the impact a drug has on someone, including dose, strength and purity of the drug, as well as physical health, age and gender.
“Then the setting itself can have an impact. So having five wines on the couch at home is very different to having five wines when out for dinner and you’re razzed up by the environment,” Rita said.
Ice, which can give people a heightened sense of euphoria, can have lasting impacts for up to 16 hours. In comparison, speed usually lasts between four and six hours.
“In the 60s, 70s and the 80s, the drug we most commonly heard about was speed, which is also methamphetamine.
“But what we’re hearing about now days is ice. It’s more pure, it’s stronger, it’s much more easily vaporised and ingested in a way that lasts way longer,” she said of why people are attracted to the drug.
But when the effect of ice wears off, you crash. It can take up to three days to recover from what Rita calls a “massive hangover”. And it can take up to 10 days to get your brain working normally again.
To recover from that crash, some people believe they’ll feel better by using ice again.
Then as their body develops a tolerance to the drug, higher doses are required to feel the same euphoric effect.
Moderate to high doses of ice can result in nervousness, anxiety, agitation, aggression and tremors.
Long-term use can result in kidney disease, skin problems, dental issues and chronic sleep disturbance.
“The most concerning side effect that people want to know about is psychosis,” Rita said.
Psychosis is often worsened by a lack of sleep.
“Do you know how you’re delirious when you haven’t slept? Well imagine that, but multiplied by 100.”
Most of the effects of ice, including psychosis, are reversible over time with appropriate support.
Rita said different people are in various stages of “readiness for change” when it comes to drug use.
But it is important that people are ready to change for recovery to be successful.
For alcohol and drug support, call 1800 ICE ADVICE or Direct Line on 1800 888 236. Family members can also get support by calling Family Drug Helpline on 1300 660 068. For mental health support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
The free information session, ‘Breakthrough: Ice education’, is a community education program for families who want to improve their relationships with loved ones who use drugs. Go to www.breakthroughforfamilies.com to find out more.