In focus: Methamphetamine ‘Ice’ use in Australia

21/12/2020


Physically distanced crowd

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) is one of the most extensive surveys conducted nationwide. The results give us an overview of how our alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use has changed over the years and informs policy and service delivery.

The use of 'Ice' over 18 years

The NDSHS reported that methamphetamine use in Australia has been declining since it peaked at 3.4 per cent in 2001 and stabilised in 2019 (1.4 per cent in 2016 and 1.3 per cent in 2019). Crystal or ice is currently the main form of methamphetamine used and is used more frequently than drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy.

High levels of psychological distress is consistently greater among people who reported meth/amphetamine use in the previous 12 months – NDSHS 2019

The report also shows that since 2010, people who had used an illicit drug in the last 12 months were at least twice as likely to have experienced mental health problems or "high or very high levels of psychological distress".

Compared with people who had not been diagnosed or treated for a mental health condition, people with a mental health condition were 2.2 times more likely to use methamphetamine.

People with high levels of psychological distress were also reportedly:

  • 2 times as likely to smoke tobacco daily
  • 1.2 times as likely to drink alcohol at levels that exceed their lifetime risk (more than 10 standard drinks a week and more than 4 on any one day)
  • 1.7 times as likely to have used any illicit drug
  • 2.1 times as likely to use pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes

How the public sees 'Ice'

Along with data on drug use the NDSHS tracks public perception of alcohol and other drugs in the community. In 2019 people who use drugs and those who do not were asked about their approval rating on regular use of various types of drugs.

Despite evidence that shows people in NSW are twice as likely to be a victim of an alcohol-related incident than a drug-related incident, methamphetamine continued to be the drug thought to be of most concern for the general community in the 2019 NDSHS. Methamphetamine had the highest levels of disapproval at 95 per cent, along with heroin (96 per cent) and inhalants (95 per cent). There was also support for increased penalties for Methamphetamine (84 per cent), highlighting a need for better understanding of dependency and de-stigmatisation of people who use methamphetamine.

People with alcohol and other drug problems are often some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Stigma and discrimination can stop someone from accessing support and treatment services for their drug use, because it impacts on their self-esteem, mental health and general wellbeing. Stigma can also influence whether people tell others about their drug use due to a fear of being discriminated against.

Being informed and understanding how language can be hurtful or discouraging, could help someone feel more comfortable accessing support and treatment services.

To learn more about crystal methamphetamine ('Ice') and its effect on individuals and communities visit our A-Z of Drugs Methamphetamine page and Breaking the Ice learning resources and modules. Also read and download Language Matters, a two page guide for alternatives to stigmatising language.

Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice

According to the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into the drug 'Ice', "Australia has the highest rate of amphetamine dependence in the world". The 2019 Inquiry investigated the "nature, prevalence and impacts of the drug crystal methamphetamine ('ice') and other amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) in NSW"; as well as examining whether current systems and services are adequate to meet "the significant health and social harms caused by the illicit drug".

During its approximately two-year investigation, the inquiry heard evidence from more than 230 witnesses, received more than 250 submissions and held six hearings in regional NSW, among other evidence gathering. It returned 109 recommendations across areas of health, education, law enforcement and other community services as a result.

Help for yourself or a loved one

If methamphetamine is a problem for you, non-judgemental help is available. Specialist alcohol or other drug counsellors are available 24 hours, 7 days a week to provide counselling and referrals to services. Call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) for help on 1800 250 015.

Families and friends can find support and information at For Families or access the Cracks in the Ice Family and Friend Support Program, an online cognitive behavioural therapy program to support people who are caring for or supporting someone with alcohol and other drug use issues.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call Family Drug Support on 1300 368 186 or Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm. ADIS can also provide up-to-date information about service availability in your area during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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